The Hungarian Vitéz Order (Vitézi Rend)

One of my main collecting themes used to be this Vitéz order. At that time I even ran a quite extensive website with information on the order, variations etc. This is very short, condensed version of that information.

Hungary was a defeated country after the Great War. The war was lost, neighboring countries invaded and a communist revolution took place, and a for Hungary very unfortunate Trianon treaty was signed. Admiral Horthy became the Regent (a historic Hungarian title) of this nation in 1920.

This was the moment for a new order to celebrate the heroes of a lost war and re-establish a feeling of pride. The Order of the Valiant* (in Hungarian, Vitézi Rend) or Knighthood of the Heroes was the first and probably the most important Hungarian order established after the Great War with a substantial social impact.

*(The word vitéz has several meanings in the dictionary. As noun: warrior, soldier, champion, hero, knight and as adjective: valiant, gallant, brave, fearless of danger. Therefore giving the name of the order an exact translation is difficult. The two translations used here I have seen used in several documents therefore I use them as well.)

Some awardees, first one in the interwar Hungarian uniform and the last in the veterans organization uniform (and based on the medals officer during part of WW1)

Two badges of the order made by two different makers. There were more makers but these are the two most common variations by Boczán and Jerouschek. The badges were not numbered but many were privately named or numbered. They started with two sets of numbers one for officers and one for other ranks and the numbering system changed in the 1930s when many awardees also received a new certificate with a different number. That way a badge with only a number often will leave several possibilities open.

The order was established in 1920 (Prime Ministerial Edict Nr 6650/1920) by the Government under Prime Minister Count Teleki and Admiral Horthy, the Regent of Hungary from 1920 till 1945. The latter also became the Captain of the order from its institution till its formal ending in 1945 (According to the rule 529/1945 but it was 1948 before it was practically disbanded).

The order has been re-instituted after the war (first in exile and later also in Hungary) but this is only about the historic order.

Diploma of the award, handsigned by Horthy

One of the main differences with most other awards that it is based on the requirement that the awardees had received a certain level of medal during the last war. At the beginning this would be for WW1 but later in WW2 the same requirements would have to be fulfilled.

This way of working made if possible to acknowledge exceptional deeds of Bravery from a previous period as part of an empire that no longer existed. These deeds would otherwise have passed unknown and unrewarded in a country that fought on the losing side of the war.

The medal requirements were more or less the same for both world wars. The small silver medal for bravery (96.000 awarded in WW1 for Hungarians) in the case of enlisted men, and the large silver medal for bravery (26.000 awarded in WW1 to Hungarians) for the rank of NCO. The Signum Laudis was minimal requirement for the rank of Lieutenant and this goes on, for higher ranks higher grades of medals were expected. The small silver medal for bravery only very seldom led to actual awards of the vitéz order. It was too common to bestow the title on all owners of these. It was just that, a minimal requirement.

Below a WW2 period officer and a nco, both meeting the criteria based on their own medals.

Part of the award of the order was the granting of a title: vitéz. This title was used as a prefix to the name as can be seen in the namecards below.

This title also could be inherited by the oldest son. If this oldest son was of sound physical and mental condition he would inherit the title at the age of 17. In this way the order can be compared to a noble title especially as the title was accompanied by a grant of land of approximately 10 hectares.

Group of new, mainly inherited, awardees

The award were granted in a great yearly ceremony by the Regent, Admiral Horthy himself. The ceremony took originally place in Budapest on the Margit Sziget, a small island in the Danube, located between Buda and Pest. Later this changes to a more symbolic location. This was in Székesfehervar, a city renowned as this was the place were the early kings of Hungary were crowned and buried. The ceremony was at the exact same place, in the ruins of the original church where these crownings took place. During the war the ceremonies were much smaller and held in different locations.

Below two invitations for award ceremonies in 1943. Left the central one of 1943 and right a local version held in Transylvania in 1943! As you can see the war years 41/42/43 had only very small amounts of awards. For 1943 in total 300 awardees. Many of these were for people from the regained territories like Transylvania who could not have applied before 1941 which is the case in both invitations below!

Each award would exist out of the actual award (to be paid by the awardee), a full size diploma in colour as shown earlier in this blog and a certificate. Below 4 examples of the certificate or in Hungarian: igazolvány. The first one is to an officer which is not visible on the document itself.

The granting of land to the vitéz members was part of a land reform executed by István Nagyatádi Szabó. In the early ’20s much land was still in the hands of few and it was part of a modernization of land ownership that was badly needed to become a more balanced and modern nation.  The actual grants were quite limited thought, around 20% would actually get the grant of land (roughly 5500 grants of land of the almost 24.000 total awards).

The grant of land received its own diploma as seen left and next to it a replacement document for a lost original diploma.

There was even a course for new land owners as shown by the document below. Designed by the same person as the diploma of the order.

Some statistics about the number of orders, reproduced with kind permission of vitéz Dr. János Szentváry-Lukács.

Officers 4.358 awards, NCO’s 11.136 awards, Enlisted Men 7.326 awards.

The number of estates granted to award winners was only 5561 which amounted to a total of 88.000 hectares. This was mainly due to the low amount of land available for the new vitéz knights. Land was donated on a voluntary basis by landowners and local governments. Overview of the number of awards per year and the cumulative total per year.

Two more Jerouschek variations of the award, first marked under the prongs and the second with a different naming than the version above on the prong.

And two version that seem to be unmarked where the first one also has a different way of attachment of the prongs.

And a group of vitéz wearing the formal uniforms of the order.

And as last a few examples that show the title did not immediately disappeared after the war was over, the title still appears as a prefix on these communist party booklets….

If you have a name of a vitéz you can research some more on this page