Order of the Red Eagle, Type V, Military Division, II Class Breast Star (with oak leaves & swords on top)
Image courtesy of Auction House Andreas Thies
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The Order of the Red Eagle was originally founded by Margrave Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg-Bayreuth as the Ordre de la Sincerité. The order quickly fell into disuse but was revived in Brandenburg-Bayreuth in 1712. It was revived again in 1734 in Brandenburg-Ansbach and renamed the Order of the Brandenburg Red Eagle.
In 1777, the Order name was changed to the Order of the Red Eagle.
From 1777 to 1792, the order only had one grade with a maximum of 50 members. The list provided to the king in 1792 claimed four princes, twelve knights in the chapter, as well as 32 knights and noble knights, totalling 40 members.
The Kingdom of Prussia absorbed the principalities of Brandenburg-Bayreuth and Brandenburg-Ansbach in 1791, and in 1792, King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia redesigned the order as a Prussian Royal Order.
The Order of the Red Eagle was the second most prestigious order in the Kingdom of Prussia, after the High Order of the Black Eagle. The Order of the Red Eagle was a prerequisite to the Order of the Black Eagle. In 1792, it was determined that Knights of the Order of the Black Eagle would wear the Red Eagle neck decoration.
The shape of the cross on the star was changed in 1792, along with the ribbon - two white edges were added to the two orange stripes. At this time, all living Knights were to exchange their medals for the new style.
In 1810, King Friedrich Wilhelm III made changes to all Prussian orders. The Order of the Red Eagle was expanded into three classes, I Class Cross with I Class Breast Star, II Class Cross, and III Class Cross. At this time, the II Class and III Class were the same size; in 1817, the III Class was made smaller. A gold and silver medal were also associated. From 1810 onward, the order grades could be awarded with diamonds.
In 1811, surmounting oak leaves could be added to the I Class Cross and II Class Cross. The oak leaves were an indicator that the recipient had already been awarded a lower order grade. For instance, recipients of the II Class Cross who had already received a III Class Cross were conferred the II Class Cross with Oak Leaves. The same rule applied to I Class Cross recipients who had already received the II Class Cross or III Class Cross.
In 1830, the II Class Breast Star and the IV Class Cross were added to the order. In 1832, the bow to the III Class was created to signify the recipient had previously been awarded the IV Class.
In 1833, the General Service Cross was promoted into the order as the IV Class.
In 1842, the Medal of Merit was added to the order.
In 1848, swords were created for the order, and awarded for merit during war. If a recipient was promoted to a higher grade, but had previously received swords to their lower grade, the swords would be added to the ring of the higher grade. The swords could also be added to the star above the centre medallion.
In 1850, crowns and scepters were awarded to a few recipients who aided in the suppression of the 1848/1849 revolutions. Non-Christian awards were introduced in 1851, as well as a special jubilee number to be worn on either the oak leaves or the bow, as a plaque on the decoration itself, for 50 years of service.
From 1851 onward, the jubilee number "50", "60", or "70" could be added to the order grades to recognise years of service by state employees.
The order statutes were amended again in 1861, resulting in the addition of the Grand Cross with Grand Cross Breast Star.
Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, there were many examples of the Order of the Red Eagle being worn on ribbons of different orders when a recipient had received multiple awards.
The motto of the order, SINCERE ET CONSTANTER, translates to “sincere and unwavering”.
The eagle design on the decorations changed at an unknown time after 1854 (but certainly before 1861, as it predates the Grand Cross). The order statutes were amended again in 1861, resulting in the addition of the Grand Cross with Grand Cross Breast Star.
Stars were originally made of textiles and embroidery, however in 1857, they were ordered to be made from silver and gold. Stars made between 1857 and 1864 are often more compact.
By the end of 1861, it was decreed that individuals that were promoted to a higher grade and who had previously been awarded swords for bravery were to wear the oak leaf on the I and II Class, as well as on the bow of the III Class, in addition to the swords on ring.
On February 27, 1864, King Wilhelm I amended the order to allow for the swords on ring and the swords through the centre of the cross to be worn simultaneously on order decorations.
The final structure of the order was set when the Miniature St. John Cross was created on October 18, 1864. It was awarded to all who served the wounded during the war of 1864-1866.
In 1892, a surmounting crown could be added to all order grades.
The small decoration was created on January 7, 1914.
In 1916, it was decreed that gold based decorations were to be made of silver gilt, due to the scarcity of raw materials during the war. By Prussian law, these decorations had to be marked with the content mark ‘938’.
The Type V (1854-1918) or Model IV awards feature the monogram "WR" on the obverse of the Grand Cross grade, and a red eagle on the obverse of all other grades.
The II Class Breast Star is a four-pointed star. The Star with Swords was awarded once in 1864, eight times in 1866, 34 times in 1870/71, and 166 times during the First World War.
The II Class Breast Star with Swords on Ring was awarded 209 times between 1856 and 1918. Only two were awarded during the First World War.
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