On this day in 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte established the Legion of Honor (Légion d’honneur), one of the most famous decorations in the world. It was established as something akin to a replacement of the former royal medals, which had been abolished during the French Revolution. Earlier, the Order was also divided into five degrees of increasing distinction, but they were differently named than today’s degrees. Légionnaires were the lowest ranking members of the Legion of Honor. Officiers and Commandants were above them. Grand Officiers were superior to these, and Grand Aigles were the highest degree, which were added a little later.
It is interesting to note that Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t an emperor when he established the Legion of Honor. At the time, he was the First Consul (Premier Consul) of the French Republic. Napoleon declared himself emperor two years later. But he was de facto military dictator in France as soon as he became First Consul.
The Legion of Honor is still the highest decoration in France, and also divided into five degrees of increasing distinction: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer), and Grand Croix (Grand Cross). The French presidents hold the title of the Grand Master of the Legion of Honour (French: Grand maître de la Légion d’honneur).