The Order of Carol I, the highest decoration of the Kingdom of Romania, was instituted in four classes on May 10, 1906 by the King Carol I by Decrees No.1776 (Lege pentru instituirea Ordinului Carol I) and No.1777 (Regulament pentru punerea in aplicare a legii relativă la instituirea Ordinului Carol I) signed on May 09, 1906. The lower House of the Romanian Parliament passed the bill No.1776 on May 08, 1906 by absolute majority – 69 deputies voted pro while only three con.
The Order was instituted in conjunction with the 40th jubilee of enthronement of Carol I as a ruler of Romania. Initially Karl Eitel Friedrich Zephyrinus Ludwig von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (20.04.1839-10.10.1914) was elected ruler, or Domnitor of the Romanian United Principalities (10.05.1866-15.03.1881), аnd then proclaimed King of Romania on May 10, 1881. At the same time institution of the Ordinul Carol I marked the silver jubilee of the Romanian Kingdom that was proclaimed on March 14, 1881. The significance of Ordinul Carol I was stressed on July 23, 1921, seven years after demise of the King Carol I. Thus, Ferdinand I ruled an inclusion of the image of the Collar of the Order to the greater (stema mare) and medium (stema medie) coat of arms of the kingdom. His decision was enacted by the Section 3, Article I of the appropriate law (Lege pentru fixarea stemei Regatului României, întregit cu țările surori unite).
Initially Ordinul Carol I had four classes: Collar (Colan), Grand Cross (Mare Cruce), Grand Officer (Mare Ofițer) and Commander (Comandor). A special version of the Collar with diamonds manufactured in 1907 was conferred on the 34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire Abdul Hamid II (22.09.1842-10.02.1918) who reigned from August 31, 1876 until April 27, 1909. According to the Decree No.1590 of May 09, 1932 signed by the King Carol II, the two lower classes, i.e. Commander and Grand Officer were annulled.
The Grand Master of the Order was the King of Romania and Foreign Minster was its Chancellor.
Due to the exceptionally high status of the Order of Carol I, the decoration was only awarded to the most high ranking and distinguished Romanian male subjects. Thus, the Collar was only conferred on military leaders who had commanded Romanian army during times of war and on statesmen with at least twenty years of meritorious service and a year as a Prime Minister of the kingdom. Romanian subjects with exceptional scientific or artistic achievements could be decorated with the Order provided their work had benefited not only Romania, but the whole mankind. Moreover, Romanian awardees had to have been previously awarded with the highest classes of other Romanian Orders. As for the members of the Royal family – king, crown prince and princes – the Collar of the Ordinul Carol I was presented to each of them on their 18th birthday. Foreign awardees of the Collar were almost exclusively heads of states.
Initially limits of conferring the Order of Carol I on Romanian subjects, except members of the Royal family, were as follows: Collar – 5, Grand Cross – 10, Grand Officer – 25 and Commander – 40 awardees. The Royal Decree of February 22, 1938 doubled number of recipients of the two remaining classes of the Order to ten persons for the Collar and twenty for the Grand Cross. The number of foreign knights was not limited.
Ordinul Carol I was awarded from the lowest to its highest classes.
According to the Article 24 of the Statute of the Ordinul Carol I, insignia of the Order together with award certificate (Brevet) were presented to an awardee only after a fee was paid to Chapter of the Order. Holders of the Commander Cross had to deposit 125 leu, Grand Officer Cross – 195 leu, Grand Cross – 360 leu, Collar without Grand Cross insignia – 680 leu, and Collar – 1,040 leu. Appropriate amount should have been paid as soon as notification of awarding was issued. As a proof of transaction being done, an awardee had to submit the following set of documents to the head of the Order Chancellery: official notification of awarding; bank receipt; extract issued by financial unit of the Chapter of the Order certifying entry of amount to the account of Romanian Foreign Ministry.
Foreign subjects were exempt from those fees. However, after demise of the holder his relatives had to surrender all the insignias of the Order to the Romanian government. The only exception was made for heads of foreign states and members of ruling dynasties.
Besides members of the Royal family, the following Romanians politicians and military leaders were decorated with the Collar of Ordinul Carol I.
- Marshal Alexandru Averescu (09.03.1859-03.10.1938), Prime Minister with three terms in office: 29.01.1918-04.03.1918; 13.03.1920-16.12.1921 and 30.03.1926-04.06.1927.
- Marshal Constantin Prezan (27.01.1861-27.08.1943), Chief of the General Staff (05.12.1916-01.04.1918 and 28.10.1918-20.03.1920).
- Ion I.C.Brătianu (20.08.1864-24.11.1927), Prime Minister with five terms in office, an absolute record amongst Romanian heads of government: 09.01.1909-04.03.1909; 04.03.1909- 28.12.1910; 04.01.1914-10.12.1916; 11.12.1916-28.01.1918 and, finally, 29.11.1918-26.09.1919.
- Petre P.Carp (29.06.1837-19.06.1919), Prime Minister with two terms in office: 19.07.1900-13.02.1901 and 29.12.1910-28.03.1912.
- Nicolae Iorga (17.01.1871-27.11.1940), Prime Minister (18.04.1930-05.06.1932).
- Nicolae Titulescu (04.03.1882-17.03.1941), Minister of Foreign Affairs (24.11.1927-09.11.1928), League of Nations Secretary General in 1930 and 1931.
In exceptional cases Ordinul Carol I could be conferred post mortem.
Statute of the Order stipulated rendering of military funeral honors for deceased holders of the Ordinul Carol I depending on the class of the decoration they were awarded. Thus, burial of the Commander cross holder was organized in a way Romanian Army colonel (Colonel) was interred, that of the Grand Officer cross holder corresponded to Brigadier General (General de brigadă), Grand Cross holder – Divisional General (General de divizie) and Collar holder – General of Army Corps (General de Corp de Armată). However, statute of the Order allowed reduced military funeral honors in case of shortage of military personnel in appropriate garrison.
According to the Royal Decree No.6 of January 05, 1944, the Order of Carol I could be conferred to female subjects (Ordinul Carol I pentru doamne).
Article 25 of the Statute stipulated that holder of the Order could be stripped off insignia and membership of the Order for the same reasons that provided deprivation of the Romanian citizenship according to the national legislation. Exclusion from the Order was executed by the Royal Decree.
Design of the Order was elaborated by the famous Austrian designer Friedrich Heyer von Rosenfeld (13.04.1828-21.12.1896).
The sign of the Order had a shape of the red-enameled bottony (cross with each arm having three rounded lobes, thus forming a sort of trefoil) with golden edging and nine golden rays extending outwards from its centre. The cross is topped with the silver Romanian royal crown with a red-enameled backing. Ribbon attachment round ring was situated at the top of the crown, at the base of its cross.
Silver Wallachian eagle wearing crown with outstretched wings and facing left was superimposed on the obverse of the cross bottony. Eagle held an Orthodox Cross in its beak, a sword and a sceptre in its claws. The breast of an eagle had a circular gold medallion with wide border showing bust of Carol I facing left and two crossed laurel branches at the bottom. Golden ribbon with motto of the Order “Through Steadfastness to Victory” (“Prin Statornicie La Isbîndă”) executed in blue enameled capital letters was situated under wings of an eagle and medallion. Interesting to know that statute of the Ordinul Carol I (Regulament pentru punerea in aplicare a legii relativă la instituirea Ordinului Carol I, Titlul II “Forma şi dimensiunile insemnelor”, Art.7) adduced the motto in different spelling, viz. “Prin Statornicie, La Izbándă”.
Reverse of the Order had a circular medallion with wide blue enameled border and thin golden edging superimposed on its centre. Inscription in gilt capital letters “1866 ∙ 10.Maiu ∙ 1906” was placed within inner ring in semi-circle, thus signifying dates of enthronement of Carol I and institution of the Order. Gilt ornamental element consisting of two laurel branches with five leaves each and equilateral small cross was situated at the bottom of the ring. Golden cipher of Carol I – “СI” – was superimposed on the central part of the medallion covered with red enamel.
The cross of the Ordinul Carol I was absolutely similar for all the four classes, the size being the only difference.
Breast stars of the Grand Cross (Mare Cruce) and Grand Officer (Mare Ofițer) represented eagles described above superimposed on golden stars of different shapes. Thus, breast star of the former was eight-pointed consisting of golden extending rays, while that of the latter was diamond-shaped.
Collar of the Ordinul Carol I consisted of the cross described above measuring 61 mm worn on a 73 cm long golden chain. Initially the chain was made of 22 alternate medallions: twelve ciphers of Carol I and ten enameled shields representing coats of arms of four Romanian provinces – Wallachia (golden eagle on a blue shield), Moldavia (aurochs head with the sun between its horns on a red shield), Oltenia (golden lion on a red shield) and Dobrugea (two dolphins on a blue shield) as well as dynastic coat of arms of the House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (simple shield quarterly sable and argent). The series of coat of arms were repeated on both sides of the collar with the Royal cipher after each crest. After Transylvania (German: Siebenbürgen, Romanian: Ardeal) was assigned to Romania according to the Treaty of Trianon (June 04, 1920), medallion with the Transylvanian coat of arms (black eagle on a blue background above seven red towers) was added to the Collar.
The connecting mechanism of the Collar represented a Wallachian eagle described above.
The Order of Carol I was worn on a watered light blue ribbon with golden stripes at edges that had central thin red stripes.
No difference between military and civilian types of the Ordinul Carol I existed.
The Grand Cross (Mare Cruce) measuring 77x122 mm was worn on a sash over the right shoulder, with the star measuring 84-85 mm in diameter (wingspan of the eagle – 89-90 mm) on the left side of the chest. Sash measuring 102 mm in width had 5 mm wide yellow stripes with 0,75 mm central red stripes. According to the Royal Decree No.1590 signed by the King Carol II on May 09, 1932 (the same law that annulled two lower classes of the Order), dimensions of the Grand Cross were reduced by 7 mm to 70 mm, and those of the breast star to 80 mm instead of the previous 90 mm.
The Grand Officer (Mare Ofițer) wore the cross measuring 64x89 mm on a ribbon around the neck, with the star measuring 85 mm in diameter on the left side of the chest.
Commander (Comandor) wore the cross measuring 64x89 mm on a ribbon around the neck. Holders of that class of the Order wore no breast star.
Ribbon of Grand Officer and Commander crosses measured 46 mm in width with 3,5 mm wide yellow stripes and 0,5 mm central red stripes.
In accordance with the Royal Decree No.6 of January 05, 1944 signed by the King Mihai I, female holders of the Ordinul Carol I wore the Grand Cross measuring 50 mm on a traditional women bow. The breast star measured 60 mm, the width of the ribbon was 50 mm.
Ordinul Carol I was manufactured by two court jewelers: Paul Telge and Heinrich Leon Weiss.
The Order of Carol I was abolished after forced abdication of the King Mihai I and liquidation of monarchy in Romania on December 30, 1947. However, the Order was restored on January 05, 2005 by Mihai I as a dynastic decoration of the Royal House in four initial classes: Collar (Colan), Grand Cross (Mare Cruce), Grand Officer (Mare Ofițer) and Commander (Comandor). The Grand Master is the head of the Royal House of Hohenzollern, currently Mihai I himself.
The Order of Carol I is conferred by the Grand Master exclusively to persons that have helped the Royal family in its struggle to build a democratic, prosperous and free Romania as a full member in the European family of nations. The Order can be conferred to foreign and Romanian citizens for exceptional merits in fields ranging from science, arts and culture to economics and politics as long as the person in question has improved the standing of Romania. This general criterion naturally becomes stricter as higher grades of the Ordinul Carol I are conferred.