The Hungarian Vitéz Order

by Erik Naberhuis


1. History

2. Documents related to the Order

3. The Order

4. Photographs of recipients

5. Some backgrounds

6. References


1.         History and Statistics of the order

Hungary was a defeated country after the Great War. The war was lost, a communist revolution took place, Rumania tried to take over the government and a for Hungary a very unfortunate Trianon treaty was signed. Admiral Horthy became the “Regent” of this nation in 1920. This was the moment for a new order to celebrate the heroes of a war lost and to 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. It was established in 1920 (State order Nr 6650/1920) by the Government under Prime Minister Count Teleki and Admiral Horthy the Regent of Hungary from 1920 until 1945. The latter also became the Captain of the order from its institution until 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, first in exile and more recently in Hungary. It was the first true Hungarian order since ancient times and as in the previous periods they were linked to other nations like the Habsburg empire.

Regent Admiral Horthy in the 20s wearing his vitéz

The vitez order (jelveny)

Associated with the order was the granting of a title: Vitéz. This title was used in front of the name. This title was also made hereditary for the first son in line. If the son was of sound physical and mental condition he would inherit the title at the age of 17.

A Vitéz who inherited the title.

The young soldier here is in his 2nd year at the Ludovika Academy

(The famous Hungarian Officers’ school) in the year 1932

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, thus in effect creating landed nobility.

The granting of land to the vitéz’ was part of a land reform executed by István Nagyatádi Szabó. In the early 20s much land was still in the hands of a few and it was part of a modernization of land ownership that was badly needed to become a more balanced and modern nation.

In this way the order had a strong social impact as well. The redistribution of lands was combined with the recognition of individual contributions made by Hungarians for Hungary. As stated in the Diploma that accompanies the order: “Symbol of eternal gratitude of the Fatherland”. In this way a new class of “nobility” could be formed that had a very strong tie with the Hungarian nation and its leadership. The new order was bound by the sword and land which is represented symbolically in the badge that belongs to the order. The badge will be described in more detail below.

All the recipients were proven soldiers and there were minimal requirements for obtaining the title vitéz that was linked to the receipt of certain medals. At the conception of the order this was still linked to medals won in the Habsburg empire, mainly in the Great War that was concluded only two years before. The grants in the 1940s were still linked to obtaining certain medals but now in World War Two.

The medal requirements were more or less the same across these periods. The small silver medal for bravery (96.000 awarded in WW1 for Hungarians) in the case of soldiers, and the large silver medal for bravery (26.000 awarded in WW1 to Hungarians) from the rank of NCO. The Signum Laudis was minimal from the rank of Lieutenant and this continues, for higher ranks higher grades of medals were expected. The small silver medal for bravery only very seldom led to titles. It was too common to bestow the title on all owners of these. It was a minimal requirement.

This way of working made if possible to reward exceptional deeds of a previous period that would otherwise have passed unknown and unrewarded in a country that fought on the losing side of the war.

In some documents it is noted that no Jew could obtain the title. This is not true; there is no ruling that states this. The only ruling that does exist is that the order can only be granted to Hungarian nationals. Jews were in fact recipients of the order. Nevertheless many people with backgrounds of non Hungarian decent changed their names to Hungarian sounding names.

The awards were granted in a great annual ceremony by the Regent, Admiral Horthy himself. The ceremony took place in Székesfehervar, a city renowned as this was the place where 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 coronations took place. A very symbolic location indeed. The new vitéz’ were knighted with a sword, especially designed for the the ceremony. This same sword is now on display in the Military Museum of Hungary in Budapest.

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

Number of officers awarded with the order                        4358

Number of NCO’s awarded with the order                           11136

Number of enlisted men awarded with the order               7326

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. 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.

2.        Documents related to the Order

The order was accompanied by two main documents. The first would be the large sized diploma (Oklevél as it is called in Hungarian). These only stated the name, rank and date of the granting of the title. They were mostly framed in specially made goldframes for the diploma with swords at the bottom and a facsimile of the order at the top side of the frame. The second would the certificate (Igazolvány in Hungarian) that was meant as wearable proof of the right to wear the badge and use the title. This document had many more details including the number of the award. A version of this document can be seen below.

When land was granted to the vitéz another document stating this (large size and usually framed as well) would be given.

Many other types of documents, books etc existed. Some will be show below as well. The order had a strong social aspect so many specific occasions were held like an annual ball and even Order houses and schools were erected.

Shown above is the Vitézi Rend Oklevél (grand diploma) of Kuli Janos a sergeant in WW1 and police officer after, born 01.05.1897 Tápioszele, Hungary
Shown above is the Vitézi Rend Igazolvány. Upon the award of the order a grand diploma accompanied it. To be able to prove that the award was indeed given to a person an award certificate (igazolvány) was also given. One such is shown above.  
The document above is to certify the participation in an agricultural “management” course specifically for vitéz’. The grant of land was given to proven soldiers who often had not, if at all, managed property of such a size. A necessary skill for the new landowners.  
Vitéz yearbook 1934. This book holds all kind of information among which the complete rules and regulations of the order.  
 Namecard of a person who held the title Vitéz  
Honorable discharge document of a captain. The document also gives a listing of his awards. The vitéz order is not mentioned as an award but as a title added to the name.  
Passport from a vitéz ( 1939).The title is recorded and also shown in the signature.  

3.        The Order

The order represents the Hungarian national symbol with the Stephan’s crown on top of it (recognizable by the cross that is bent to the side). Oak leaves to the left and corn to the right in a blue sky with a white sun on the top. The middle is formed by a sword. The symbolic entity of war, bravery, land and the Hungarian nation form a perfect match with the ideas behind this order.

The badge is of a three piece construction, the blue part is the base of the badge, the national symbol is the middle part that is bound to the base by the sword. The photograph of the back of the badge shows how they were bound together. The three main Hungarian producers of military orders (Jeroushek,  Boczan and Beran) all produced examples that show minor differences.

Miniatures for wear on civilian dress also existed in many different forms.

In military uniform the order was always worn on the left breast (pocket). Several examples of this can be seen in the photographs.

Two period examples of the Vitéz order with minor differences. Both are manufactured by the same maker Jerouschek Bpest Semmelweis u.7          The top version should date from around 1927 and the bottom version from around 1923. The 1927 version is marked on the badge itself, beneath the prongs. The 1923 version is marked on the prongs itself. Both versions have a serial number scratched in. It is not engraved. I have seen the same way of working on several badges but I have also seen period badges without any  number or with a professionally engraved award number.

Front Back


Front Back

4.        Photographs of recipients

Example of a WW2 officer winner of the order with the Signum Laudis, the German Iron Cross 2nd class and the 3 commemorative medals Typical example of a WW1 related winner of the order with his complete series of medals (several are at the required level) in his Veteran union tunic
The above WW2 officer also shows the combat leadership badge and the South Slovakia 1938 commemorative medal NCO from the Border Guards (considered elite troops) with the Large silver medal for Bravery (WW2 version) and two commemorative medals

5.        Two Stories - backgrounds

Document number 3 belonged to Molnár Pál. He was born in 1890 and was a professional soldier at the beginning of the great war. His rank was sergeant-major in the 48th Infantry Regiment in world war 1. This regiment that was founded in 1798 fought first in Serbia until 1915 and from then on in Italy. One of the places they fought was Isonzo, one of the most fought over places on the Italian front. The Isonzo front was home to 12 major battles over the years of the war. He must have been in many of these and shown remarkable courage as he not only won the Bronze Bravery Medal but also the Small Silver medal for Bravery three times (3) and Large Silver Medal for bravery four times(4!). This might not be unique but very seldom certainly especially the number of awards for the Silver Medal for Bravery 1st  class is something worth mentioning. Next to this he received the Karl Truppen Cross and the Wound Medal 3 times. After the war he remained in the army, the last record I could find was his participation in the “liberation” of Transylvania in 1941 at the age of 51.

The second story is linked to a person whose complete set of military documents came into my possession. This is Kapuvary Gyula, his vitéz award certificate is shown in this article as photo number 2.  I will give a short overview of his career and the related documents. He was trained at the Ludovika Academy, the famous Hungarian officers academy.  After finishing his studies he fought on the Italian front in the 69th Infantry Regiment but shortly after coming into action he was badly wounded and left the front lines for a considerable amount of time to recover. He never totally recovered but remained in the army. He received the Large silver medal for Bravery for the action in which he was wounded. As he was unfit for active duty his functions after the war were accordingly. Nevertheless he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

The ending of his military career is quite dramatic. At  the end of WW2 the Russians were approaching Budapest, the home of this officer and his family. He tried to send his family away from the new front in the direction of Germany. For this he was removed dishonorably from his rank by the Hungarians (after their liberation of Hungary from the Germans by the Russian occupation forces).

Grouping of papers and medals belonging to vitéz Kapuvary Gyula

6.        References

·        Illustrated History of hungary, C Csorba ao, 2001 Hungary

·        Vitézek Albuma, 1939 edition reprint, Hungary

·        The World War 1 Databook, John Ellis, Aurum 2001 London

·        Homepage of the order itself that has been re-established. (In Hungarian):

·        Homepage of of Dr. Szentváry-Lukács János. (In Hungarian) :

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Copyright © Erik Naberhuis 2005