The only peace agreed to between France and England during the Napoleonic wars was that known as the “Peace of Amiens,” which lasted from March, 1802, until May, 1803. During the existence of that peace the whole world, as it were, rushed to Paris, to catch a glimpse of the man who had wrought such mighty changes in so short a time. The obscure Corsican had become the greatest man of the times. Emperor of France, in all but name, his Court began to take on all the trappings and ceremonies of royalty. Holding the reins of power absolutely within the grasp of his own hands, he tolerated no interference, either by his colleagues or by the people.
In peace, as in war, he rested not, but laboured incessantly for the advancement of his country, whose needs he seemed to comprehend fully. Society was reorganised for the better; judicial reforms were perfected, and the Code pushed forward towards completion; the educational system of the nation was thoroughly revised and improved; the relations between church and state were settled by the signing of the Concordat in the spring of 1802: the finances were brought up to a flourishing condition; magnificent roads and bridges were built; everything, in fact, that could enhance the greatness and glory of France was thought of and carried out by this tireless mind.
It was at this time the Legion of Honour was established.
Premiere ‘Légion d’honneur’ by Charles Étienne Pierre Motte
A depiction of Napoleon making some of the first awards of the Legion of Honour, at a camp near Boulogne on 16 August 1804
How many a gallant soldier rushed to his death in hopes of winning a place in that legion, and how many a dying hero was made happy by being presented with its badge before he answered the last roll-call. When the “Star” no longer led the Legion on to victory, Byron gave us the following lines.
The Queen of Prussia’s Ride
Fair Queen, away! To thy charger speak,
A band of hussars thy capture seek;
Oh, haste! Escape! They are riding this way,
Speak, speak to thy charger without delay;
Behold! They come at a break-neck pace,
A smile triumphant illumes each face,
Queen of the Prussians, now for a race,
To Weimar for safety … fly!
She turned, and her steed with a furious dash,
Over the field like the lightning’s flash –
Away, like an arrow from steel cross-bow,
Over hill and dale in the sun’s fierce flow,
The Queen and her enemies thundering go,
On toward Weimar they sped.
The royal courser is swift and brave,
And his royal rider he tries to save,
“Vive l’Empereur!” rings sharp and clear;
She turns and is startled to see them so near,
Then softly speaks in her charger’s ear,
And away he bounds like a roe.
He speeds as though on the wings of the wind,
The Queen’s pursuers are left behind,
She fears, though each trooper grasps his reins,
Stands up in his stirrups, strikes spurs and strains;
For ride as they may, her steed still gains,
And Weimar is just before.
Safe! The clatter now fainter grows,
She sees in the distance her labouring foes,
The gates of the fortress stand open wide
To welcome the German nation’s bride
With gallop and dash, into Weimar she goes,
And the gates at once on her enemies close.
Give thanks, give thanks! She is safe with those
Who hail her with cheer on cheer!
By the Katzbach, by the Katzbach, ha!
There was a merry dance;
Wild and weird and whirling waltzes skipped
Ye through, ye knaves of France!
For there struck the great bass-viol
An old German man famed,
Marshal Forward, Prince of Wallstadt,
Gebhardt Lebrecht von Blücher named.
Up! The Blücher hath the ball-room
Lighted with the cannon’s glare!
Spread yourselves, ye gay, green carpets,
That the dancing moistens there!
And his fiddle-bow at first he waved
With Goldberg and with Jauer;
Whew! He’s drawn it now full length,
His play a stormy northern shower!
Ha! The dance went briskly onward,
Tingling madness seized them all;
As when howling, mighty tempests
On the arms of windmills fall.
But the old man wants it cheery,
Wants a pleasant dancing chime;
And with gun-stocks clearly, loudly,
Beats the old Teutonic time.
Say, who, standing by the old man,
Strikes so hard the kettle-drum,
And, with crushing strength of arm,
Down lets the thundering hammer come?
Gneisenau, the gallant champion:
Alemannia’s envious foes
Smites the mighty pair, her living double-eagle,