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Poland 2007 History of the Polish Cavalry - Heavily Armored Knight of the 15th Century 10 Zlotych Rectangular Silver Proof

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A heavily-armed and armored Polish knight rides across this rectangular beauty, a reminder of Poland's military triumph at Grunwald!

Sold out at the Mint!For over a thousand years Poland's cavalry was a mainstay of its armed forces, guaranteeing her freedom in peace and defending her in times of war. From the earliest days of the Polish state, the Piast dynasty, all the way through the Second World War, the cavalry served Poland capably and honorably. This program of coins, to be issued over several years, offers a chance to relive the glory of the Polish cavalry from the dawn of Poland as a nation-state through those final, desperate days in 1939.

A suit of Gothic plate mail armor The Heavily Armored Knight of the 15th Century is the second series in the History of the Polish Cavalry program. The knight was issued in a Nordic Gold (base metal) 2 Zl, a rectangular 10 Zl silver proof, and a 200 Zl gold proof. For a more detailed discussion of the arms and armor of the heavily-armed knight, please see the article at the end of this presentation.

Click here to see all of the coins in the History of the Polish Cavalry series!

The Knights of Storybooks - and Battlefields
By the late 1300s, a new military force had arisen, which would make its presence felt with devastating effect on the battlefields of 15th century Europe - the heavily armored knight. Covered in plate mail and riding an equally armored horse, the knight and his steed formed the most formidable weapon of the period. This was the age of romance and chivalry, the era when the knight held sway.

The heavily armored knight of Poland had his heyday in 15th century, including abroad. During this time, Polish knighthood actively contributed to international developments, seeking fame and fortune in foreign military missions and remote lands. They helped neighboring countries in need and voluntarily fought against the ever-increasing Turkish incursions into southern Europe.

At the same time, Polish knights performed with dignity and honor at the tournaments and court ceremonies across the continent. But it was at home where the Polish heavy knight of the 15th century made his lasting mark. Polish heavy cavalry on numerous occasions had to confront a determined enemy. Their finest hour came on July 15, 1410 in the victory over the Order of the Teutonic Knights at the fabled Battle of Grunwald.

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The Battle of Grunwald
The aftermath of the Battle of Grunwald by famed Czech art nouveau artist Alphonse MuchaThe Battle of Grunwald (also known as the First Battle of Tannenberg) took place on July 15, 1410 and is regarded as one of the most important battles in Polish history. Poland, led by King Wladyslaw II Jagiello (known as Jogaila), and Lithuania, led by Vytautus (Witold) the Great,  Grand Duke of Lithuania, were ranged against the Knights of the Teutonic Order, led by Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen. It was the decisive engagement in the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War (1409-1411) and was the largest battle of the Middle Ages in medieval Europe.

The battle took place on a plain between several villages in what is now Poland, but was then Prussia. These were ideal conditions for the use of knights and cavalry, who naturally bore the brunt of the fighting. A large and complex battle by any standard, with over 55,000 troops engaged, commanded on the field personally by the respective leaders. At the end of the day, a massed charge by the Polish heavy cavalry overwhelmed the Teutonic Knights, who retreated with heavy losses. The battle saw the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights decisively defeated; their order never recovered its former power or glory. Poland and Lithuania, on the other hand, began an ascendancy that lasted for centuries.

A Monumental Painting
The Battle of Grunwald is the subject of a monumental oil-on-canvas painting by the famed Polish historical painter Jan Matejko, and now in the National Gallery in Warsaw. As befits one of the turning points in Polish history, the painting is complex, detailed and huge (measuring 10 feet by 17 feet!), and features portraits of all the notable individuals on both sides.  A much more detailed exploration of both the battle and the painting, with many close-ups of this artistic masterpiece, can be found by clicking here.

The Battle of Grunwald by famed Polish painter Jan Matejko

The Black Knight

Perhaps the most famous Polish knight of the 15th century was Zawisza Czarny (the Black) of Garbów, also known as The Black Knight. He was a man of impeccable honor renowned for his valor, The coat of arms or armorial heraldic bearings of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealththe glorious winner of a number of tournaments,. He made his name defending his homeland at the battle of Grunwald. Zawisza the Black was sent by King Wladyslaw II Jagiello as a diplomat and envoy to the court of Sigismund of Luxembourg. He would later fall in 1428 in a clash with the Turks near the castle of Golubac on the Danube river, where till the very end he covered the retreat of his brothers in arms after they were routed by Saracens. His fame survives to the day in the famous Polish saying Polegaj jak na Zawiszy ("You can count on him like Zawisza."). This motto also became part of the Polish Scouts oath and tradition.

In fact, so important was the fame and legend of the heavily armored Polish knight of the 15th century that it can be seen on the coat of arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was not established until 150 years after the Battle of Grunwald! The cross of the Jagiellonians can be seen on the knight's shield.

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A heavily-armed and armored Jagiellonian knight of the 15th century and his steed prepare for battle, lance in his right hand, in this dynamic rendering. Behind him is another knight in silhouette, sword drawn, in front of a walled medieval town. The legend RYCERZ CIERZKOZBROJNY - XV W. ("Heavily Armored Horseman of the 15th Century") appears below.

A knight's helmet and sword, framed by ornamental floral arabesques. The crowned white eagle, the national emblem of Poland, with the year of issue, the denomination and the legend RZECZPOSPOLITA POLSKA ("Republic of Poland") also appear.

Country Poland
Year of Issue 2007
Issuing Authority National Bank of Poland
Face Value 10 Zl
Weight 14.14 g
Dimensions Height 32.00 mm
Width 22.00 mm
Diagonal 39.00 mm
Mintage Limit 61,000
Finish Proof
Composition .925 Fine (Sterling) Silver
Edge Plain
Packaging Encapsulated

The Arms & Armor of the Polish Heavy Cavalry

In the 15th century, the weaponry, garments and tactics used in Poland were the same as those found throughout other parts of Europe where Romance culture prevailed. The quality and components of the typical weaponry and equipment of Polish warriors corresponded to those used in Germany, Czechoslovakia or Switzerland at the same time.

Following centuries of improvements and developments, in the 15th century the process of building a suit of plate armor or mail covering the entire body had reached its apex. In appreciation of the superb Heavily armored knights in battlequality of armor, knights in Europe adopted a new way of wearing it - they no longer covered it with robes and tunics. Shields went into disuse in combat and remained solely as a element of the tournament, for sporting the knight's coat of arms or armorial or heraldic bearing.

The introduction of plate armor implied the need to adequately protect the knight's charger. Consequently, war horses received the so-called barding - horse armor, matching the quality and extensiveness of the armor of their riders. These equine suits of armor were made both of chain mail and plate mail. The saddle was also improved, so that its high pommel, covered with sheet metal, protected the knight both against the enemy’s weapon and against being unhorsed, that is, knocked off the saddle.

Click here to see all of the coins in the History of the Polish Cavalry series!

The increasingly heavier weight of the armored warrior called for a sufficiently strong steed. Such a tough breed was developed in northern Europe. Chargers were used only for combat or for tournament. A suit of medieval plate mail armorGiven the weight of their riders, these mounts could only walk, never trot. For a cavalry charge, they could break into a gallop for a short distance. Three breeds of chargers were developed, the most valuable of them being the so-called "grand war horse", which could easily cost a noble a small fortune.

From the outset, the most important component of a knight's armory was his sword, which functioned not just as a weapon, but also as a symbol of chivalry. In the 15th century, in parallel to the improvements in armor (which became more resistant to blows), the sword was enlarged by adding a two-handed hilt often also sharp-pointed. A knight usually also carried a dagger or misericord, in a sheath on his right side, to strike between his opponent's plates of the armor in hand-to-hand combat.

For charges, knights could also use the lance, a ten-foot-long or longer  type of hafted weapon with a spearhead, held under the arm and, in many cases, supported by a hook attached to the knight's breast plate. To reduce its weight the lance could be made of of hollow wood. The lance was a disposable weapon - it often broke when in a joust or tilt (which is where the Polish proverb “crossing the lance over something” (i.e. having a violent and stormy argument over something) comes from).

Suits of armor continued to improve throughout the entire the 15th century, re-designed by armorers aiming to make it as efficient and comfortable protection as possible. Most often Polish knights adopted patterns from neighboring Germany, from which the styles popular in the 1400s originated. This type of suit of armor is known under by the name “Gothic armors” nowadays. They show the characteristic features of Gothic art - slender figures, extended forms (e.g., shoe points), sharp contours and decorating flat surfaces with flutes. Whereas the armorers who worked in Polish towns provided fine quality products, the richest knights could also purchase their suits abroad.

Design and manufacture of plate armor required both a good knowledge of warfare and advanced craftsmanship. Most manufacturing was done manually via cold forging, whereas the 15th century saw Knights jousting by famed Impressionist painter Edward Degasthe introduction of mechanical equipment such as spinning disks to polish the surface of plates. A suit of plate armor was not easy to put on, and was impossible by oneself. Therefore a knight could not dispense without the assistance of at least one squire. Specially written instructions were supposed to help put it on, beginning from sabatons and greaves and finishing with the helmet. A full 15th century plate amour could easily weigh well over fifty pounds. This weight was so well spread over the body that a fit man could move freely and remain in battle for hours.

The rising popularity of firearms on battlefields in the 15th century forced the thickening of the plate until the upper limit has been reached, as determined by the strength of the rider and his horse. As a result, by the end of the 15th century, the troops of knights had begun to lose their impetus and force of attack necessary for the successful cavalry charge on the battlefield.

Suits of armor were worn not only in warfare but also at tournaments, where knights trained before engaging in actual jousts. Tournaments provided an opportunity for the genteel knights to display their arms, horses and the splendor of their garments. In the 15th century the tournament tradition reached its fullest bloom. All stages of games demonstrated rapid evolution, from the gala opening to the review of participants to the program introductions and jousts until the ceremony of awarding prizes and distinctions to the winners. The refinement of the armorer's craft resulted in the development of a special tournament armor of reinforced metal plates heavier than all the other types for combat. These suits were made in a variety of forms for various tournaments. Only the richest - dukes, princes and kings - could afford them. Although tournaments occasioned competition for awards, fame and the favor of ladies, they also frequently they led to the serious injury and even the death of its participants.

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