The Legion of Honour: debate over gongs

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26 November 2010
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imports_MIL_medalofachevalieroft_53475.gif Medal of a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur, created by Napoléon Bonparte in 1802
A row has blown up 'en France' over the political uses of the Order of the Legion of Honour, the first European order of merit. ...

A row has blown up 'en France' over the political uses of the Order of the Legion of Honour, the first European order of merit. Robert Redford is the most recent recipient of the Napoleonic medal, in recognition of his service to cinema and environmentalism.

 

Founded in 1802 after Bonaparte's successful coup against the Directory government and his consolidation of power as First Consul, the award was intended for soldiers and civilians alike, some of the first lucrative awards going to the cream of academe who had accompanied Bonaparte to Egypt in 1798: such as balloonist aeronaut Nicolas-Jacques Conté who, among other things, invented the modern pencil, constructed factory machines and tools on the Nile and devised the printing of the giant 'Description de l'Egypte'.

 

The antagonism in some of the more anti-Sarkozy French news-sheets is not that Redford has won the award, as Clint Eastwood did last year, but how it is dangled as a political carrot before otherwise unwilling donkeys, all to gain political support.

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Ironically its founder was well aware of the use of such devices and is famously quoted that 'it is with such 'toys' (or 'baubles') that men are led'. It is strangely reassuring to see it is not only British orders of knighthood which are abused to such ends, but that the malaise extends across the Channel, even in the egalitarian République.

 

Find this news story and more in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Classic Arms & Militaria