Célestin Hennion

Célestin Hennion CVO (8 September 1862 14 March 1915) was a French police officer who rose to head the Prefecture of Police (French: Préfecture de Police). He was responsible for the reorganisation of the Préfecture and the introduction of the Brigades du Tigre,[1] ancestor of the French judicial police. In France, he is considered to be one of the pioneers of modern policing.[2]

Célestin Hennion
Hennion in 1914
Born(1862-09-08)8 September 1862
Died14 March 1915(1915-03-14) (aged 52)
Other namesLe géant blond ("The blond giant")
RelativesDavina McCall (great-granddaughter)
Police career
Service years1886–1914
RankPréfet de Police
AwardsColonial Medal
Knight of the Order of Nichan Iftikhar
Officier de la Légion d'honneur
Honorary Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Honorary Member (Fourth Class) of the Royal Victorian Order

Early life

Hennion was born in Gommegnies in 1862, to Joseph Ghislain Hannion, a farm labourer, and Mary Catherine Basilaire and he was educated at Lycee Le Quesnoy. After leaving grammar school he joined the French Army, and was posted to Tunisia as part of the 110th Infantry Regiment, from 1880 until 1885 during which time Tunisia became a French Protectorate.

Police career

On returning to France he joined the police force and in 1886 was an inspector in a specialised railways squad. Hennion had a rapid rise through the force, and was moved into intelligence work where he investigated organisations intent on over-throwing the Third Republic. During the 1890s, Hennion investigated the counter-evidence provided by Georges Picquart during the Dreyfus affair, becoming a strong supporter of Alfred Dreyfus. Hennion also thwarted several attacks against political figures and the state, including the 1899 coup d'état by Paul Déroulède and was dispatched with additional troops to quell unrest in Rennes during the second Dreyfus trial.[3] In 1899 Hennion was given the responsibility of protecting the French Head of State.

On 30 January 1907, Hennion was made the Director of General Security by Georges Clemenceau,[4] and that year Hennion suggested the creation of mobile police brigades, which later became known as the Brigades du Tigre. Hennion was part of modernist movement within the French republic that included people like Aristide Briand and the other great police reformer of the age Louis Lépine who brought new ideas into French policing introducing forensic equipment and methods of investigation.

In 1910 Hennion set up the first police training school, a vocational school for active service staff of the 'Prefecture de Police'.[5] The next year, Hennion set up the Brigade Renseignements Généraux, which later become the Direction centrale des renseignements généraux, a committed intelligence service of the French Police.[6] Hennion continually pushed to separate the policing within France from political control, and in 1911 unsuccessfully attempted to replace the de facto mayoral command with that of the chief of police.[7]

Hennion was appointed Préfet de Police on 31 March 1913, succeeding Louis Lépine. He was in post for too short a period to be totally effective but he continued the reforms of his predecessor dividing the police force into three main departments: judicial, intelligence and policy agenda. Ill health forced his retirement from the post on 2 September 1914.

Hennion died in March 1915 and he is buried in the family tomb in Gommegnies, France.[8]


For his services in the French Army, Hennion was awarded the Colonial Medal, was made a Knight of the Order of Nichan Iftikhar and an Officier de la Légion d'honneur. For his services as a senior policeman during visits to France by King Edward VII he was appointed Honorary Member (Fourth Class) of the Royal Victorian Order in 1906[9] and promoted to Honorary Commander in 1908.[10]

Notable relatives

The first episode of the 7th series of the BBC television programme Who Do You Think You Are? revealed that English television presenter Davina McCall is Hennion's great-granddaughter.[11] Pierre, Hennion's son and McCall's grandfather, gave McCall his father's Royal Victorian Order medal, which she showed on the programme.[8]

In the programme, which broadcast on 15 July 2009, Davina learned of Hennion's story from historians Jean-Marc Berliere and Simon Kitson as well as from Françoise Hennion (the policeman's granddaughter) and from Dreyfus's great-granddaughter, Yael Ruiz.[8]

Cultural references

  • In the 2006 feature film Les Brigades du Tigre, Hennion was played by Mathias Mlekuz.
  • In 2020 TV series The Bonfire of Destiny premised on the aftermath of the deadly fire at Le Bazar de la Charité in Paris in 1897, he is played by Stéphane Guillon as director of the Sûreté Nationale, national intelligence agency.


  • Berlière, Jean-Marc (1993). Le Préfet Lépine, vers la naissance de la police moderne. Paris: Denoel. ISBN 978-2207240120.
  • Berlière, Jean-Marc (2008). "La carrière exceptionnelle d’un commissaire spécial dans la IIIe République : Célestin Hennion", in Le Commissaire de police au XIXe siècle. director Kalifa, Dominique. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne. ISBN 978-2-85944-595-9.
  • Davies, Diane E.; Pereira, Anthony W. (2003). Irregular Armed Forces and their role in politics and state formation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-511-05832-5.


  1. History of the Museum - 20th Century The prefecture de police museum
  2. Célestin Hennion, Préfet de Police - Créateur des "Brigades du Tigre"
  3. Davis (2003), pg 288.
  4. Davis (2003), pg 292.
  5. Diaz, Charles, Police Ethics in a Democratic Society: France, Council of Europe pg 31
  6. Considering the Creation of a Domestic Intelligence Agency in the United States Rand Organisation, Pg 66.
  7. Davis (2003), pg 294.
  8. "Who Do You Think You Are? (Davina McCall as participant)". Who Do You Think You Are?. 2009-07-15. BBC. BBC Two.
  9. "No. 27907". The London Gazette. 24 April 1906. p. 2795.
  10. "No. 28131". The London Gazette. 24 April 1908. p. 3077.
  11. "Who Do You Think You Are? - Davina McCall". The National Archives. Archived from the original on 26 July 2009. Retrieved 16 July 2009.
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