Medals of Poland

Page © 1998 Micheal Shackelford
Images courtesy of Hendrik Meersschaert,
Text by H.M and M.S.

The nation of Poland had orders of its own, prior to the 1800s. In the early 1800s, the Kingdom of Poland was incorporated into the Russian empire (a long story) and the Tzar was named King of Poland along with his many other titles. By this, Polish Orders passed into use by the Russian government (see Imperial Russia page). These were awarded by the tsars to originally to Poles for distinguished service, but were eventually came into general use.
When Poland regained its independence after the war, it revived some Orders and awards and issued some new ones regarding the war.

- Order of the White Eagle (Order Bialego Orla). Instituted by King Wladyslaw I of Poland in 1325. Reorganized by King Augustus II of Poland, Duke of Saxony. It became a Russian Imperial Order following the absorbtion of Poland into Russia in 1831.
As a Russian Order, a black, double-headed imperial eagle with outstreached wings was added behind the red and white enameled cross with the white enameled eagle. The badge hung from an Imperial Crown.
The Order of the White Eagle was a one-class order. Riband: a sash of dark blue moire worn over the right shoulder. Star: was worn on the left breast.
Following the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, the provisional government continued to award Russian orders, though in the case of the Provisional Government's White Eagle, the imperial crown was removed -- replaced by a bow.
In 1921, after the restoration of Poland, the White Eagle order was revived as Poland's highest Order.

- The Order of St. Stanislaus. First instituted in 1765 by Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, last king of Poland prior to the partition. The order ranked second only to the White Eagle.
Under Russian use, double-headed imperial eagles replaced the Polish eagles between the cross arms. When "Old Russia" fell, and Soviet Russia emerged, all the old orders were dissolved.
While the White Eagle and Virtuti Militari were reestablished in the new Republic of Poland, the Order of St. Stanislas was not. Its tradition was taken and continued by a new Polish order: the Polonia Restituta. (see below)

- The Order "Virtuti Militari" (for Military Merit) The was established in 1792 by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski of Poland as the highest military decoration for gallantry the Polish nation bestows upon it's soldiers for acts of heroism above and beyond the call of duty. The VIRTUTI MILITARI is functional equivalent to the American Medal of Honor, the German Pour le Mérite, or the British Victoria Cross, being the highest purely military award for gallantry.
It came in 5 classes:
First Class, Black enamel cross edged in gold, with crown, worn on sash, star on breast.
Second Class, Black enamel cross in gold, with crown, worn at the neck.
Third Class, Black enamel cross (smaller), no crown. Worn on breast.
Fourth Class, Gold cross with black lettering.
Worn on breast.
Fifth Class, Silver cross with black lettering.
Worn on breast.

- Order Polonia Restitua. Established on February 4th, 1923. Award for merit and acts of bravery. While technically outside the scope of this project. We include the Polonia Restitua as it was a newly created (1923) order to take the place of, and carry on the role of the Order of St. Stanislas (see above). The Order of St. Stanislas had been a native Polish Order, but had been so thoroughly associated with Russia -- the Russians awarded it generously -- that simply reviving it was unacceptable. Instead, the new Order Polonia Restitua was created, but using the same ribbon as the old St. Stanislas order (red with white side stripes) to carry on the tradition.
Five classes:

-- We gratefully acknowledge Professor Z.Wesolowski for his assistance with his page. Prof. Wesolowski is the author of two books on the history of Polish awards. His web site has more detailed information.
If you have any images or information you think should be displayed with this collection, feel free to contact me