Royal Order of St Alexander
Date established: 25th December 1881/6th January 1882
Number of classes: Grand cross and six classes
Being awarded for: Various sorts of merits and service to the Crown and nation
Shape: Cross pattée with circular central medallion
Ribbon: Dark crimson or dark red
Other names: Alexander’s order; Order of St Alexander, Princely Order of Saint Alexander, Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky
Obverse: White (or dark green) enamelled cross with red enamelled central medallion, bearing a stylised inscription of the name of the order. On the outer ring is inscribed the motto of the order – „СЪ НАМИ БОГЪ“ / translation: God with us / and a decorative element at the bottom.
Reverse: White (or dark green) enamelled cross with white enamelled centre, bearing the date 19 ФЕВРАЛѦ 1878 (19 February 1878, old style) – the date when the Preliminary treaty of St. Stefano was signed.
The Royal Order “St Alexander” has been instituted by Prince (Knyaz) Alexander I in late 1881 but the idea of its creation has been around well before that. Its prototype was the Hessen Order of Philip the Magnanimous.
Theoretically founded in conflict with the Constitution, the newly established order received a warm reception both within Bulgaria and abroad. Among its first recipients were foreign royalties and members of their families and personal suite. In these first decades of the existence of the order, the majority of decorations have been conducted abroad. This has been done in accordance to the diplomatic attempts of the Bulgarian monarch and His government to establish an independent statute of its decorations.
In these initial years of the existence of the order, the future head of state Prince Ferdinand I was among those decorated with the grand cross of the order. Only in a few years he would become its grand master instead.
The Order of “St Alexander” has been named after the Russian Orthodox saint Alexander Nevsky, whose name has been cleverly used by the Bulgarian Prince, as it replicates not only his own name, but that of the Russian emperor and head of state Alexander II too, who was very popular among the Bulgarian nation at that time.
Initially, the order was made up of five classes and a silver cross. In 1888 the silver cross has been officially added as the sixth class of the order, though the term ‘silver cross’ remained in use throughout its existence. In 1886, sometime after the end of the Serbo-Bulgarian war, two types of military division of the order have been introduced – (1) swords through the middle of the cross and (2) swords above the cross. The first type of swords indicated that the person bearing them has been awarded for his merits on the battlefield. The second type of swords meant that the recipient of the badge has been decorated for a wartime merit (or a very brave and life-threatening feat during peacetime), though not participating directly in the actual clashes on the battlefield.
A year after the accession of the new Monarch, Ferdinand I, another grade of the order has been officially instituted – the order necklace (also called collar or chain), which has been in use well before that by Alexander I. It represents the highest class of the order and is made up of two variations – grand collar and lesser collar. It is believed that the only difference between the two variants of the collar is the length of the chain itself.
From the time of Alexander I, there’s one surviving example of the order grand collar. It is currently being kept in the National Military History museum in Sofia. It’s made of gold and represents a series of two types of oval sections alternating. All sections are linked to one another using two sets of chains superimposed by crowned lions. The first type of oval sections used is crowned with the royal Hessen crown on top and depicts the royal cypher of the founder of the order – Alexander I. The second type of sections represents a plain Orthodox cross. To the chain is attached a Grand cross badge (53mm) with swords through the middle and crown with descending lappets.
From the few surviving examples of the collars produced during the reign of Prince/King Ferdinand I, it appears that the design has been slightly changed. The oval sections are more elaborate and partially enamelled in green, red and white enamel; the lions are no longer crowed and later the crowns have been changed to generic heraldic Bulgarian ones. The cross suspended from the collar is a generic grand cross badge with crown.
The design of the order collar during the reign of King Boris III does not change. His son though, King Simeon II, is pictured wearing an amended variant of the grand collar, during his years of exile, though we cannot be certain whether this piece has been manufactured after or prior to his accession to the throne. The amendments in the design include: a total of 14 oval sections, of which four represent an elaborate cartouche charged with crossed and crowned sceptres, a further eight oval sections depicting Bulgarian crowned lions upon a red-enamelled round base and two cartouches bearing white-enamelled Ferdinand I’s royal cypher upon a dark green enamelled base. These last two sections are also crowned with a Bulgarian royal crown with curved crown lappets. The actual badge and crown, partially adorned with diamonds, is suspended from the oval section bearing the royal cypher using two sets of small chains, superimposed by a middle-section in the form of two crossed marshal sceptres with crowns on top. We can assume that this variant of the collar is the current one used by the Bulgarian monarch.
The collar has been awarded along with a corresponding grand cross (I class) set – badge and breast star.
The grand collar is a privilege of the grand master of the order (the Monarch) and the [lesser] collar has been used to decorate members of the royal family, foreign royalties, heads of state, etc. Among the recipients of the collar are Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austro-Hungary, King Umberto I of Italy, Field-marshal von Hindenburg, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, etc.
Until the declaration of Independence in 1908, the highest class of the order (along with the collar) was the first class, which was being worn and often referred to as a grand cross decoration. After September that year though, the Grand cross class has been instituted. Its appearance was practically the same as the former first class – a white cross pattée, around 55mm in length, suspended from a wide (usually about 10 cm) crimson order sash with band and rosette, worn over the right shoulder. Additionally, holders of the Grand cross class are presented with an eight-pointed silver star (about 90mm in diameter), bearing in its centre an enlarged version of the central medallion of the obverse of the badge. The star is being worn on the left side of the breast.
Among the people who were decorated with this high decoration were prime-ministers, chairmen of the National Parliament, army generals, senior clergymen, foreign heads of state, royalties and members of their family and suite, etc. Practically, all Bulgarian Queens were decorated with Grand Cross sets adorned with diamonds – a very special privilege, which is a matter of the personal grace of the Monarch.
First Class (Great Cross)
After the autumn of 1908, the well-known first class has been upgraded to a Grand Cross badge. This meant that, in order to preserve the currently existent classes, the first class had to be fully redesigned.
The newly introduced design of the first class (Great cross) badge had its cross arms enamelled in dark green instead of white and its total length was about 51mm. It was suspended via a royal crown from a 90mm wide crimson order sash bordered with a black stripe on either side. The sash did not have any band or rosette.
The first class came with a silver breast star too. This has also been redesigned accordingly. It represented an eight pointed silver star, the central medallion is enamelled in red and bears a crowned Bulgarian lion rampant. On the outer ring, enamelled in dark green, is inscribed the motto of the order – “СЪ НАМИ БОГЪ“, along with stylised crossed laurel branches at the bottom.
Until 1908, the first class was being awarded similarly to a Grand Cross badge – primarily to prime-ministers, generals, heads of state, royalties and alike. After the emergence of the Grand cross badge, the first class has been theoretically downgraded. However, this did not mean that the requirements for decoration with it were lowered too. It still remained one of the highest awards within the Kingdom and has only been presented to a handful of men, in respect to their social status and merits.
Second Class (Grand Officers' Cross)
The second class, also known as the Grand Officers’ Cross, represents a 50mm wide badge which replicates the design of the Grand cross but is instead being worn suspended from a neck ribbon. Along with the neck decoration, recipients of the second class are presented with a silver breast star which is similar in design to the star of the Grand cross but slightly smaller in size – 80-81 mm.
As per usual, all Alexander orders can be awarded with crossed swords. When presented with swords, the breast star of the order depicts the swords accordingly – either superimposed just above the central medallion, or crossed in saltire behind it.
The Grand Officers’ Cross has been awarded to high-ranking governmental officials, ministers and diplomats, army generals and senior officers, foreign nationals of similar rank, etc.
Third Class (Commanders' Cross)
The Commanders’ cross, or third class order, represents a neck decoration identical to the one of the second class set but does not come with any breast star. It’s also worn suspended from the neck.
After the introduction of the Grand cross and the amendments of the design of the Great cross, the third class badge has also been redesigned. The main reason for this intervention was the attempt to increase the visual differences between the second and third classes of the order.
Commander’s crosses awarded after the declaration of Independence had cross arms enamelled in dark-green and instead of the familiar central medallion on the obverse, now there was a gilded lion rampant on a dark red background with superimposed Saxon escutcheon on its chest. The outer ring and reverse remained the same.
The third class was bestowed upon cabinet ministers, army generals and senior officers, diplomats, members of the King’s personal suite, etc.
Fourth Class (Officers' Cross)
The Officer’s cross (4th class) is a 39mm gilded cross enamelled in white. The central medallion depicts the name of the order – „СВ.АЛЕКСАНДРЪ“, written in a calligraphic font upon a red-enamelled background. Unlike the higher classes of the order, the fourth class is not suspended from a crown and was worn on a triangular (pentagonal or threaded-through in some cases) ribbon with a band. Only later, (1) the display of the ribbon was unified as a triangular with a round rosette (instead of a band) and (2) the crown suspension was added as a middle section between the ribbon and the badge.
Unlike some other Bulgarian decorations, the Order of Saint Alexander has far too many variations throughout its existence, in order to be divided into clear emissions and periods.
Fourth class badges have been bestowed upon mid-level civil servants, mayors, industrialists, army officers, members of the personal suite of the King/Prince, etc.
Fifth Class (Knights' Cross)
Badges fifth class, or Knights’ crosses, are identical in terms of appearance and size to the fourth class, but their edges are of silvered/white metal instead of gilt. The enamel is white, with the central medallion enamelled in dark red and inscribed with gilded letters. The ribbon of the fifth class is a triangular one (in earlier samples a pentagonal or threaded-through) and has no band or rosette present. At some point in early twentieth century, the crown suspension element has been added to the fifth class badge as an optional feature. It also has been made of silvery metal with some sections of it enamelled in red white and green.
Among the recipients of the fifth class were army officers, local councillors, mayors, civil servants, etc.
Sixth Class (Silver Cross)
The Silver cross of the Order, which has been officially labelled sixth class in 1888, represents a 35-37mm wide cross resembling the previous classes in appearance, but instead made of solid white metal (or silvered) without any enamel. It was suspended from a triangular (or in rare cases a threaded-through) crimson ribbon. Similarly to all the other classes, the Silver cross can also be awarded with the two types of swords, in order to mark the specific military merits of its recipient. During the reign of King Boris III the Silver cross has also been awarded with a crown suspension as an optional feature.
This lowest class has been awarded to low-ranking civil servants, NCOs and enlisted men, mayors of small towns and villages, etc.