Among the many remarkable objects in Fort Ticonderoga’s collections is a rather small but very important French military medal, the Ordre royal et militaire de Saint-Louis.
The Ordre de Saint-Louis was created in 1693 as an award for military merit and valor. It was awarded only to French Catholic officers who had served for at least ten years. During the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815), the Ordre was suspended. With the revival of the Ordre in 1816, the medal saw widespread distribution and most medals encountered in museum and private collections today date to the 19th century. Unfortunately, none of the medals were numbered or inscribed with the names of recipients, making it nearly impossible to trace any specific medal’s ownership. Furthermore, upon the death of the recipient, the family was obligated to return the medal to the government so that it could be reissued to another deserving officer. In 1793, all members of the Ordre were instructed to return their medals (as symbols of the old regime) to their local city halls so that they could be destroyed. As a result, Saint-Louis medals dating to the 17th or 18th century are quite rare.
There were three “ranks” or levels to the award: chevalier, commandeur, and grand-croix. Fort Ticonderoga’s medal is of the type given to a chevalier of the Ordre and dates to the first half of the reign of Louis XV. Stylistically, it is typical of those awarded ca. 1750-1760. The Ordre de Saint-Louis medal is relatively small, measuring a little more than one inch in width at it widest point. It is made of 22 karat gold in the form of a Maltese cross with white enamel highlights. The branches of the cross are divided by gold fleur-de-lis.
A medallion is sent onto the center of the cross, having on the obverse side an image of Saint Louis in gold on a red enamel background. This is surrounded by a blue enamel band with the Latin motto in gold letters, “LVD.M.INST.1693.”, or Ludivicus Magnus Instituit 1693 (Louis the Great Created 1693). On the reverse side of the medallion is an upright golden sword and laurel wreath on a red enamel background. This is also surrounded by a blue enamel band with the Latin motto in gold letters, “BELL.VIRTVTIS.PRÆM.”, or Bellicæ Virtutis Praemium (The Reward of Warring Valor). The medal is suspended from a bright red silk ribbon described as couleur de feu (color of fire).
Many of the French officers that served in New France during the Seven Years’ War had received the order at the chevalier level. The Marquis de Montcalm was awared his Ordre de Saint-Louis in 1744 for his service in the War of the Austrian Succession. French army engineer Jean-Nicholas Desandrouins and Anne-Joseph-Hippolyte de Maurès de Malartic, Montcalm’s aide-de-camp and Captain in the Béarn Regiment, were awarded the Ordre de Saint-Louis for their gallantry in the Battle of Carillon, July 8, 1758.
The medal pictured and described on this page was donated to the museum in 2004 by Mr. & Mrs. Charles Freihofer III. Unfortunately, as is the case with most examples of these medals, the identity of the person who was awarded this particular medal in the 18th century is unknown.
Blog post by Christopher D. Fox, Curator, Fort Ticonderoga Museum.