Order of the White Falcon – a legacy of the feudal fragmentation of Germany
The Order of the White Falcon is an award from the united Principality of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, which existed in pre-imperial Germany on the territory of Thuringia. The order was founded at the whim of the ruler of a small country and acquired a high status half a century after its establishment. The winners of the award received considerable privileges and were listed in the state register of the country.
The main characteristics:
- Author unknown.
- Country: Germany.
- Date of establishment: August 02, 1732.
- Number of degrees: 5.
- Dimensions of the Grand and Commander’s Crosses: 50 mm x 82 mm.
- Size of the Knight’s Cross: 36.5 mm x 61.5 mm.
- Material of the Grand and Commander’s Crosses: Gold, silver, gilding, enamel.
- Material of the Knight’s Cross: Silver, gilding, enamel.
The Order of the White Falcon or Vigilance was established by Duke Ernst August I. In 1707, he formally ruled with his uncle Wilhelm Ernst, who knew his nephew’s temper well and did not allow him to participate in state affairs. Ernst August became the full ruler of the principality only in 1728 after the death of his uncle. Having received a high status, he immediately took up the implementation of ambitious projects that are disproportionate to the financial situation of the country. The duke went down in history as one of the most wasteful German rulers.
The Order of the White Falcon appeared as a result of another folly of Ernst August, who was fanatically fond of falconry. The duke kept about a thousand dogs and over three hundred horses, and spent most of his time in Eisenach, where the forests were rich in game.
The order became a kind of toy for the duke and an occasion to brag to his neighbors. The wording of the statute of the regalia was vague – the award was presented for devotion and outstanding services to the country, but there was no list of feats in the document. Initially, only one order degree was provided, and the image of a falcon with spread wings became the main design element. After the death of Ernst August, the order fell into decline, and by 1806 there was only one elderly knight in the organization.
Revival of the Order of the White Falcon
The restoration of the devastated country was taken up by Duke Karl August, who participated in the war with Napoleon as part of the Russian army. He directed the indemnity received under the terms of the peace treaty to the needs of the state and was the first among the German monarchs to introduce a constitution. In 1815, Karl August decided to restore the order, but in a somewhat modified form.
The updated charter provided for three classes of the order, and initially the number of gentlemen was limited:
- The Grand Cross could receive 12 high-ranking dignitaries.
- Commander’s Cross – 25 less noble nobles.
- Knight’s Cross – 50 people.
The post of grandmaster was held by the duke, and the duties of chancellor were performed by the head of the ministerial cabinet. Especially well-born nobles relied on an enlarged version of the Grand Cross, which was made by special order. In 1840, Karl established another knightly degree of the order – “For Merit” and the Commander’s Cross, 1st class.
The status of the award in society has grown significantly, and prominent military leaders and civilians, including Otto von Bismarck, General Hans von Shachtmayer, and the German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe, have become holders of the Order of the White Falcon. The award was presented to foreigners, in particular, the Russian philanthropist and art connoisseur Sergei Stroganov received the order.
Since 1891, the insignia of the order were made by the Weimar jewelry factory of T. Müller.
The shape of the badge resembled a Maltese cross, decorated with gilding and enamel trim. The motto VIGI – LANDO – ASCEN – DIMUS was placed on the central blue plate. For the anniversary of the princely house, the craftsmen were ordered orders made entirely of silver. In special cases, the signs were worn on the order chain of links with the image of a falcon. After the death of the gentleman, the regalia was supposed to be returned to the state.
The Order of the White Falcon existed until the collapse of the German Empire in 1918. Until that moment, representatives of the princely house continued to present it, since after the unification of the fragmented duchies, each of them retained its own awards. During the Third Reich, tribal orders were abolished, and the award system became nationwide.