Karl Eitel Fredrich (1839-1914) (the second son of Prince Karl Anton of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen), was offered the position of Prince of Romania as Carol I in order to maintain order in Moldovia and Wallachia. The first non-military medal established by Carol I while he was still prince of the principalities was the Bene Merenti medal. The medal of Bene Merenti was instituted by Royal Decree no. 314 on February 20, 1876 (the Romanians used the Julian calendar until 31 March, 1919 at which time they moved forward to 14 April, 1919 using the Gregorian calendar). The medal is based on a princely Hohenzollern award instituted by the House of Hohenzollern in 1857. The medal was given for merit in the area of arts, science, industry and agriculture. It was rarely awarded. The medal was divided into first class and second class. Both Romanians and foreign nationals were eligible for the award.
The earliest observed medal is 40mm in diameter with the bust of Carol I without a full beard and with W. Kullrich F. on the edge of the rim of the medal. The generally issued first type obverse was 30 mm in diameter and had a bust of then Prince Carol I, with a full beard, facing to the left, surrounded with the circular inscription CAROLUS I PRINCEPS ROMAINIAE. The reverse had the words BENE over MERENTI over a bar, all centered and surrounded by a circular wreath of oak leaves. The piece was surmounted by a 15-16 mm ring to attach the ribbon. The first class was silver gilt and the second class was silver. Later issues of the first type, first class were bronze gilt. A variant of the first type has the name of the artist, W. KULLRICH (1821-1887) immediately underneath Carol I's bust on the obverse. The first type was issued from 1876 until Carol I was crowned King of Romania on May 22, 1881.
The second type was in the same configuration as the first only the bust of Carol I was surrounded by the circular inscription: CAROLUS I REX ROMANIAE. The size was approximately 2 mm=s larger than the first type.
The third type was in the same configuration as the second only the size was approximately 30mm in diameter and the size of the letters on the obverse and reverse were approximately 1mm larger. The beard of Carol I was also shorter. A variant of this type has been observed with the beard being the length of the second type and the AE of the being combined.
The fourth type was in the same configuration as the third type except that the beard of Carol I was longer than any of the other types.
The medal was worn on the left chest suspended by a ring and a violet moire ribbon 30mm to 35mm in width, with silver edges, 2 to 3mm wide.
The original manufacturer of the medal is believed to be Paul Telge of Berlin.
The medal ceased to exist by Royal Decree no. 2684 after the initiation of the Order of Cultural Merit on July 19, 1931. Monitorul Oficial no. 226, September 28, 1931. Recipients of the Bene Merenti medal were allowed to continue wearing the medal.
Beginning in 1932 King Carol II (1894-1953) disregarded Romanian law by instituting orders and medals (including the Bene Merenti) which were issued Proprio Motu and were not included in the hierarchy of national orders. When Carol II was forced to abdicate the Romanian throne on 6 September 1940, succeeded by his son King Michael I (1921- ). The head of State, General Ion Antonescu (1882-1946) abolished Carol II’s “proprio motu” orders and medals and restored the traditional system of Romanian decorations.
Bene Merenti Medal of the Royal House
Carol II established the Bene Merenti Medal of the Royal House, Royal Decree no. 2836-16 December 1935, Monitorul Oficial no. 293/20 December, 1935. The decree provided for the medal in three classes, gold, silver, and bronze, but designated no specifications. Royal Decree no 4354/19 December 1938, Monitorul Oficial no 297/21 December, 1938 provided the first full description of the new propio motu medals, but now referred to the medal as the Royal House Medal in 2 classes. The conjecture is that the 1932 Bene Merenti Medal of the Royal House was never issued.
Bene Merenti Cross for Life Saving
This award was instituted by High Decision no. 2/8, March 1940, Monitorul Oficial no. 76/29, March 1940, to award the acts of courage and devotion of those who, at risk of life, saved or attempted to save the life of a person or private or public property. The cross was awarded for lifetime. There were three classes, silver gilt for first class, silver for second class and bronze for third class. Awards of a superior class could only be awarded if the person had previously been awarded the next lower class. The arms of the cross are in the shape of a tri-fold. The diameter of the cross is 38mm having a center medallion of 18mm in diameter surrounded by a circle of 19mm. The obverse of the medallion represents the bust of King Carol II surrounded by the legend, CAROL AL II-LEA REGELE ROMANILOR, (Carol II, King of the Romanians). The reverse of the medallion bears the legend in relief, FORTI ET DEVOTO SERVATORI (mighty and royal servant). The lower portion consisted of a wreath of part oak and laurel leaves. Between the arms of the cross was a laurel wreath of 4mm width surrounding the medallion. The award was worn on the left chest suspended on a 15mm diameter ring and a 30mm width silver ribbon with black 3mm central stripes and one 4mm black stripe on each edge. No specimen of this medal is known to exist. Decoratii Românesti De Razboi (1860-1947) states that the cross was never awarded which is consistent with the chronology of events in Romania during this time.
Bene Merenti Order of the Royal House
Under a decree of December 16, 1935, Carol II replaced the Princely Hohenzollern House Order of Bene Merenti with the Romanian Order of Bene Merenti. The Order was divided into four classes for men and three classes for women. On November 26, 1937, any grade could also be awarded with swords. The Order was conferred only Proprio Motu to military and civilians for services rendered to the King.
Specifications of the Orders
The first class of the Order consisted of the shape of a 44 mm diameter Leopold Cross surmounted by a Royal Crown 23 mm in height. The arms of the cross consisted of white enamel edged in silver gilt with a 3 mm black enameled border also edged in silver gilt. The arms of the cross converge on a 22 mm circular white enamel medallion with the words BENE over MERENTI in gilt surrounded by a wreath of green enameled oak leaves. The reverse has white enameled arms edged in silver gilt converging on an 11 mm circular white enamel medallion with the crowned cipher of King Carol II in gilt, surrounded by a 2.5 mm black enamel ring edged in silver gilt.
The second class is exactly like the first class with the exception that it was without the crown.
The third class obverse was the same as the second class only in silver and with black lacquer replacing the enamel on the arms of the cross. The reverse was plain with a pin back.
The fourth class is in the same configuration as the second class only it was worn on a ribbon, was 31mm in diameter, in silver, and without enamel.
The ribbon for the men's order of the first class and second class was 42mm in width consisting of silver moire with three equally spaced black stripes. There was a war ribbon version containing the addition of 3 mm wide golden edges.
The ribbon for the fourth class was 36mm in width with alternating black and silver moire stripes.
The award for women consisted of the first class being the size of the fourth class for men except containing rays between the arms of the cross and the arms of the cross being enameled.
The second class was the same as the first class only without the rays.
The third class was the same as the second class only without enamel on the arms of the cross.
The ribbon for women was a 30mm x 105mm silver moire bow ribbon with a 3mm center black stripe and 4mm black stripes 1mm from the edge.
The Orders were manufactured by Souval of Austria, Heinrich Weiss of Romania and the National Mint in Bucharest.
Serial numbers were not encountered. Although the insignia exists without hallmarks, the following hallmarks have been observed:
RS - Souval
HW, BW - Heinrich Weiss
The hallmarks are normally found on the loop connected to the cross and on the ribbon ring.
The Order was replaced by the St. George Order by High Decision number 1 of March 8, 1940.
The Order was reconstituted in 1951 by descendants of the House of Hohenzollern and is currently issued in first, second and third class.
Klietmann, Dr. Kurt-Gerhard. Phaleristik Rumänien (Berlin 1975)
Safta, Jipa, Velter, & Marinescu. Decoratii Românesti De Razboi (1860-1947) (Bucharest 1993)
Stefan, Neculae, & Dumitrascu. Romania Decoratii (1859-1991) (Bucharest 1992)
© Copyright 2003 Orders and Medals Society of America and Charles H. Pankey. All rights reserved. Reproduced by Permission