Monday, March 31, 2014

The Prussian Award System

Prior to modern Germany.....there was Prussia.  In olden times....basically prior to the end of World War I and the big changes to government authority in Germany.....there was the Prussian way of doing things.  Status figured into just about everything.  And as part of status....there are awards handed out by the government authority (namely the Kaiser).

So, this is a list of the various awards that got into the mix of Prussian lifestyle.

Pour le Merite: Sometimes referred to as the 'Blue Max'.  This was an award dreamed up around 1740 by Frederick the Great, and was categorized as an award that could be given to both military personnel and civilians.  The general award itself lasted two years before it was decided that it was mostly for military personnel, and a separate category of the Blue Max was dreamed up for the science and art crowd.  It's purpose was to note individual achievement.  It was a used a good bit in World War I....for noting military heroic actions.  As for non-Germans getting it?  Yes, Charles Darwin is noted as a winner, as is John C. Fremont (the explorer).

The Order of the House of Hohenzollern:  It's a Prussian award for those of a 'lesser' position in life.  Basically, junior officers and regular citizens had an opporutnity to be awarded this prestigious 'order'.  This came up in 1841 and had eight separate categories (yeah, it was fairly complicated).  The Honor Cross First Class was the highest level, with the Silver Merit being the last level.  The bulk of awardees?  Military.

The Order of Saint John:  This was a Prussian medal that came up during the crusades and was awarded to knights in good standing from the region who had distinguished themselves.  The Thirty Years War (mid-1600s) basically took out what remaining knights existed, and the medal slide down a notch or two in the period after that.  Around 1842, it went through a come-back period, and it should be noted that the 'order' is still around to some degree today.

Order of the Black Eagle: Started in 1701, it's generally rated the highest Prussian award.  Generally, you had to be in the Monarch class, some crowned individual, or a member of the Prussian military.  Up until 1918, there were roughly 400 of these issued out, so you can figure the Kaiser would award around ten to twenty of these per year.

Order of the Red Eagle: Started in 1792, this was an award that filled the gap left by the Black Eagle.  Civilians, and junior military personnel could be awarded the medal.  Lifetime achieve was one of the angles used to nominate folks for this 'order'.  As you would imagine, this got divided up in regulations, and there were around six classes of the order, and each class got divided up even further.  At some point, they even noted the Red Eagle could be awarded to non-Christians and developed a category for those folks (yes, meaning this could be awarded to Jews....with Meno Burg as an example as a winner of the Red Eagle).

The logic behind these awards and another dozen smaller and lesser awards?  Prussians relied on status.  It mattered. Just saying you were a rich guy or some noted person....usually didn't amount to anything.  You were in a class when born, and it's doubtful you ever exceeded that class unless you got yourself into the military and worked up a couple of steps.

To some degree, it explains the nature of life in Prussian and early Germany...up until the end of World War I.  After the defeat in 'The Great War', there's a fair amount of blame for the defeat which gets handed out.....mostly to the monarch nature of society and leadership.

If you generally showed up some place in Prussia prior to 1918 with any of these awards on your generally meant you were someone special.  After the war, things went down a step or two, and the awards meant a lot less.

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