Herzog Ernst-Medaille 1.Klasse mit Schwertern was instituted on June 29, 1918 by the last reigning ruler of Saxe-Altenburg Herzog Ernst II (Ernst Bernhard Georg Johann Karl Friedrich Peter Albert von Sachsen-Altenburg, 31.08.1871-22.03.1955) who reigned from February 07, 1908 until November 13, 1918. Decoration was issued to the subjects of the Duchy regardless of their descent, social status, military rank and position. Holders of the Duke Ernst Medal, 1st Class with Swords were mainly officers, NCOs and lower ranks of the 8.Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.153 recognized for their military merits and bravery in battles of the Great War. However, besides citizenship of the Duchy, each recipient had to be the holder of the Prussian Iron Cross, 1st Class. Non-subjects were also eligible for decoration but such exceptions were to be personally approved by Herzog von Sachsen-Altenburg.
After demise of the holder of Herzog Ernst-Medaille 1.Klasse mit Schwertern decoration was kept by the closest relatives of the deceased as a token of remembrance and was not to be returned to issuing authorities.
Design of the decoration was elaborated by the court engraver Max Haseroth (1856-19??) at the end of May 1918. Interesting to know that after a month of work M.Haseroth presented several drafts that also featured medals in the true sense of the word, i.e. round decorations suspended from ribbons. However, Ernst II decided to choose pin-backed cross as a pattern for the future Ducal award.
Duke Ernst Medal, 1st Class with Swords had a shape of an equilateral Teutonic cross with polished edges and pebbled surfaced with two crossed swords pointing upwards. The cross was superimposed on a round laurel wreath, while the whole composition was used as a background for a wide round medallion. The latter had the bust of the monarch facing right wearing an Überrock, arguably the most popular choice for German officers of all grades, with the shoulder boards of the Generalleutnant. The portrait was encircled with a wide ring featuring an inscription in capital letters “Ernst II Herzog von Sachsen-Altenburg∙”. The exterior rim of the ring was made of small dots. Hallmark of designer, intertwined capital letters “МН” were placed at the lower left part of medallion.
A reverse of medallion showed cipher of Ernst II, “EII.” topped with the Ducal crown within a wreath made of eight laurel branches and eight five-leafed flowers. A beaded rim was placed between the edge and the wreath described above. Reverse of cross, swords and wreath was plain.
Decoration was minted in Dresden by the court jeweler and supplier of the Royal Saxon Court Moritz Elimeyer. The first batch of awards numbering 60 pieces was struck and delivered to the customer on June 25, 1918; the second, 40 in number – on October 09, 1918; the additional third batch numbering 35 crosses was delivered after the Great War ended, on March 10, 1919.
Herzog Ernst-Medaille 1.Klasse mit Schwertern measuring 47x47 mm and weighing 38 g was manufactured of silver. Pin-backed decoration was worn at the lower left part of the tunic next to the Prussian Iron Cross, 1st Class and was attached with a vertical pin and catching hook soldered to reverse of upper and lower arms of the cross.
Duke Ernst Medal, 1st Class with Swords was presented in a square green box of an artificial leather featuring Ducal crown on its upper cover. Inner part of the cover was decorated with the name of the manufacturer, “Elimeyer Dresden”, placed diagonally.
The very first decoration with 60 pieces of Herzog Ernst-Medaille 1.Klasse mit Schwertern took place on October 29, 1918, while the second one on November 09, 1918 – altogether 25 crosses were presented. The faith of the remaining 15 awards isn’t known for certain yet, but supposedly they would be issued to high-ranking holders of that decoration as duplicates. After the Great War ended, on January 01, 1919 decision was made to present Duke Ernst Medal, 1st Class with Swords to those former subjects who never obtained that decoration though did meet all the qualifications. That was the very purpose of placing an additional order numbering 35 crosses mentioned above.
As only 85 decorations from the first two batches were officially presented during the WWI and its prestige was never diminished, Herzog Ernst-Medaille 1.Klasse mit Schwertern is considered to be one of the scarcest awards of the Great War.