Happy Birthday to Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, who turns 81 today! As many other deposed Royal Families do, the Bulgarians continue to wear some orders that were awarded by the Monarch up to 1946, when the monarchy in Bulgaria was abolished. Today we take a look at the ones we see the most!
But first an explanation of Orders in general- Almost every country, monarchy or not, has some form of an honours system that awards chivalry or merit, and is often used in diplomatic exchange of gifts. Each individual order has it’s own history, and in countries with multiple orders, has it’s own rank. The Head of State is usually the sovereign of the order, and has varied authority on deciding their recipients. National Orders are those which must be awarded with consultation from the government, and are official gifts, while the recipients of Dynastic Orders are at the discretion of the Sovereign, and many non-reigning families still award their Dynastic Orders, with no government authority.
Orders of their own countries are awarded to royals at birth, upon reaching the age of majority, upon marriage into the royal family, or after years of dedicated service to the country. Orders of foreign countries are usually awarded during State Visits, and are given according to rank, with the sovereigns receiving the higher order, the heirs the lower order, and the other members of the royal family participating in the visit receiving yet a lower one. However, these rules vary from country to country, and also depend on individual Sovereigns.
Orders are accompanied by a varied amount of insignia, which can include a Sash with a badge worn at the hip, a Star, ornate Collars, Badges to be worn on the shoulders, and smaller Pins, and the awarding of specific items differentiate the different grades in each individual order, and/or depend on the orders themselves. The wearing of the insignia depends on the occasion. The ornate collars of an Order are only worn very rarely at White Tie events or on Uniforms. The Sash and Star are more common and seen at White Tie State Banquets. The smaller badges may be worn when you are wearing the insignia of other orders, or at a Black Tie occasion where Orders are worn. The small pins are worn at formal occasions in the daytime, when you want to honour the occasion without making it too formal. Now that we have an explanation, lets learn about the Bulgarian Royal Orders.
The Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius was founded by Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria on May 1909, shortly after the official declaration of Bulgarian independence, and it was the highest Bulgarian award. The order is composed of only one class: Knight Grand Cross, it’s possible however that some knights may be awarded the Collar of the Order for their exceptional merits. The badge consists of a Botonée Cross with decorative flames in between the cross’ arms that are charged with fleur-de-lis upon each arm. The central disc shows an image of Saints Cyril and Methodius surrounded by a message in Latin, “Ex Oriente Lux” or “Light comes from the east”. The star is a circular-centered Maltese Cross, with the same flames that are present on the badge, with a red-enameled Seraph in its center. The sash’s color, that symbolizes dawn, is peachy-orange. Past recipients of the order include notable Bulgarian citizens and senior Princes of the Bulgarian Royal Family, and currently the order is most notably worn by King Simeon II, the present Head of the Royal Family.
The Royal Order of Saint Alexander was instituted in late 1881 by Tsar Alexander I in honor of his patron saint. The order was the second highest award to be given during the Bulgarian Monarchy. The order is composed of seven grades, the highest of them being the Grand Cross that may or may not be awarded with the Collar. The badge is a Cross pattée with a circular central medallion consisting of a red-enameled central disc surrounded by a white ring that says “God with us”. The eight-pointed star of the order has an enlarged version of the badge’s central medallion. The dark-red sash is worn from the right shoulder to the left hip. Traditionally, all Bulgarian Queens have been given this order and to this day it can be seen on Queen Margarita.