Poland 2007 History of the Polish Cavalry - Heavily Armored Knight of the 15th Century 2 Zlote Nordic Gold Proof-Like BU
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and armored Polish
knight rides across this dramatic coin, a reminder of Poland's military
triumph at Grunwald!
over a thousand years Poland's cavalry was a mainstay of its armed
forces, guaranteeing her freedom in peace and defending her in times of
war. From the earliest days of the Polish state, the Piast dynasty, all
the way through the Second World War, the cavalry served Poland capably
and honorably. This program of coins, to be issued over several
years, offers a chance to relive the glory of the Polish cavalry from
the dawn of Poland as a nation-state through those final, desperate
days in 1939.
The Heavily Armored Knight of the 15th Century is the second series in
the History of the Polish Cavalry program. The knight was
issued in a Nordic Gold (base metal) 2 Zl, a rectangular 10 Zl
silver proof, and a 200 Zl gold proof. For a more detailed
discussion of the arms and armor of the heavily-armed knight, please
see the article at the end of this presentation.
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The Knights of Storybooks - and
By the late 1300s, a new military force had arisen, which would make
its presence felt with devastating effect on the battlefields of 15th
century Europe - the heavily armored knight. Covered in plate mail and
riding an equally armored horse, the knight and his steed formed the
most formidable weapon of the period. This was the age of romance and
chivalry, the era when the knight held sway.
The heavily armored knight of Poland had his heyday in 15th century,
including abroad. During this time, Polish knighthood actively
international developments, seeking fame and fortune in foreign
missions and remote lands. They helped neighboring countries in need
and voluntarily fought against the ever-increasing Turkish incursions
into southern Europe.
At the same
time, Polish knights performed with dignity and honor at the
tournaments and court ceremonies across the continent. But it was at
home where the Polish heavy knight of the 15th
century made his lasting mark. Polish heavy cavalry on numerous
occasions had to confront a determined enemy. Their finest hour came on
1410 in the victory over the Order of the Teutonic Knights at the
fabled Battle of Grunwald.
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The Battle of Grunwald
Battle of Grunwald (also known as the First Battle of Tannenberg) took
place on July 15, 1410 and is regarded as one of the most important
battles in Polish history. Poland, led by King Wladyslaw II
(known as Jogaila), and Lithuania, led by Vytautus (Witold) the
Great, Grand Duke of Lithuania, were ranged against the
of the Teutonic Order, led by Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen. It was
the decisive engagement in the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War
(1409-1411) and was the largest battle of the Middle Ages in medieval
The battle took place on a plain between several villages in what is
now Poland, but was then Prussia. These were ideal conditions for the
use of knights and cavalry, who naturally bore the brunt of the
fighting. A large and complex battle by any standard, with over 55,000
troops engaged, commanded on the field personally by the respective
leaders. At the end of the day, a massed charge by the Polish heavy
cavalry overwhelmed the Teutonic Knights, who retreated with heavy
losses. The battle saw the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights
decisively defeated; their order never recovered its former power or
glory. Poland and Lithuania, on the other hand, began an
ascendancy that lasted for centuries.
A Monumental Painting
The Battle of Grunwald is the subject of a monumental oil-on-canvas
painting by the famed Polish historical painter Jan Matejko, and now in
the National Gallery in Warsaw. As befits one of the turning points in
Polish history, the painting is complex, detailed and huge (measuring
10 feet by 17 feet!), and features portraits of all the notable
individuals on both sides. A
much more detailed exploration of both the battle and the painting,
with many close-ups of this artistic masterpiece, can be found by
The Black Knight
Perhaps the most famous Polish knight of the 15th century was Zawisza
Czarny (the Black) of Garbów,
known as The Black
Knight. He was a man of impeccable honor renowned for his valor,
glorious winner of a number of tournaments,. He made his name defending
his homeland at the battle of Grunwald. Zawisza the Black was
by King Wladyslaw II Jagiello as a diplomat and envoy to the
of Sigismund of Luxembourg. He would later fall in 1428 in a clash with
the Turks near the castle of Golubac on the Danube river, where till
the very end he covered the retreat of his brothers in arms after they
were routed by Saracens. His fame survives to the day in the famous
Polish saying Polegaj
jak na Zawiszy
("You can count on him like Zawisza.").
This motto also became part of the Polish Scouts oath and tradition.
In fact, so important was the fame and legend of the heavily armored
of the 15th century that it can be seen on the coat of arms of
the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was not established until 150
after the Battle of Grunwald! The cross of the Jagiellonians can be
seen on the knight's shield.
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heavily-armed and armored Jagiellonian knight of the 15th century and
his steed prepare for a tilt at a jousting tournament, lance in his
while his sword hangs at the ready by his side in this
dynamic rendering. The legend RYCERZ CIERZKOZBROJNY - XV W. ("Heavily
Armored Horseman of the 15th Century") appears on the banner or sash
The crowned white eagle,
emblem of Poland, with the year of issue, the denomination and the
legend RZECZPOSPOLITA POLSKA ("Republic of Poland").
NBP (for "National Bank of Poland") is repeated eight times around the
edge, each time rotated 180 degrees from the previous "NBP".
Bank of Poland
Gold, a four-metal alloy composed of copper, aluminum, tin and zinc,
that looks like real gold and does not tarnish
"NBP" (for “National Bank of Poland”) is repeated
times around the edge, each time rotated 180 degrees from the previous
The Arms & Armor of the Polish Heavy Cavalry
In the 15th century, the weaponry, garments and tactics used in Poland
were the same as those found throughout other parts of Europe where
Romance culture prevailed. The quality and components of the typical
weaponry and equipment of Polish warriors corresponded to those used in
Germany, Czechoslovakia or Switzerland at the same time.
centuries of improvements and developments, in the 15th century the
process of building a
of plate armor or mail covering the entire body had reached its apex.
In appreciation of the superb
of armor, knights in Europe adopted a new way of wearing it - they no
longer covered it with robes and tunics. Shields went into disuse in
combat and remained solely as a element of the tournament, for sporting
the knight's coat of arms or armorial or heraldic bearing.
The introduction of plate armor implied the need to adequately protect
the knight's charger. Consequently, war horses received the so-called
barding - horse armor, matching the quality and extensiveness
of the armor of their riders. These equine suits of armor were
made both of chain mail and plate mail. The saddle was also improved,
so that its high pommel, covered with sheet metal, protected the knight
both against the enemy’s weapon and against being unhorsed,
is, knocked off the saddle.
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increasingly heavier weight
of the armored warrior called for a sufficiently strong steed. Such a
tough breed was developed in northern Europe. Chargers were used only
for combat or for tournament.
the weight of their riders, these mounts could only walk, never trot.
For a cavalry charge, they could break into a gallop for a short
distance. Three breeds of chargers were developed, the most valuable of
them being the so-called "grand war horse", which could easily cost a
noble a small fortune.
From the outset, the most important component of a knight's armory was
his sword, which functioned not just as a weapon, but also as a symbol
of chivalry. In the 15th century, in parallel to the improvements in
armor (which became more resistant to blows), the sword was enlarged by
adding a two-handed hilt often also sharp-pointed. A knight usually
also carried a dagger or misericord, in a sheath on his right side, to
strike between his opponent's plates of the armor in hand-to-hand
For charges, knights could also use the lance, a ten-foot-long or
longer type of hafted weapon with a spearhead, held under the
and, in many cases, supported by a hook attached to the knight's breast
plate. To reduce its weight the lance could be made of of hollow wood.
The lance was a disposable weapon - it often broke when in a joust or
tilt (which is where the Polish proverb “crossing the lance
something” (i.e. having a violent and stormy argument over
something) comes from).
Suits of armor continued to improve throughout the entire the 15th
century, re-designed by armorers aiming to make it as efficient and
comfortable protection as possible. Most often Polish knights
neighboring Germany, from which the styles popular in the 1400s
originated. This type of suit of armor is known under by the
“Gothic armors” nowadays. They show the
features of Gothic art - slender figures, extended forms (e.g., shoe
points), sharp contours and decorating flat surfaces with flutes.
Whereas the armorers who worked in Polish towns provided fine quality
products, the richest knights could also purchase their suits abroad.
manufacture of plate
armor required both a good knowledge of warfare and advanced
craftsmanship. Most manufacturing was done manually via cold forging,
whereas the 15th century saw
introduction of mechanical equipment such as spinning disks to polish
the surface of plates. A suit of plate armor was not easy to put on,
and was impossible by oneself. Therefore a knight could not dispense
without the assistance of at least one squire. Specially written
instructions were supposed to help put it on, beginning from sabatons
and greaves and finishing with the helmet. A full 15th century plate
amour could easily weigh well over fifty pounds. This weight was so
well spread over the body that a fit man could move freely and remain
in battle for hours.
The rising popularity of firearms on battlefields in the 15th century
forced the thickening of the plate until the upper limit has been
reached, as determined by the strength of the rider and his horse. As a
result, by the end of the 15th century, the troops of knights had begun
to lose their impetus and force of attack necessary for the successful
cavalry charge on the battlefield.
Suits of armor were worn not only in warfare but also at tournaments,
where knights trained before engaging in actual jousts. Tournaments
provided an opportunity for the genteel knights to display their arms,
horses and the splendor of their garments. In the 15th century the
tournament tradition reached its fullest bloom. All stages of games
demonstrated rapid evolution, from the gala opening to the review of
participants to the program introductions and jousts until the ceremony
of awarding prizes and distinctions to the winners. The refinement of
the armorer's craft resulted in the development of a special tournament
armor of reinforced metal plates heavier than all the other types for
combat. These suits were made in a variety of forms for various
tournaments. Only the richest - dukes, princes and kings - could afford
them. Although tournaments occasioned competition for awards, fame and
the favor of ladies, they also frequently they led to the serious
injury and even the death of its participants.
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