We present to your attention an article by the Commander of the Romanian National Order of Merit, Knight of the Order of Cultural Merit of Romania, Enviromental Engineer (M.Eng.), collector and researcher in the field of phaleristics, known to many from his books on the orders of Romania, Liechtenstein, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – Antti Ruokonen.
Our curator Catherine Lapinsh met with Antti in Helsinki to ask him a few questions
CL: What prompted your interest in phaleristics?
AR: I was already fascinated by history as a child before I could read and write. While browsing through history books that pictures invariably showed statesmen and generals wearing orders and decorations. This was likely the first spike of interest that later blossomed to collecting, research and writing.
CL: Do you have your own collection?
AR: Yes, a small collection of Finnish and Imperial German insignia, mostly from the Grand Duchy of Baden and Kingdom of Prussia.
CL: What determines your choices for the items you collect?
AR: Interest in related history, interesting personas tied to the insignia, design and beauty.
CL: What is the most interesting item in your collection?
AR: Several years ago I did some research into my own family history and reconstructed my grandfathers’ medal-bars. One of them had died before I was born and the other one while I was very young. Thus researching their wartimes experiences was a way to get in touch with them.
CL: Why Romania?
AR: Romania has a deep and rich cultural heritage that is showcased through its vibrant system of orders and decorations. Many of them are also stunning. Another factor is that German history has always been of special interest to me and Romanian history is tied with Germany through Transylvania and their old royal house which is a cadet branch of the Hohenzollern family that ruled Prussia and later Germany.
CL: What are you working on now?
AR: I am in the process of finalizing the first part of a two-volume study of Romanian orders, marking a ten-year anniversary of my original Romania project and also the centennial of the establishment of Finnish-Romanian foreign relations. The first volume deals with the contemporary orders of Romania and the second volume will study the royal Romanian orders. Both of these are focused on the orders exclusively, whereas Yesterday and Today’s Knights studied decorations and medals adjacent to the orders as well. I just finished an article on the Schaumburg-Lippe Cross for Loyal Service in Finnish and English. Finally, I am also editing a detailed article I wrote on the mission of two Belgian fortification experts in Finland in 1939 for publishing in both Finland and Belgium. There are other projects under development too.
The Order of Charles I
by Antti Ruokonen
Historic Backdrop for the Order of Charles I
The core Romanian provinces of Moldavia and Walachia were under Ottoman rule since the sixteenth century with varying degrees of autonomy. Despite a fleeting united experience under Michael the Brave (1558 ̶ 1601), first concrete steps toward an enduring national existence came after under prince Alexander John Cuza (1820 ̶ 1873). It was prince Cuza who created the precursor for the first Romanian order in 1864, the order of Unification. This sign of recognition would later become the National Order of the Star in 1877 and it remains in use to this day as the oldest and the highest sign of recognition in Romania.
photo: Alexander Johann Cuza, Lithograph by Josef Kriehuber (1861)
Prince Cuza’s reign ended in 1866 when he was overthrown and subsequently replaced by Charles of the house of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Prince Charles (1839 ̶ 1914) was the second son of Prince Charles Anton of Hohenzollern (1811 ̶ 1885) and his wife Princess Josephina of Baden (1813 ̶ 1900). Charles had received a comprehensive civil and military education befitting a prince. He also received first impressions of politics when his father Charles Anton served as the Prime Minister of Prussia between 1858 and 1862. He also took part in the campaigns against Denmark in 1864 as a staff member of the Prussian Crown Prince. Charles served in the Prussian army until he was offered and accepted the vacant throne of Romania in the spring of 1866. Charles married Elisabeth, Princess of Wied (1843–1916), in 1869.*
As the Russo-Turkish War began in 1877, Romania proclaimed itself independent on the 10th of May 1877 and declared war on Turkey. That same date marked the formal creation of the Order of the Star of Romania.
The Romanian army joined the Russians to fight their common enemy, but only after Charles had made sure Romania was a co-belligerent ally, not a vassal of Russia. Charles led Romanian troops and later commanded the combined Russo-Romanian forces in battles across Bulgaria, including the siege of Plevna.** The war ended in an Ottoman defeat, and the Berlin peace conference of 1878 recognised the independence of Romania. The war had given Romania its independence, and Charles’ reputation as a leader of men had ensured his popularity among Romanians. He was crowned as Charles I the King of Romanians (Romanian: “Carol I”) on the 10th of May 1881. This same date was also marked by the formal creation of the Order of the Romanian Crown.
photo: Queen Elizabeth of Romania with her daughter Maria
* In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, she spent most of her time caring for the wounded, and founded the Decoration of the Cross of Queen Elisabeth to reward distinguished service in such work.
Elisabeth would gain fame also as ”Carmen Sylva”, the writer of poems, plays, novels and many other literary works.
** for his participation in the assault on Plevna, Russian Emperor Alexander II presented Charles with the Order of St George 2nd class (shortly before that he had already been awarded the Order of St George 3rd class), and for the capture of the city, in November 1877, the Order of St Andrew the First-Called.
photo: Crown Prince Ferdinand, Nicholas II and Charles I in Constanta
Visit of Nicholas II to Constanta on 1 June 1914, a month before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo (the last foreign visit of the imperial family of Russia). Romanovs and the Royal House of Romania were connected by family ties. Nicholas II was a cousin of Crown Princess Marie, the future Queen of Romania (aka Princess Marie of Edinburgh, granddaughter of Alexander II and Queen Victoria)
During the following years, Romania developed with leaps and bounds. The nation’s economy grew, the populace became better educated and Romania gained more esteem within the European family of nations. Despite the death from scarlet fever of the only child of Charles and Elisabeth, princess Maria (1870–1874), succession was safe with Charles’ nephew Prince Ferdinand (1865–1927) who was first adopted by Charles in 1881 and proclaimed Crown Prince in 1889.
Order of Charles I
As the 40th anniversary of King Charles’ reign drew closer, something special was prepared to honour the long rule of Romania’s first King. The Order of Charles I was originally designed by Heyer von Rosenfeld (1828–1896), an Austrian officer and a scholar of heraldry. King Charles signed royal decrees 1776/9 and 1777/9 creating the Order on 9 May 1906, published on 10 May 1906. May 10 has great significance to the Royal House and Romania; Charles entered Bucharest as a ruler for the first time on the 10th of May 1866, Romania declared its independence on the 10th of May 1877 and Charles was crowned as King on the 10th of May 1881.
The order was first founded in four classes of Collar, Grand Cross, Grand Officer and Commander. The focus of this article is the Collar and the Grand Cross which were bestowed frequently together to heads-of-state and Romanian dignitaries.
Badge of the Collar and Grand Cross
The badge at the centre of the collar and the Grand Cross consists of a red-brown enamelled cross bottony with gilded rays extending outwards from its centre. A crown above the cross, with a red-brown enamelled backing, bears the ribbon attachment device in form of a ring. The obverse depicts a crowned eagle spreading its wings and bearing a Latin cross in its beak and a sword and a mace in its claws. A silver ribbon goes through these old symbols of power, inscribed with the blue-enamelled legend “Prin statornicie la isbinda” (Through loyalty to victory). The eagle’s breast has a gilded centre with the portrait of King Charles surrounded by two laurel leaves.
The reverse centre bears the king’s monogram surrounded by a blue ribbon with two small laurel leaves and the legend “1866 10. MAIU 1906” (the dates of the beginning of King Charles’ reign and its 40th anniversary). The gilded rays are more pronounced on the reverse. This badge measures 77 mm in width and 89 mm in height with the crown with both the Grand Cross and the collar.
The star of the Grand Cross holds the same eagle as the collar cross but fixed on an 8-tipped gilded star. The diameter of the star is from 84 to 85 mm and the eagle’s wingspan is 89 to 90 mm.
The Grand Cross badge is worn on a large ribbon (sash) over the right shoulder, with the star on the left side of the chest, though clergy wear the sash long around the neck. The sash measures 101 to 102 mm and is watered light blue with narrow gold edges of 5 mm and a red centre stripe measuring 0,75 mm.
For women, the ribbon width for the Grand Cross was 50 mm, while the badge and the star were also reduced in size to 50 mm and 60 mm respectively.
The Collar and its Heraldry
(Special thanks to Mr. Tudor-Radu Tiron, PhD, for guidance with this section)
The collar of the order consists of a Grand Cross-sized insignia of the order affixed to a long gilded chain. The chain consists of 22 enamelled medallions that depict the following in heraldic terminology:
Coat of arms of Muntenia aka Greater Walachia:
Azure, an eagle with its wings inverted and crowned, holding a Latin cross in its beak, in its dexter claws a mace, in its sinister claws a sword, accompanied in the dexter canton of the chief by a sun, all Or.
Coat of arms of Moldavia:
Gules, an aurochs head accompanied between its horns by a six-pointed star and in the sinister canton of the chief by a crescent turned to sinister, all Or.
Coat of arms of Oltenia:
Gules, a crowned lion issuant from an opened crown, accompanied between its paws by a six-pointed star, all in Or.
Coat of arms of Dobrogea:
Azure, two dolphins reversed and affrontés, both Or.
Black enamel and silver quartered arms of the Royal House of Hohenzollern:
Quarterly Argent and Sable.
In additions to these heraldic medallions is one formed of two styled and cut-out “C” letters surrounding an “I”, the monogram of King Charles I. Midsections of the bodies of letters are decorated with red enamel jewels and the stylised “I” also has a red enamel interior lining.
The series of medallions are repeated on both sides of the collar, with the monogram after each crest.
The attachment mechanism is on the reverse of a silver crowned eagle with spread wings, bearing a golden Latin cross in its beak and with a sword and mace in its talons.
Variants of the 1872 arms existed that also incorporated the collar of the order. The collar was officially incorporated into the National Arms of Romania in 1921. Likewise, the ribbon with the motto “Nihil Sine Deo” in the 1921 arms is specifically described by law as being the “cordon” of this order.
The collar has a total length of 730 mm with the medallions measuring 19 mm and the monograms 21 x 18 mm.
The Grand Master of the order was the King of Romania, and the foreign minister was its chancellor. There was also a four-member council of honour, one of each class of the order, to resolve possible issues.
The requirements for the bestowal of the Grand Cross with collar were strict. It was to be bestowed only on military personnel who had commanded a mobilised army during times of war and to statesmen with at least 20 years of meritorious service and a year as prime minister. Other possibilities included individuals with exceptional scientific or artistic achievement, but only if their work had benefited not only Romania but the whole of mankind.
Romanian knights were required to have previously received the highest classes of other Romanian orders, which at the time of the founding of the order referred to the order of the star of Romania and the order of the Romanian crown. A minimum of five years (four years after 1932) were to pass between elevation from one class to the next. Foreign recipients were almost exclusively heads of state. Princes of the royal house received the collar of the order on their 18th birthday.
The limits of bestowal to Romanians were as follows:
The number of foreign recipients was not limited. The classes of Grand Officer and Commander were disbanded in 1932 by Charles II (1893–1953).
In exceptional cases, the order could be conferred posthumously and, as of the 5th of January 1944, the order could be bestowed on women. Beyond the prerequisites listed above, Grand Masters, particularly Charles II, bestowed orders directly, “motu propriu”, without proposals or mentions in the official gazette. Domestic awardees were required to pay a one-time tax based on the insignia they were bestowed, as high as 1040 lei for the Grand Cross with Collar.
The order of Charles I was bestowed as follows 1906 – 1947 according to mostly two primary sources:
ªThe author has also discovered two bestowals not recorded by either; that of Finnish President Risto Ryti and foreign minister J. von Ribbentrop of Germany. Both of them were bestowed grand cross with collar in 1942.
The difference between the two sources is due to Acovic & Springer relying also on other sources to determine foreign bestowals; auction catalogues, photographic evidence, museum collections, etc. Where as Mr Vlad relies solely on official gazette announcements.
Considering these details the author holds research by Mr Vlad to be more reliable on domestic bestowals to Romanians and Acovic & Springer on foreign bestowals. Thus we arrive at a total of 103 bestowals to Romanians, 49 to foreign persons and a total of 152 bestowals.
Bestowed persons include tsar Boris III of Bulgaria, reichsmarshall Herman Göring, Josef Pilsudsky, field-marshal, president of Poland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, King Edward VII of Great Britain and Irland.
Early examples were manufactured by Paul Telge of Berlin and later by Resch & Son of Bucharest.
The Order post 1947
The order was to be bestowed by the Grand Master exclusively to persons who have assisted the royal family in its efforts to build a democratic, prosperous and free Romania as a full member in the European and trans-Atlantic family of nations. The insignia of the order remained unchanged and the class structure the same as when the order was first created in 1906. The total number of Knights was capped at 75, though only four bestowals have taken place since 1947:
1948: Princess Ana of Romania (Grand Cross)
1996: Princess Margareta of Romania (Grand Cross)
2007: Prince Radu of Romania (Grand Cross)
2017: Her Majesty Margareta of Romania, Custodian of the Crown (Grand Master’s collar)
 Royal decree 1590/9, 15 April 1932. This year saw an extensive reorganisation of Romanian orders and two of them affect the order o f Charles I; Law 1545 on 28 April and Law 1590 on 9 May. These mostly detailed matters concerning the nomination and bestowal procedures of the order.
 For comparison in 1906 the median monthly wage in Romania was 39 lei.
 Special thanks to Mr Ioan-Luca Vlad, PhD, for sharing his research with the author.
H.E. Mr Razvan Rotundu, Romanian Ambassador to Finland
Mr Tudor-Radu Tiron, PhD, counsellor to the presidential administration of Romania
Mr Ioan-Luca Vlad, PhD, chancellor of royal Romanian orders
Mrs Catherine Lapish, curator Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood
Mr Richard A. Flory, editor Journal of the Order and Medals Society of America
Mr Michael Autengruber
Mr Kris Johnston
Unpublished original research by Mr Ioan-Luca Vlad
Acovic, Dragomir.: List of Recipients of the Rumanian Order of Carol the First. Informatsje Srpskog Cheralditschlog Druschtwa, 1995.
Klepper, Nicolae: Romania: An Illustrated History. Hippocrene Books, 2002.
Klietmann, Dr. Kurt-Gerhard: Phaleristik Rumänien Band 1. Verlag die Ordenssammlung, Berlin, 1975.
Kremnitz, Mite: Reminiscences of the King of Roumania. Harper & Brothers, New York and London, 1899.
Pankey, C.H.: The Royal Romanian Order of Carol I. The Journal of the Order and Medals Society of America 53, 2002, Nro. 2.
Ruokonen, Antti: Yesterday and Today’s Knights: Orders of Romania. Vaasa, 2010.
Stump, W.C.: The Orders and medals of Joachim von Ribbentrop. Axis History, 2012. [Retrieved 17.5.2020]
Weber, Wilhelm: Das rumänische Ordenswesen und seine zwei ranghöchsten Orden. Orden und Ehrenzeichen 2, 2000, Nro. 10.
Author photo by Heidi Järvi, Seppälän Valokuvaamo 2020