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The Order of the Red Eagle (German: Roter Adlerorden) was an order of chivalry of the Kingdom of Prussia. It was awarded to both military personnel and civilians, to recognise valor in combat, excellence in military leadership, long and faithful service to the kingdom, or other achievements. As with most German (and most other European) orders, the Order of the Red Eagle could only be awarded to commissioned officers or civilians of approximately equivalent status. However, there was a medal of the order, which could be awarded to non-commissioned officers and enlisted men, lower ranking civil servants and other civilians.
The predecessor to Order of the Red Eagle was founded on November 17, 1705, by the Margrave Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg-Bayreuth as the Ordre de la Sincerité. This soon fell into disuse but was revived in 1712 in Brandenburg-Bayreuth and again in 1734 in Brandenburg-Ansbach, where it first received the name "Order of the Brandenburg Red Eagle". The statutes were changed in 1777 and the Order named therein as the "Order of the Red Eagle". The Order was conferred in one class, limited to fifty knights.
The Kingdom of Prussia absorbed both Brandenburg-Bayreuth and Brandenburg-Ansbach in January, 1792, and on June 12, 1792, King Frederick William II again revived the order as a Prussian royal order. After the Order of the Black Eagle, the Red Eagle was the second highest order of the kingdom in order of precedence.
In 1810, King Frederick William III revised the statutes of the Order, expanding it into three classes. In 1830, a breast star was authorized for the Second Class and the First Class General Honor Decoration became the Fourth Class of the Order. The statutes were further revised in 1861, and a Grand Cross was established as the highest class of the Order. By change to the statutes of the Order of the Black Eagle, every member of that order was automatically invested with the new Grand Cross of the Order of the Red Eagle, as well as with the Order of the Prussian Crown. By 1918, an affiliated soldier's medal had been made available to commoners and enlisted men.
The monarchy collapsed on November 9, 1918. Though Wilhelm II formally abdicated his personal claims to the throne on November 28, 1918, he admonished his former subjects to "render assistance to those in actual power" until the "re-establishment of order in the German Empire" (1923 Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, edited by Charles F. Horne). A new German constitution was signed into law, August 11, 1919, effectually putting a legal end to the monarchy. All orders and decorations formally conferred by the monarchy ceased to exist, but recipients of the Order of the Red Eagle continued to wear it with their other decorations during the eras of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the restored republic.
The badge of the Order for the Grand Cross was a gold (gilt after 1916) Maltese Cross enameled in white, with red enameled eagles between the arms of the cross; the gold central disc bore the Royal monogram, surrounded by a blue enameled ring bearing the motto of the Order, Sincere et Constante.
The badge for the 1st to 3rd classes was a gold (gilt after 1916) cross pattée, enameled in white; that for the 4th class was similar but with smooth, plain silver arms. After 1879 the silver arms of the 4th class cross were pebbled in texture and appearance. The central disc bore the red eagle on a white enamel background on the obverse, with the royal cipher of King Friedrich Wilhelm surmounted by the Prussian crown on the reverse. The enlisted man's medal was of a relatively simple, round design, topped with the Prussian crown, with a depiction of the regular badge in the center of the medal on the obverse, with the royal cipher of the reigning monarch on the reverse.
The breast star of the Order was (for the Grand Cross) a golden eight-pointed star, (for 1st Class) a silver eight-pointed star, or (for 2nd Class) a silver four-pointed star with a white enameled cross pattée, all with straight rays. The central disc bore the red eagle on a white enamel background, surrounded by a ring (enameled blue for Grand Cross, white for the others) bearing the motto of the Order, Sincere et Constanter.
After 16 September 1848, awards of all classes (except the medal) bestowed for military merit had two golden swords crossed through the central medallion.
The traditional ribbon of the Order was white with two orange stripes at the edges, but combat awards were frequently conferred with a black and white ribbon similar to that of the Iron Cross. Numerous variations of the ribbon existed, depending on the nature of the specific award.
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