Fifteen months ago, on 7 August last year, exactly in the fourth year of the first presidency of Andrzej Duda, the Commission on Human Rights, Rule of Law and Petitions (Komisja Praw Człowieka, Praworządności i Petycji) of the Polish Senate (Senat Rzeczypos – this is the Diet), took up the decision of the paramount problem.
It is about an amendment to the law on orders and awards, or rather, the “Regulations on the chain of the Order of the White Eagle”. They looked into the near future and thought about the following – would the newly elected head of state, on the day of his inauguration, have to lay on his shoulders a chain called by the people the “Pearl of the Commonwealth” (“Klejnot Rzeczypospolitej”), as a symbol of presidential power?
The Commission was prompted to engage in mental endeavors by an appeal in which the anonymous author convinced: “There is nothing more eloquent than the symbolic chain linking us with the predecessors from the First and Second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth … Restoring the status of the chain of the Order of the White Eagle would serve to the benefit of Poland’s prestige.” … The decision to start work on amendments to the aforementioned “Regulation …” was taken unanimously. A similar proposal, it is worth noting, came to the Seimas back in 1992, but did not pass then during the voting, not getting one vote.
The white eagle, the name of which the order bears, has been used on the Polish coat of arms since the Middle Ages. Why the Poles chose this symbol for themselves, history is silent, but a beautiful legend easily explains this.
Once upon a time, in the fields above the Vistula, they hunted and multiplied together with their families, friends and acquaintances, three brothers – Czech, Lech and Rus. But food was not enough and they decided to look for a more fertile haven: fertile lands, forests full of living creatures and rivers rich in fish. They gathered each of their tribes, made sacrifices to the gods, carefully packed their things and hit the road. The columns were incredibly large: women, children and old people rode on horseback or in carts, and huge herds of cattle were chased after them, guarded by hundreds of armed soldiers.
At the roadside stone, as usual, the Slavic brothers said goodbye: Rus moved to the east, to the vast steppes beyond the Pripyat River, Czech to the south, where he reached Mount Rzip (hora Říp) and settled there, and Lech to the west.
Once, stopping in the forest for the night, Lech heard that the silence was suddenly broken by a strange noise and a huge shadow passed through the clearing. Looking up, he saw an amusing picture: a white eagle appeared in the sky and landed on the crown of the nearest large oak tree. But, before landing on the oak, where there was his nest with three chicks, he spread his wings and hovered in the air. Its white feathers, shining in the last rays of the setting sun, contrasted with the red afternoon sky.
After consulting with the elders of the tribe, who interpreted this as a good omen, Lech decided to stay in this place, and not far from the oak tree to lay the city, which he called it – Gniezno, from the word “nest”, which sounds very much in Polish it looks like gniazdo [filth].
God knows whether it really happened. Rather, it is just a beautiful fairy tale showing the common roots of three different Slavic peoples.
The earliest surviving depictions of a crowned eagle are those seen on the denarii of Bolesław I Chrobry. In the 12th century, the eagle appears on shields and banners, on coins and seals of the Piast princes (Piastów). Initially, in 1222, only in the Silesian Piast line, as the ducal coat of arms on the crown seal of the princes Opole and Racibórz. Later, after 1271, it gradually became the coat of arms of the Mazovian Piast. And as the official coat of arms of the entire Polish state, since 1295, Przemysław II began to use it, who first used the crowned eagle on his seal.
History of the Order of the White Eagle.
There are two documented samples of the establishment of a purely Polish order. Thus, the penultimate king of the Piast family, Władysław I Łokietek, in 1325 intended to found an order to commemorate the conclusion of the marriage union between his young son Casimir and the daughter of the Lithuanian prince Gediminas Anna. Another Polish ruler, Władysław IV Waza, immediately after ascending to the throne, planned to establish the Order of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and even received in 1634 the consent of Pope Urban VIII (Urbanus PP. VIII) to approve the charter. The king was ready to present the first orders during a wedding ceremony with Cecylia Renata of Austria (German Cäcilia Renata von Österreich, Polish Cecylia Renata Habsburżanka) in Warsaw, September 14, 1637. But this caused a sharp political attack on the king, since the magnates, fearing for their influence, received hostility to the announcement of the founding of the knightly brotherhood. In the end, the Sejm settled the matter, which CATEGORALLY FORBIDDEN the king to deal with this topic, crushing the attempt to create a Polish order for many years. Due to the opposition of the nobility, it was not even made, only the design drawings are known, on which the image of the White Eagle is present.
The first and oldest Polish order owes its origin to King Augustus II of the House of Wettins. The Great Northern War was going on. The troops of Charles XII entered the Polish lands, which did not directly participate in the war with Sweden, a civil war broke out, and the Polish king lost the support of a significant part of the nobility. And then August II took a tactical step in the struggle for power. On November 1, 1705, in the castle in Tykocin, the king presented the guests with commemorative medals with the motto “Pro Fide Rege et Lege” ~ “For faith, king and law”. This gift, which was a gesture of gratitude to those who faithfully remained with the king, became the prototype of the first highest Polish award – the Order of the White Eagle.
Reigning, but not ruling a war-ravaged country that fell under the hammer of a well-organized Swedish army, Wettin, seeking to strengthen his position in Poland, decided to conclude an alliance with Tsar Peter I. When they met in Dresden, on December 11, 1712, the Polish king Augustus and the Russian tsar Peter, exchanged signs of their orders. Peter I put the insignia of the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called on the Polish king, and August II on the Russian Tsar – the insignia of the Order of the White Eagle. On the insignia intended for kings and kings, the word “Rege” (king) was replaced by the word “Grege” (flock). King Augustus, as the Grand Master of the Order, had the motto: “Pro Fide Grege et Lege” ~ “For faith, flock and law.” With such an inscription, the Order of the White Eagle was received by the Russian Tsar Peter I.
The appearance, the motto (for some time it looked like “Rex et Patria” – “The King and the Fatherland”) and the popularity of the order changed. He quickly won recognition at foreign courts, leaving for a beautiful and expensive jewelry, but the Polish gentry was not particularly interested in him.
August III appeared with him during his coronation in Krakow in 1734, and a special legend was invented by royal propaganda: the ancestor of the Polish people, Lech, himself wore the symbol of an eagle and distributed its images to his soldiers, and King Przemyslaw II had a detachment of brave knights-adjutants that they wore the sign of the white eagle on their chest. All this was supposed to influence the mentality of the then nobility, but few were carried out.
It even happened that the Minister Brühl (Heinrich von Brühl), responsible for representing the interests of the king in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, handed out the Order of the White Eagle free of charge to all those who held a high state post, on the day of the namesake of August III, 2 or 3 August.
During the reign of the last Polish king and Grand Master of the Order of the White Eagle, Stanislav II August Poniatowski, the order, to a greater extent, acquired a national character. In 1795, with the third partition, Poland ceased to exist, but the Polish Order of the White Eagle did not disappear at all. It was the highest award of the Duchy of Warsaw (Księstwo Warszawskie) in 1807 – 1815, and then, according to the results of the Congress of Vienna, the Kingdom of Poland (Kongresówka, Królestwo Polskie) in the Russian Empire in 1815 – 1831.
After the suppression of the Polish uprising of 1830-1831 (in Polish sources – the November uprising, Powstanie listopadowe [pofstane listopadove]), which took place under the slogan of the restoration of the independent “historical Rzecz Pospolita” within the borders of 1772 (that is, before the first partition of Poland), the order White Eagle “rose again”, but in a slightly different guise. Emperor Nicholas I included him in the Russian award system, like the Imperial and Royal Orders of the White Eagle. At the same time, the Polish crown was replaced by the Russian one, and the red order cross with a white one-headed eagle was placed over the two-headed Russian eagle.
After gaining independence in 1918 by an act of the Polish Seim of February 4, 1921, the Order of the White Eagle was revived as the highest state award. It received a new look and another motto “Za Ojczyznę i naród” ~ “For the Fatherland and the people.”
After the end of World War II, the Order of the White Eagle was further awarded by the Polish government in exile in London, but since it was not recognized on the international arena, it would be difficult to consider it a state award.
And the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic (in full accordance with the current socialist moment) came up with another highest award – the Order of the Builders of People’s Poland (Order Budowniczych Polski Ludowej), which replaced the Order of the White Eagle and existed since 1949 (the last award was in 1984 ) and right up to the official abolition in 1992.
When the Polish government in exile handed over the seal and archives of the Order of the White Eagle to Lech Walesa, by the decision of the Sejm of the Third Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of October 26, 1992, it was re-established as the highest state award. They are awarded for outstanding (both civil and military) services to the glory of Poland. The design of the order has been restored in accordance with the pre-war pattern. Its first presentation took place in 1993, and the first recipient after its restoration was John Paul II (Ioannes Paulus PP. II).
The Order of the White Eagle has a fairly long history, while the chain of its name is much shorter. That is why the story about her will not last for so long.
Already in ancient knightly orders, simple necklaces were used to designate membership, on which the order’s sign hung. The first such chain appeared in the possession of King Henry VII of England (Henry VII Tudor), Knight of the Order of the Garter. The second – from the Duke of Burgundy Philip III the Good (Philippe le Bon), who founded the Order of the Golden Fleece.
At present, the order chains, as a rule, are signs of the highest state power: only the President of France can wear the chain of the Legion of Honor, only the President of Russia has the right to the chain of the Order of Merit to the Fatherland.
The chain of the Order of the White Eagle, together with the establishment of the Order by King Augustus II, actually appeared. It was created in order to distinguish the king, as the Grand Master of the Order of the White Eagle, from other awarded and she was only part of the royal decorations. The monarch, who loves luxury, had several such chains-chains: ruby, sapphire, emerald, which he wore, depending on the dress.
The sign of royal power, insignia (from Latin insignia – ornaments), the same as the crown, scepter and orb, was made only by Stanislav II Augustus Poniatovsky. And his successors, the kings of Poland (he did not think that he was the last) on solemn occasions could wear the badge of the order on the order’s neck chain.
The chain of King Stanislav II Augustus consisted of 24 links: 12 – in the form of a golden single-headed eagle, crowned with a crown and holding a scepter and orb in its paws, and 12 – in the form of an oval medallion surrounded by golden radiance, which depicts the Holy Virgin Mary. The badge and chain were decorated with diamonds.
For the coronation of Nicholas I in 1829 as Tsar of Poland (the only crowned Polish monarch from among the All-Russian emperors), a new chain was made: 9 links in the form of a Russian two-headed eagle, 7 – in the form of an order sign and 7 – in the form of a shield crowned with an imperial crown with the monogram of Emperor Alexander I.
Of the Polish orders, only the Order of the White Eagle in the versions of the Wettins, King Stanislav Augustus and Tsar Nicholas had a chain.
Since, in addition to the cross, star and ribbon, one of the symbols of the order was the chain on which it was worn, then, according to the law of February 4, 1921 on the restoration of the Order of the White Eagle, the head of state, who was the Grand Master of the Order, also received the right at her. But Pilsudski, who greatly appreciated this award and proudly wore it, with a chain, however, never appeared. He did not have the best opinion about the last rulers of Poland, he blamed them for the collapse of the state and even such an insignia of power as the order chain did not want to be like them. His position was so clear and unambiguous that the chain, detailed in the 1921 Law, was not even made.
Pilsudski’s successors, the presidents of the second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Gabriel Narutowicz and Stanisław Wojciechowski, remained true to this tradition.
President Ignacy Mo неcicki was the only (so far) non-tsarevich or king-prince to wear the chain. In January 1939, he appeared with her at a New Year’s party at the Royal Castle, his residence. And it sounded more like a whim than some new political trend. And since the new chain (as I already recalled) did not exist, they had not made it yet, the president had to borrow the historical one belonging to King Stanislav Augustus. By the will of fate, Moscitsky’s “performance in the chain” took place shortly before the September 1939 military disaster.
When on October 26, 1992, the Polish parliament revived the once abolished Order of the White Eagle, it abandoned the pre-war regulation of the chain’s status as a sign of the Grand Master of the Order. President Lech Walesa believed that a free and sovereign republic should be built on the basis of democracy, and that the chain is part of the monarchist tradition.
Is the royal chain a link between generations?
Will Andrzej Duda join the group of Polish kings and President Moscicki? When the president can put on the chain of the Order of the White Eagle, will it be original (King Stanislaus Augustus) or will they make another? All this will be clarified (if such a law is adopted) later resolutions. In the meantime, the parliamentarians (the second, read it, a year) are working hard on this.
Caring for the prestige of the state is a very commendable occupation, but after all, the pride of the president of the republic is not the shine of the chain of the royal order, but the dignity demonstrated during his tenure: observance of the constitution, representing everyone, not one side, acting as an arbiter disputes (inevitable in every state) protects the weak, and does not side with the arrogant and self-righteous. If there are none, then even the shine of precious stones and chains (even if of the highest standard) on the chest will look somehow fake.