THE FLAGS OF POLAND
 


 
FROM MEDIEVAL TIMES TO THE PRESENT DAY
 

Very appropriately in light of the country's turbulent and often tragic history, the Polish national anthem is titled "Poland Has Not Yet Perished." That sentiment is echoed by Poland's national symbol, the white eagle on a field of red, which has remained constant for more than seven hundred years. Originating as a coat of arms in the thirteenth century, the white eagle on red has appeared in many different forms. Rendered into flag form it served the early Polish kings as a a royal banner. By the eighteenth century white and red had come to be recognized as Poland's national colors and the country's first true national flag was a horizontal bicolor, white over red.

See also Polish Naval and Military Flags.
 



 

OLD POLAND  •  MIDDLE AGES-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

 

Royal Banner  •  Piast Dynasty  •  Circa 1295

 

Royal Banner  •  Wladyslaw I Lokietek  •  Circa 1320

 

Royal Banner  •  Casimar III  •  Circa 1350

 

Royal Banner  •  Wladyslaw II Jagiello  • Circa 1420

 

Ensign of the Kingdom of Poland  •  Sixteenth Century

 

Royal Banner  •  Saxon Dynasty  •  Circa 1750

 

Royal Banner  •  Stanislav II  •  Circa 1780

The origin of Poland's coat of arms is obscure but its first appearance in flag form dates from the thirteenth century. Such flags served as the royal banners of the Polish kings and were not national flags as the term is understood today. In the sixteenth century, however, an ensign with vertical stripes of red and white with the eagle on the red stripe is known to have been used at sea. The Saxon kings used a royal banner with the shield of the arms of Saxony on the breast of the eagle and the last king of Poland, Stanislav II, had a similar banner with his personal arms on the eagle's breast.

 

Grand Duchy of Lithuania

 

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

In the first half of the seventeenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was Eastern Europe's most  wealthy and powerful state. A confederated elective monarchy, it comprised most of present-day Poland, the Baltic states, East Prussia, and much of Ukraine and Belorussia. It evolved from the de facto personal union between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that had existed since the fourteenth century and which was formalized in the sixteenth century. But the commonwealth's complex constitution was fatally defective. Political instability gradually undermined the state and by the middle of the eighteenth century the Commonwealth was a prey to its increasingly powerful neighbors. The independence of Poland was extinguished in the second half of the eighteenth century by Prussia, Austria and Russia in a series of three territorial partitions. The last of these, in 1795, wiped Poland from the map. The various flags of the Commonwealth were striped red-white red, charged with a quartering of the arms of Poland and Lithuania.


THE DUCHY OF WARSAW
 

Ducal Standard

 

State Flag

Though the once-powerful Polish kingdom was swallowed up by Russia, Prussia and Austria in the three partitions of the late eighteenth century, Polish nationalism remained strong. Napoleon Bonaparte gave it expression when in 1807 he stripped Prussia and Austria of lands gained in the partitions of Poland, using them to create the Duchy of Warsaw. The Emperor revived an old connection by appointing his German ally, King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, as Duke of Warsaw. Though the Duchy was little more than a vassal state of France, Poles hoped that it would make possible a revival of the Kingdom of Poland. These hopes were dashed, however, by the defeat of Napoleon.

As Duke of Warsaw, Frederick Augustus I had a white standard displaying the ducal arms: Saxony and Poland impaled and crowned. A horizontal white-red bicolor—identical to the current Polish flag—is known to have been used and though its status is uncertain it may have served as the state flag.


CONGRESS POLAND  •  1815-32

 

Russian Empire  •  National Flag

 

Kingdom of Poland  •  Civil Ensign

 

Tsar's Standard as King of Poland

 

Flag of the November Uprising  •  1830-31

 

Flag of the January Uprising  •  1863-64

The Congress of Vienna sought as far as possible to restore "legitimacy" to the European order but recognized that many of the changes wrought by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars could not be reversed. Thus, though the Duchy of Warsaw was abolished and some of its territory was given to Prussia and Russia, the remainder was fashioned into a Kingdom of Poland in personal union with the Russian Empire. The Russian Tsar was crowned King of Poland and the country, informally known as Congress Poland, was endowed with a distinctly liberal constitution. This Kingdom of Poland possessed its own army and governing institutions, the Tsar being represented in Warsaw by a Viceroy. But neither Alexander I nor his successor Nicholas I (who ascended the Russian and Polish thrones in 1829) honored this arrangement. Russia's determination to eradicate Polish autonomy met with increasing resistance, culminating in the 1830-31 uprising. After eleven months of fierce combat in which the Polish Army sided with the rebels, the revolt was put down. The subsequent Organic Statute for the Kingdom of Poland (1832) abolished the Polish constitution, legislative assembly and army. After another uprising in 1863-64 the kingdom itself was abolished and Congress Poland was made a province of the Russian Empire.

Congress Poland had no national flag, the Russian tricolor serving that purpose, but there was a Polish merchant ensign, used by vessels on the Vistula River: the Russian Andrew flag with a canton of the Polish arms. The Tsar's standard as King of Poland displayed the Polish coat of arms on the breast of the double-headed Russian black eagle. During the 1830-31 and 1863-64 uprisings, several variants of the white-red bicolor were used by the rebels.


TOWARD INDEPENDENCE  •  1916-19

 

Provisional State Flag & Ensign  •  1918-20

In 1916 the Central Powers, which by then occupied Russian Poland, proclaimed the territory's independence from Russia and in 1917 set up a Kingdom of Poland under a regency. It was intended to place a Habsburg archduke on the Polish throne but with the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary in late 1918 this plan fell through. Instead a Polish Republic was proclaimed. The flag of the provisional Republic was the white-red bicolor. Also in use between 1917 and 1920 was a state flag and ensign based on that of the 1915-30 Kingdom of Poland, but with a red saltire cross instead of a blue one. This flag was abandoned by 1920.

 

POLAND REBORN  •  1919-39

 

National Flag  •  1919-27

 

State Flag  •  1919-27

 

Presidential Flag  •  1919-27

 

National Flag Since 1927

 

State Flag  •  1927-45 & Since 1989

 

Presidential Flag  •  1927-45

 

Presidential Standard Since 1989

With the establishment of the Republic of Poland in 1919, Polish flags began to assume their modern form. The initial flags, in use from 1919 to 1927, were white and crimson rather than red. The presidential flag was a banner of the state arms. In 1927 the eagle was modified to its present style and crimson gave way to red. A new presidential flag, a swallowtailed pennant vertically striped in the national colors with the eagle on the red stripe, replaced the banner of arms. During and after World War II these flags were used by the London-based Polish government in exile. That government adopted a presidential flag in 1956. With the demise of the Polish Peoples Republic in 1989 (see below) this flag, slightly modified became the Standard of the President of the Republic of Poland.


THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC  •  1952-89

 

National Flag

 

State Flag •  1955-89

 

Polish United Worker's Party

Though Poland fell under Soviet domination in 1945 it was not until 1952 that the Polish Peoples Republic was formally established. Unlike most other Eastern European nations in the Soviet sphere, the PPR did not adopt a communist-style coat of arms. Except for the removal of the crown from the head of the eagle the Polish coat of arms and Polish flags were unchanged. The national flag was the plain white-red bicolor, while the state flag, adopted in 1955, displayed the arms on the white stripe. The flag of the ruling party—supposedly a coalition of parties but actually communist dominated—was plain red.

 

"POLAND HAS NOT YET PERISHED"

 

Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity"

Founded on September 17, 1980 at the Gdańsk Shipyard, the Solidarity trade union heralded the end of communist rule in Poland. Under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa Solidarity became a major component of the anticommunist, anti-Soviet movement. In alliance with liberal intellectuals and the Catholic Church, Solidarity soon brought the communist regime to the point of collapse. The regime struck back with a declaration of martial law, which lasted until 1983. But Poland's economic and social crisis proved insolvable and this together with the progressive loosening of Soviet control over its East European satellites, forced the government to negotiate with Solidarity. The result was fatal to the party-state. Free elections were held, leading to the formation of a non-communist government. The hated title of Peoples Republic was scrapped and the country became the Republic of Poland once more. This was symbolized by replacing the crown on the head of the Polish eagle.

The Solidarity logo, applied to a white flag, became the symbol or resistance to the communist regime in the 1980s. Many variants existed, some with additional inscriptions, some in the form of the Polish bicolor with the logo on the white stripe.



BACK to HISTORICAL FLAGS Index Page