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Rzeczpospolita Polska

Last modified: 2006-08-12 by jarig bakker
Keywords: poland | eagle | crown |
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[Poland] by António Martins

See also

Polish Flag: Colors

The national colors are white and red in two horizontal parallel strips of equal width and length, the upper strip being white and the lower red. Both strips linked together make up the national flag whose length-to-width ratio is 8:3.
The Polish flag dates back to the mediaeval pennants. At first it was all red with a white eagle. Such a flag, or rather a banner, was at the side of King Wladyslaw Jagiello during the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. The red and white colors appeared together as late as the 17th century. The banner of Zygmunt III Vasa (d. 1632) consisted of three strips: the upper and the bottom ones being red, and the one in the middle - white. The banners of Wladyslaw IV (d. 1648) and Jan Casimir (d. 1668) were made up of four strips - the upper and the third from top being red and the second from top and the bottom one being white. The banners bore the official crest of the State.

During the reign of August II (d. 1706), white ribbons were introduced in the army (according to the Saxon pattern) as the signs of prime national color. They were attached to the left side of the headgear with ornamental pins. During the Four-Year Sejm (1788-1792) first red-and-white ribbons appeared.

The Sejm formally introduces Polish national colors during the November Uprising, on February 7, 1831. The colors were white and red, and were used in the national uprisings of the 19th century is the form of white-and-red ribbons. They were officially recognized as state colours in 1919 after Poland had regained her independence.
Source: Polish World website.
Dov Gutterman, 21 Feb 1999

I thought that Polish flag ratio is 5:8 (or 8:5 according to above definition of the ratio)?
Željko Heimer, 24 Feb 1999

"The Polish national flag is built up from 2 horizontal belts: red (amarant) below and white above. These colors are connected with the color of the White Eagle used on the red crest. The upper belt is the color of the Eagle, and the lower - the color of crest. The right proportions of the flag are 5:8 (height:width). The process whereby those colors became the national flag was quite complicated and gradual. For example, some medieval rule said, that if the White Eagle is put on the red crest, then the colors of flag are optional. Nevertheless, red-white colors occurred on the national flags from XVII-XIX cent. very often, but the location of colors was unstable. Sometimes it was red above and white below. This situation was resolved on 1st August 1919. Since that time the flag has been not changed except for the White Eagle. The communists took off the crown from the Eagle. It returned in 1989."
Source: "Encyclopaedia of Poland" by Wydawnictwo Kluszczynski, Krakow, 1996 (my translation)
Mariusz Kedzierski, 24 May 2000

The white over red derives from heraldics: Argent and Gules are the respective colours of the Polish eagle and of its the field.
Pierre Gay, 13 Oct 1998

Yes, it is. Moreover, there are some (unnecessary) non-heraldic explanations: traditionally, a white eagle flying over red (rising?) sun, or, during the communist era, white would have stood for peace while red for socialism. But, in general, a flag derived from COA according to heraldic rules needs no further 'explanation'.
Jan Zrzavy, 13 Oct 1998

State Flag

[State Flag of Poland] by Adam Kromer, from his website.

Used as:

  • State Flag of diplomatic representation - used abroad only
  • Ensign of merchant ships
  • Flag of civil Airfields and landing zones since 1990
  • Flag of Harbours (KAPITANAT AND BOSMANAT OF HARBOURS) since 1990
Eagle in coat of arms was changed - in 1927, after WWII (crown was removed) and 1990 (1927 pattern with minor changes).
Adam Kromer, info from his website.

The state flag of Poland is with the arms. Earlier we discussed the communist nations with the least and most communist symbols on them, Poland's flag's only change during the communist period was the removal of the crown from the head of the eagle on its arms. The current version returns the crown. I think this vesion is still the state flag, but it may now be an alternate useable by anyone. The presence of the crown on the eagle is interesting since the Polish monarchy ended compleatly in 1795, and was constitutionally limited for many centuries before that, yet each Polish flag since has included the crown, with the above mentioned exception.
Nathan Augustine, 24 February 1996

The removal of the crown from the head of the eagle on its arms was *not* the only change. They also shortened the claws of the eagle since long claws represent imperialistic thinking. They have to my knowledge not been extended since after the fall of the comunist era. Interesting to note that the crown chosen to crown the eagle is that of King Mieszko I, and not the one used before the comunistic era.
Dawid Rojek-Szumanski, 14 Nov 1999

Can someone confirm this? It sounds suspiciously like an "urban legend", IMHO, but I'm hardly an expert there.
Could someone show images of the two different crowns (if they really are - I though the same crown was restored)
Željko Heimer, 17 Nov 1999

I just perused an article in a back issue of the Flag Bulletin entitled "The White Eagle of Poland" by Alfred Znamierowski (Vol. XIII, No. 4, July-August 1974) and it shows the eagle as bearing a crown since it was first introduced in the 10th Century continuously except when the communist government established in 1955 the uncrowned arms that were used until 1990.
Dave Martucci, 6 August 1997

The most important: in the Polish State flag (pl-st.gif) the claws of the eagle are gold (from 1991) - as is the crown (on Mr. Martines flag it looks like a gold star...) But the most important: Polish eagle *never* had red stars on its both wings! In 1926 (or even earlier) the Masonry installed white (and therefore almost invisible) 5-arm Star on its wings. So it was of course inherited by the socialist regime in 1946. In 1991 there was a fierce debate in the Polish Parliament: the Left was maintaining (1) that the symbols are not important, therefore there is no reason to crown the Eagle and change its wing and claws; (2) that it is very important, that the 5-arm Star was present on its wing. In the end the compromise was reached. Two arms of the Star had been shortened!! And it is still white!
Janusz Korwin-Mikke, 3 Feb 1999

A month ago or so I'd sent some remarks on the Polish flag You use in FOTW. I'd even explained the changes after 1989 - yet I see that after last corrections You are still using a strange (in fact never existing) image with a Red Star on the wings of the Eagle. Please: explain me: WHY???
Janusz Korwin-Mikke, 19 Apr 1999

It is definitely an artefact gotten from resizing of the CoA. The CoA indeed have five-pointed star like feature on the wings, but it is not red, not star in it own. As far as I know there were no changes in this part of CoA in 1989, nor there was ever a red star there. I made the "improvement" needed.
Željko Heimer, 26 Apr 1999

Janusz Korwin-Mikke is a well known Polish politician. His comments relate to the Polish Coat of Arms. The centre of each wing of the eagle had a decorative element in the form of a star - it was the way of linking the feathers together. Of course the paranoid will notice that the star is a symbol of communism, and so "the eagle must be changed".

BUT, now that I've looked at the state flag, I see he's right. There are two stars on the eagle, and they are brown. They were never meant to be brown, nor were they really ever meant to be stars at all. So, if someone has the skill, could you recolour the brown "stars" on the eagle's wings to the same colour as the eagle ? This applies to the State Flag and to the Air Force ensign.
Robert M J Czernkowski, 20 Apr 1999

In Barraclough's FOTW (1971) and FTAAATW (1975) and in Pedersen (1980) I see in the armpits of the eagle a starfish in the same (white) color as the eagle has. Whether that is a Western interpretation or some Eastern rendering - I don't know. In [since defunct --ed.] I found this CoA, which I send along. In the armpits of the eagle are leavelike things.
Jarig Bakker, 20 Apr 1999

No, those elements on the Eagle's wings were meant to be Stars! But in 1989, after we had shaken off the Soviet domination (and exchanged it for the euro-socialism...) Polish Parliament decided for a compromise: two arms of the Stars were shortened. So NOW they are not Stars. And they NEVER were neither brown nor red! They were made of feathers, as the rest of the Eagle's wings.
Janusz Korwin-Mikke, 16 May 1999

Interested in your comments. The white and red flag bearing the crowned eagle on a red shield in the centre of the upper white band is still indeed the state flag - flown normally by the President and by government buildings. I fly it myself on my consulate.
The crown was maintained on the form of eagle adopted by the Second Republic, with the rebirth of Polish independence, to symbolise that Poland was its own master and subject to no-one else. The Communist decision to dispense with the crown after World War II was universally unpopular in Poland.
With the birth of the Third Republic, after the fall of Communism, the crown was restored again as a symbol of full Polish sovereignty.
Mike Oborski, 16 Jul 1999

Primary Polish flag is white over red and was this since 1918. This one is without coat of arms. This flag was unchanged even during communist regime. Version with coat of arms is used by President of Poland. Is almost the same as used on Polish merchant ships. During communist regime Poland had no President but only State Board. They used flag with coat of arms but eagle had no crown. After 1989 Polish parliament reestablished crown. There was some minor changes with eagle's pattern, because right-wing politicians wanted to remove anything what could be connected with communist regime. They maximized because Polish eagle was unchanged since 1918.
Peter 'Mikolaj' Mikolajski, 18 Sept 2000

Polish Law on National Symbols

Poland's national symbols are defined by the "Coat of arms, colors and anthem Act of 31th January 1980" ("Ustawa z dnia 31 stycznia 1980 r. o godle, barwach i hymnie Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej").
According to the Article 2 of the Act, "The coat of arms of the Republic of Poland is the image of a white eagle with a gold crown on his head turned right, with unfolded wings and gold beak and claws, on a red field."
Article 4 of the Act stipulates that: "(1) The colors of the Republic of Poland are white and red, in two horizontal, parallel bends of equal breadth, upper white and lower red. (2) If the colours of the Republic of Poland are placed vertically, white should be on the left side of the surface, looking from the front."
Art. 6: "(1) The state flag of the Republic of Poland is a rectangular piece of cloth with the colours of Republic of Poland, placed on a mast. (2) A flag defined in section (1) with the coat of arms of the Republic of Poland placed in the centre of the white bend is also a state flag."
Then the Act goes on to stipulate that the state flag is to be hoisted by the Sejm and Senat (lower and upper houses of the Parliament), the President, the Government and the Prime Minister, by local authorities (during legislative sessions) and by other governmental bodies (during national holidays). It is also hoisted by river and lake ships.
The flag with the coat of arms is to be hoisted by diplomatic, consular and other official establishments abroad, by civilian airports and airfields, by civilian airplanes while abroad and by the port authorities.
Polish sea-going ships use the flag with coat of arms as their merchant ensign.
Bartek Kachniarz, 21 Aug 2000

I think 1990 or 1989, but not 1980. Polish eagle with crown in 1980, in times of communists ... Hmmm, very doubtful.
Victor Lomantsov, 21 Aug 2000

Wasn't the crown returned to the COA only in early 1990's? Is this a typo or is it indeed the change made so early?
Željko Heimer, 21 Aug 2000

The act can be as of the year 1980, but have been changed since then. This is normal legal procedure in many countries, including, I suppose, Poland. You don't issue a totally new act of law because of all small corrections you may want to adopt each year. Flag laws are not usually changed very often.
Elias Granqvist, 21 Aug 2000

The act itself comes from 1980. The crown however is added by an Act changing the Coat of Arms, Colours and Anthem Act. The changing Act was enacted February 9th 1990 and is effective since February 22nd 1990.
The Coat of Arms... Act was changed a few times in later years but the changes did not affect the insignia whatsoever.
An interesting detail for those involved in heraldry: During Communist era the crown was not the only change. If you look closer
at the Polish eagle, you notice that he has a silver star on each wing. Before World War II the stars had three points and were
called 'the threeleaf' (trojlisc). The Communists changed it to silver 5-pointed stars. In 1990 there was a big debate about it.
Finally, they found a middle ground. The star has 3 big arms and 2 smaller ones.
Bartek Kachniarz, 22 Aug 2000

I spotted an error in the notes on FOTW Polish pages regarding the date of restoration of the crown on eagle's head.It happened much earlier,in August 1989, when after the creation of the first non-communist government in the post-WWII era, crown was restored and General Jaruzelski was 'promoted' from Chairman of the Council of State of Polish Peoples' Republic to President of Polish Republic.
Chris Kretowicz, 19 Sep 2001

Coat of Arms of Poland

[Coat of Arms of Poland] from [since defunct --ed.], reported by Jarig Bakker, 20 Apr 1999

The Polish Eagle bears the Crown since the 10th century. There is an image reported on coins minted by Boleslaw the Brave, the first Polish king. The Crown symbolizes independence from any authority. In the middle ages there were two main in Europe political powers: the Papacy and the German Empire, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation). German (Teutonic) tribes always fought with the Western Slavic tribes, finally they won war with the Velete Confederation and established German rule in Brandenburg. Brandenburg, Rügen and Vorpommern were ethnic Slavic lands till late 11th century. Old Slavic name for Berlin is Brenna (Velete capital) and for Magdeburg is Dziewin. Boleslaw the Brave met German Emperor Otto III in Gniezno (first Polish capital) in the year 1000. They signed a Peace Treaty, which was broken by the next German Emperor Henry. Polish Bill on the CoA is probably the world's oldest bill on the CoA still in use. The bill was given by King Przemysl in 1294. Since the 10th century the crowned eagle was used only by sovereign rulers and governments of Poland.
Krzysztof Kurzeja, 15 Jun 2000

Poland was left without a separate ruler (even a foreign one) during the last period of Russian domination, when even the grandduchy status was abolished; before that the Russian czar accumulated the title of Grandduke of Poland, entiled to the referred arms. However, the Russian imperial CoA did show the polish ineschuteon (placed on the top of the dexter wing of the eagle, which may substantiate this claim: Though Poland was not administratively autonomous from other parts of the russian empire, the czar did retain the title and the arms in use.
Antonio Martins, 16 Jun 2000

With respect to the crown over the head of the eagle on the Polish flag and arms even when Poland was a republic, as it is now and as it was during the interwar period, this can perhaps be explained by the fact that Poland before the 18th Century partitions was in effect an elective monarchy. The Polish Monarchy was known as the 'Rzeczpolitna Polska', or 'Polish Republic', the official name of the country since 1919 with the exception of the Communist period.
Of course, the franchise for electing a king was strictly limited, and the elections were marked by great bribery and corruption; see any accounts of the election of various Saxon kings to the Polish throne during the 18th Century, or for that matter the election of Stanislav Leszczynski during the middle of that century.
Ron Lahav, 14 Mar 2004

I do not remember from my school years any teacher explaining the red colour on our flag as a symbol of communism. Even the official school coursebooks explained it as a symbol for blood shed for freedom in our stormy history. Whereas the white stripe certainly stands for peace.
It is true we never had any red stars on our COA during the communist rule. And the whole dispute over the star like signs on the eagle's wings was really a nonsense to me. Some time ago I visited the museum in my town and one of the exhibits was a COA which had survived the World War II and to my astonishment it showed regular white stars on the wings! I wonder what all those right politicians, including Mr Korwin-Mikke, would say to that.
Piotr Kowalski, 13 Dec 2004

From our internal vexillological studies Poland flag colours have no link with communism; these colours (red & white) were always used by the old monarchy of Poland (Poland had a great role in Medieval Age in Europe and Polish Empire was one of the most important in Europe in a medium period). The oldest Polish monarchy symbol that sometime could be still used on flags is in facr a WHITE "crowned" eagle with Yellow tongue on a RED shield: we can find this symbol from the XIII century (we have already made some flag like this sometime ago for some collectioners and some hystorical professor).
This is why in 1919 one year after indipendence, Polish Parliament adopted a simple red and white bi-colour flag for its country.
Paolo Luigi, 14 Dec 2004

I`ve found your site about the Polish eagle. There is one more hypothesis about the origin of Polish CoA. In the year 1000, in Gniezno, there was a meeting of Polish duke Boleslaw Chrobry [the Strong] with German Emperor Otton III. Boleslaw was given the title of Roman Patricius, and [accordingly] he was given roman, white eagles as his symbol. It is probable that current Polish eagle is a reminiscence of Boleslaw`s patricism.
Tadeusz Stasiak, 30 Dec 2004


Since 2004, there is an official Polish Flag Day observed on May 2. May Day and Constitution Day continue to be public holidays and flag-flying days, so in practice, the white and red Polish flag is flown continuously for the first three days of May each year.
Karol Palion, 4 Apr 2006