Our Flourishing Eagle
As you must, by now, know, the traditional Polish national symbol is the ‘White Eagle’. You may not know, however, that there has been, from time to time, controversy over this eagle — how it evolved, which way is the head turned, whether or not it should be crowned and what, in effect, does this crown really represent.
To set the record straight, for once and for all, I bring to you, my dear readers, the true story of the national emblem of our Fatherland.
It was on December 7th, 1955, that the Council of State decreed that Poland’s national emblem is a “White Eagle”, head turned to the right, wings unfurled, beak and falons of gold, displayed on a red shield, rectangular in shape, its lower extremity elongated in the center.” That’s the official description. Drawings attached to the Decree showed that the emblematic eagle was first designed in general outlining in 1927.
It was attained, however, over centuries of evolution. For example, in the Middle Ages, up to roughly the end of the 12th century, an eagle was often the personal emblem of emperors, kings and princesses, proudly displayed on their shields and banners. From the beginning of the 13th century, it gradually became an emblem of clans and families later being adopted by ruling dynasties as their coat of arms. Finally, in the 14th century, the eagle became the Polish State emblem.
Right now, the origins and history of the Polish Eagle haven’t been authoritatively established. But we do know that up to the reign of Wladyslaw the Short, the princess and their knights used the White Eagle as their personal emblem. We also know that the eagle was figured on shields, banners, seals and coinage.
The dispute on whether the Polish Eagle should wear a crown or not, first came up towards the end of the 18th century by the revolutionary leaders struggling for independence. Opponents of the crown argued that as the national emblem, a crowned Eagle was symbolic of the Monarchy. Influenced by the French Revolution, these opponents wanted the Monarchy to be replaced by the principle of the sovereignty of the people as the sole authority in the state.
Joachim Lelewel, well known historian and patriot of the times, was the first to try introducing the crownless Eagle as the national emblem. Following the removal of Czar Nicholas II from a position of power in Poland, Lelewel submitted this proposal to the Diet of Poland in 1831. The crownless Eagle was adopted the following year by the Polish Democratic Society in France and was placed on its banner. It appeared again at the time of the Krakow Revolution in 1846. It figured on the banners of certain Polish united in Hungary, of the Mickiewicz Legion in Italy and of the Ottoman Cossacks in 1856 alongside the Crescent Moon and Star. In the January 1863 National Uprising, some fighting united chose the crownless Eagle as their emblem.
Coming into the 20th century, this tradition was continued by the Polish unit formed in France in 1914 and was continued by the Revolutionary Fraction of the Polish Socialist Party and by the 1st Infantry Regiments of the Polish Legions fighting in 1916.
Following the restoration of independence to the country, the government adopted the crownless Eagle as its emblem. It is even interesting to note that the Mazurian Folk Union, formed in 1919, also adopted a crownless Eagle at the suggestion of their leader.
As a result, it can very easily be seen that in the argument of whether the Eagle should wear a crown or not, both sides represented different historical traditions based on different convictions regarding social problems.
In 1966, a millennial commemorative history of the Polish State was published in Chicago and said the following, “The traditional Polish national symbol is a white eagle. The white eagle, crowned, on a red shield became the Polish coat of arms, and except for the crown has been retained as the official coat of arms of the present state. The traditional colors, white and red, also have been retained in the national flag”.
With the downfall of communism and the rise of solidarity, the crown, abolished since 1947, made an abrupt return to symbolic significance in the early 1990’s.
Therefore, no matter whether the Eagle wears a crown or not, the fact remains that the White Eagle was adopted at the turn of the 12th century, by the Piast Dynasty for its “armorial bearings”, became subsequently the symbol of the unity of the Polish realm and finally, the national emblem.
Geographically speaking, the Biskupin excavations which took place about two decades ago point out that Slavic peoples roamed the area of Poland long before the Christian era. Although it is pure conjecture, there is the story that one of these Slav leaders is said to have chosen the site on which the City of Gneizno now stands. He supposedly found there a nest of white eagles and called his settlement “gniezno” from “gniazdo” meaning nest — and then went ahead to adopt the white eagle as his tribal symbol.
Well known present day Polish historian Stanislaw Russocki sums it all up very nicely….. “The White Eagle was a common state emblem for the Winged Hussars, the Batory infantry; the Kosciuszko Seythers and the Czartoryski emigrees. In fact, the White Eagle figured wherever Poles were to be found and the cause of Poland was at stake”.
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .