Radwan coat of arms

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Battle cry Kaja, Radwan
Alternative names Wierzbowa, Wierzbowczyk, Wirzbowa, Wirzbowo, Kaja, Chorągwie
Earliest mention 1407
Cities Kalwaria Zebrzydowska

Radwan is a Polish knights' clan (ród) and a Polish coat of arms. The coat of arms was used by the szlachta (noble) families within the clan under the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.


Gules: a Gonfanon or surmounted by a Maltese Cross of the last. Crest – on a crowned helmet – three ostrich feathers proper.[1]

Arms: gules, a gonfannon ensigned of a cross in chief, and fringed in base, all or. Issuant of a helmet ducally crowned; for a crest, three ostrich plumes proper.[2]


Radwan is among the most ancient coats of arms. Its origins can be traced back to Polish and German nobility.

The most ancient seal dates from 1443 and the first record from 1409. This coat of arms was widespread mainly in the regions of Kraków, Płock, Sandomierz, Sieradz, and also in Podlasie, Rawa, Ruthenia, and Lithuania. It exists in eight variants.[1]

Tomb effigy of Polish primate Jakub Uchański in Łowicz cathedral 1580

Families of magnate status (możni/high nobility) bearing Radwan arms were the Babski's, and the Magnuszewski's and Uchański's (See: Jakub Uchański), parts of the Mazovian feudal elite;[3] however, many branches of the Radwans never transcended the status of middle and lesser nobility.

"In Poland, the Radwanice were noted relatively early (1274) as the descendants of Radwan, a knight [more properly a "rycerz" (German "ritter")] active a few decades earlier. ..."[4][5]

Kasper Niesiecki S.J. (1682–1744) in his "Herbarz Polski" (with increased legal proofs and additions by Jan Nepomucen Bobrowicz [1805–1881] in the Leipzig editions, 1839–1846) writes:

"It [Radwan coat of arms] was awarded during the reign of King Boleslaw Smialy (1058–1079) on the occasion of a battle with Ruthenia; a captain named Radwan had been sent out on a foray with part of the army. He happened upon the enemy camp in such close quarters that they could neither protect themselves from a skirmish with the Ruthenians, nor fight with them, inasmuch as their numbers were so much smaller. But they all agreed it was better to fall dead on the spot than to encourage the enemy by fleeing. So with all their heart they sprang toward the Ruthenians, whose knights were daunted by this attack; but when they saw the small numbers against them, the Ruthenians grew bold, and not only took away their banner, but dispersed them as well. Captain Radwan, wishing to encourage his men to fight once more, rushed to a nearby church, where he seized the church's banner; he then gathered his men and courageously attacked the enemy. The Ruthenians took this to mean a new army with fresh troops had joined the battle, and began to retreat and flee. So Radwan's banner carried the day, and for this he received that church's banner for his shield, as well as other gifts.[6]

Paprocki, however, gives this as occurring during the rule of Bolesław Chrobry [992–1025] in 1021. He writes that Radwan was a royal chancellor, which information he is supposed to have taken from ancient royal grants. I conclude from this that either this clan sign is more ancient than the time of Bolesław Śmiały [1058–1079] and originated in the time of Bolesław Krzywousty [1102–1138], to whom some authors ascribe its conferment on that aforementioned Radwan; or else that before the time of Bolesław Śmiały [1058–1079] the Radwans used some other arms in their seal: for instance, that Radwan whom Paprocki gives as Bishop of Poznań in 1138. Długosz, in 'Vitae Episcop. Posnan. [Lives of the Bishops of Poznań]' does not include him under Radwan arms, but Sreniawa; there I, too, will speak of him."[6]

From Little Poland, the Śreniawa family/gens was insignificant and financially modest;[7] however, King Kazimierz the Great (1310–1370) supported them in Little Poland.[8]

Radwan, Bishop of Poznań, assisted with the establishment of the first Commandery of the Knights of Saint John in Poznań circa 1187 or possibly May 6, 1170. The donation was made by Mieszko III Stary (1121? – 1202), High Duke of all Poland.[9][10]

Ancient Origins and Reason for Many Surnames[edit]

See: Szlachta: Origins.

The Polish state paralleled the Roman Empire[11] in that full rights of citizenship were limited to the nobility/szlachta.[12] The Polish nobility/szlachta in Poland, where Latin was written and spoken far and wide, used the Roman naming convention of the tria nomina (praenomen, nomen, and cognomen)[13] to distinguish Polish citizens/nobles/szlachta from the peasantry[14] and foreigners, hence why so many surnames are associated with the Radwan coat of arms.

Nomen (nomen gentile—name of the gens[5]/ród or clan):


Cognomen (name of the family sept within the gens):

For example—Braniecki, Dąbrowski[15][16][17], Czcikowski, Dostojewski, Górski, Nicki, Zebrzydowski, etc.

Notable bearers[edit]

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, herbu Radwan
Dostoyevsky/Dostojewski coat of arms, a variant of Radwan

Notable bearers of this coat of arms have included:

Friedrich Nietzsche as Polish nobleman controversy[edit]

Friedrich Nietzsche often claimed that his ancestors were Polish noblemen called either "Niëtzky" or "Niëzky". Examples:

  • "meine Vorfahren waren polnische Edelleute, noch die Mutter meines Großvaters war Polin"
  • transl.: "my ancestors were Polish noblemen, even my grandfather's mother was Polish"

– letter to Heinrich von Stein, c. beginning of December 1882[20]

  • "Man hat mich gelehrt, die Herkunft meines Blutes und Namens auf polnische Edelleute zurückzuführen, welche Niëtzky hießen und etwa vor hundert Jahren ihre Heimat und ihren Adel aufgaben, unerträglichen religiösen Bedrückungen endlich weichend: es waren nämlich Protestanten."
  • transl.: "I was taught to ascribe the origin of my blood and name to Polish noblemen who were called Niëtzky and left their home and nobleness about a hundred years ago, finally yielding to unbearable suppression: they were Protestants."

– Nachlass, Sommer 1882 21 [2][21]

  • "Meine Vorfahren waren polnische Edelleute (Niëzky); es scheint, dass der Typus gut erhalten ist, trotz dreier deutschen "Mütter"."
  • transl.: "My ancestors were Polish noblemen (Niëzky); it seems that the type is well preserved in spite of three German "mothers""

– letter to Georg Brandes, April 10, 1888[22]

  • "Und doch waren meine Vorfahren polnische Edelleute: ich habe von daher viel Rassen-Instinkte im Leibe, wer weiss? zuletzt gar noch das liberum veto. Denke ich daran, wie oft ich unterwegs als Pole angeredet werde und von Polen selbst, wie selten man mich für einen Deutschen nimmt, so könnte es scheinen, dass ich nur zu den angesprenkelten Deutschen gehörte."
  • transl.: "And yet my ancestors were Polish noblemen: it is owing to them that I have so much race instinct in my blood, who knows? perhaps even the liberum veto. When I think of how often I have been accosted as a Pole when traveling, even by Poles themselves, and how seldom I have been taken for a German, it seems to me as if I belonged to those who have but a sprinkling of German in them.

Ecce Homo, Warum ich so weise bin (Why I am so wise) No. 3 (earlier version)

In her 1895 biography Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsche's,[23] his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche discussed this, quoted the second statement above and told a longer version of the story, giving her aunts as a source. Also she says that not their great-grandfather (as Friedrich had claimed), but their great-great-grandfather had travelled from Poland to Saxony; that this travel had lasted three years, and that their great-grandfather was born in this time. Also she recalled a lost document called "La famille seigneuriale de Niëtzky" in which it was stated that a member of the family had to flee from Poland in 1716. In her 1895 retelling of the story, Förster-Nietzsche did not state clearly whether she thought it to be true or a family myth. Many Nietzsche biographies until today have used Förster-Nietzsche's book as a source.

In 1898, Hans von Müller did some research concerning the Nietzsches’ origins. He found that Nietzsche's great-grandfather was born on February 26, 1714 (8 o’clock in the morning) in the town of Bibra and was given the name Gotthelf Engelbert some days later. His father, Nietzsche's great-great-grandfather, was named Christoph and had lived in Bibra since at least 1709. At that time, Müller could not find earlier evidence or the family birth name of Christoph Nietzsche's wife, but nevertheless published his results.[24] In a private talk with Elisabeth, he jokingly said that if the lost document had put the events in 1706, not 1716, there would at least have been a possibility of it being true.

He was quite surprised when Elisabeth published a harsh rejection of his essay[25] and there stated that she "just sees from an old notebook" that the lost document had really put the events in 1706, not 1716. Although she accepted Müller's evidence, she found it mysterious why the family name of Christoph Nietzsche's wife was "concealed" in the old church books. [Elisabeth's appearing and disappearing "old notebooks" have often been a very practical source for her statements].

In 1905, a Polish writer named Bernhard Scharlitt began to take interest in Nietzsche's family history and wrote letters to Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. In the book Herbarz polski,[26] he found a small note about a family "Nicki" belonging to the Radwan coat of arms, and conjectured that some Gotard Nietzsche had migrated from Poland to Prussia c. 1632, and that his descendant Christoph Nietzsche in 1706 had merely changed Prussia with Saxony.

He wrote this to Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who quickly dismissed all her earlier conjectures, even the religious suppression so important to her brother, and also found "after thorough research" that in fact her brother had always written (two-syllable) "Nicki" and never the three-syllable form "Niëzky". [An obvious lie, see the above quotations by Nietzsche]. Scharlitt was full of joy and published his conjectures and Elisabeth's letters in a Polish-patriotic article.[27]

However, in her new 1912 biography Der junge Nietzsche,[28] Elisabeth did not repeat her enthusiastic support for Scharlitt's conjectures – perhaps they had become inopportune in rising German nationalism. She now wrote "Nicki" but nevertheless claimed that phonetically it would be "Niëzky" with three syllables; she changed (that is, forged) her brother's 1882 fragment (second quotation on top) from "etwa vor hundert Jahren" (about hundred years ago) to "vor mehr als hundert Jahren" (more than hundred years ago), but in the end said that she does not know anything for sure because "papers have been lost".

What Scharlitt and Förster-Nietzsche did not know was that Hans von Müller after her strong rejection had abstained from an open debate, but had quietly pursued his research in old churchbooks, and that he was successful. His results are:

  • Nietzsche's great-great-great-great-grandfather:
  • Mattheß Nitzsche, lived in Burkau
  • Nietzsche's great-great-great-grandfather:
  • Christoph Nitzsche [I.], baptized May 15, 1662, Burkau; married to Anna Grüner, daughter of Hanß Grüner
  • Nietzsche's great-great-grandfather:
  • Christoph Nitzsche [II.], first marriage in 1707 in Eckartsberga, living in Bibra at least since 1709, died January 5, 1739, lower tax official in Bibra
    • First marriage with Johanna Christiana Büttner, daughter of Johann Dietrich Büttner from Eckartsberga
    • Second marriage with Margaretha Elisabetha Schönermarckin [the one whose family name Elisabeth rumoured to be "mysteriously concealed"], daughter of Ludwig Heinrich Schönermarck in Sondershausen)
  • Nietzsche's great-grandfather:
  • Gotthelf (or Gotthilf) Engelbert Nitzsche, born February 26, 1714 in Bibra, died September 21, 1804 in Bibra, succeeded his father as lower tax official); is from Christoph's [II.] first marriage, not from the second one as Müller had conjectured in 1898.
    • (First) marriage with Johanne Amalie Herold, born November 10, 1717 in Reinsdorf, died September 17, 1770 in Bibra, married July 19, 1740)

Their seventh child was

  • Nietzsche's grandfather:
  • Friedrich August Ludwig Nitzsche (or Nietzsche), born January 29, 1756 in Bibra, died March 16, 1826 in Eilenburg, a Lutheran pastor
    • First marriage with Johanne Friederike Richter, married July 6, 1784 in Bibra)
    • Second marriage with Erdmuthe Dorothee Krause (born December 11, 1778 in Reichenbach, died Naumburg April 3, 1865 – Nietzsche knew her – married October 9, 1809 in Naumburg)

Nietzsche's father Carl Ludwig Nietzsche, from the second marriage and also a Lutheran pastor, born October 10, 1813, is well known.

Hans von Müller wrote down the story of the legend and his results in a private manuscript between 1935 and 1937. The manuscript was published for the first time in 2002[29]

Max Oehler also published an article about this in 1937/1938 (see article on Oehler). Whereas one should remain sceptical about Oehler, who was a devote Nazi, Hans von Müller's text is clearly not written in favour of some Nazi ideology. But Oehler's and Müller's results are essentially identical, Oehler only gives three more ancestors: Mattheß’ father Hans Nitzsche, born c. 1620–1630; Hans’ father Elias Nitzsche, born c. 1600; and Elias’ father, name unknown, born c. 1570, all in Burkau. Both Oehler and Müller did not exclude a Slavic origin of the family; however, Müller suggests Sorbian rather than Polish origin.

As a possible source for the family myth Nietzsche's aunts believed in, Müller suggests Adam Nietzki (1714–1780), professor of medicine in Halle and of Polish (but not noble) origin, and Christoph Niczky, of Hungarian nobility, both of whom were not further related to the family Nietzsche.

Modern Nietzsche scholarship does not believe in the legend of noble Polish ancestry. For example, in the Colli-Montinari edition of Nietzsche's letters, the commentary on the above quoted letter to Brandes shortly notes:[30]

  • "diese von N gepflegte Legende entbehrt jeder Grundlage"
  • transl.: "this legend maintained by N lacks any basis"


  1. ^ a b "The Polish Armorial Polonais" by Auteurs Associes (Château-Thierry, Aisne department, Hauts-de-France region, FRANCE: Bibliothèque Albi Corvi, 1988), page 69.
  2. ^ Kasper Niesiecki, S.J. & Jan Nepomucen Bobrowicz, "Herbarz Polski Kaspra Niesieckiego S.J., powiększony dodatkami z poźniejszych autorów, rękopismów, dowodów urzędowych i wydany przez Jana Nep. Bobrowicza." (Leipzig, DEUTSCHLAND: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1841).
  3. ^ Jan Piętka, "Mazowiecka Elita Feudalna Późnego Średniowiecza" (Warszawa, POLSKA: Państwowe Wydawn. Naukowe, 1975), pages 135–136.
  4. ^ a b Janusz Bieniak, "Knight Clans in Medieval Poland", in Antoni Gąsiorowski (ed.), The Polish Nobility in the Middle Ages: Anthologies, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich – Wydawnictwo; Wrocław, POLSKA; 1984, page 154.
  5. ^ a b Okolski, herbu Rawicz, Szymon (15 September 1643). "RADWAN alias WIRBOW.". ORBIS POLONUS (in Latin). Kraków, Kraków voivodeship, Lesser Poland province, KINGDOM OF POLAND AND THE GRAND DUCHY OF LITHUANIA: Franciscus Caesarius. II: 564. Archived from the original on 8 June 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2017. LINEA FAMILIAE RADWAN 
  6. ^ a b Leonard Joseph: Sulima-Suligowski, "Polish Heraldry" (WHITE EAGLE: Journal of the Polish Nobility Association Foundation: Villa Anneslie, 529 Dunkirk Road, Anneslie, Towson, Baltimore, Baltimore county, MARYLAND, U.S.A.: The Polish Nobility Association Foundation, 1999), Spring/Summer 1999, page 9, prepared from the classic heraldic reference "Herbarz Polski" (by Kasper Niesiecki, S. J., Leipzig edition, 1839 – 1846) by Leonard J. Suligowski.
  7. ^ "Rotation of the Elite of Power", in Antoni Gąsiorowski (ed.), The Polish Nobility in the Middle Ages: Anthologies, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich – Wydawnictwo; Wrocław, POLSKA; 1984, page 217.
  8. ^ "Rotation of the Elite of Power", in Antoni Gąsiorowski (ed.), The Polish Nobility in the Middle Ages: Anthologies, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich – Wydawnictwo; Wrocław, POLSKA; 1984, page 228.
  9. ^ von Güttner Sporzynski, Darius. "The Knights Hospitallers in Poland". 38 Dover Street, Mayfair, City of Westminster, West End of London, Inner London, Greater London county, London region, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM: Stair Sainty Ltd. Archived from the original on 26 November 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2017. 
  10. ^ Libicki, Marcin. "800 Years Ago in Poznań". welcome-to.poznan.pl. Archived from the original on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2017. 
  11. ^ Davies, Ivor Norman Richard; Dawson, Andrew Hutchinson; Jasiewicz, Krzysztof; Kondracki, Jerzy Aleksander; Wandycz, Piotr Stefan (2 June 2017). "Poland". Encyclopædia Britannica. p. 15. Retrieved 4 June 2017. Throughout most of Europe the medieval system of estates evolved into absolutism, but in the Commonwealth it led to a szlachta democracy inspired by the ideals of ancient Rome, to which parallels were constantly drawn. 
  12. ^ Topór-Jakubowski, Theodore (2002). Sulima-Suligowski, Leonard Joseph, ed. "Claiming Inherited Noble Status" (PDF). WHITE EAGLE: JOURNAL OF THE POLISH NOBILITY ASSOCIATION FOUNDATION. Villa Anneslie, 529 Dunkirk Road, Anneslie, Towson, Baltimore, Baltimore county, MARYLAND, U.S.A.: Polish Nobility Association Foundation. 2002 (Spring/Summer): 5. the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of Two Nations (from 1385 until the Third Partition of 1795) paralleled the Roman Empire in that -- whether we like it or not -- full rights of citizenship were limited to the governing elite, called szlachta in Polish ... It is not truly correct to consider the szlachta a class; they actually were more like a caste, the military caste, as in Hindu society. 
  13. ^ "Latin as the Language of Social Communication of the Polish Nobility (Based on the Latin Heraldic Work by Szymon Okolski)". Kórnik Library, Poznań, Greater Poland voivodeship, POLAND: The Central European Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. Archived from the original on 8 June 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2017. The article highlights the role of Latin as the language of communication of the nobility living in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the beginning discusses the concept 'latinitas', which meant not only the correct Latin, but also pointed to the ideological content of antiquity passed through the language of the ancient Romans. ... We studied Latin armorial 'Orbis Polonus' by Simon Okolski (Cracow 1641-1645). ... It concludes that Okolski consciously wrote his work in the language of the ancient Romans. 
  14. ^ "DWÓR DĄBROWSKICH W MICHAŁOWICACH - "Nowe życie dworu" (wystawa)" [DĄBROWSKI MANOR/MANSION IN MICHAŁOWICE - New Life of the Manor/Mansion (Exhibition)]. SlideShare (in Polish). Kraków, Kraków county, Lesser Poland voivodeship, Southern Poland, POLAND: Małopolska Institute of Culture. 12 December 2016. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 5 June 2017. The Dąbrowski family willingly engaged in rural life. In the picture: a festive harvest in nearby Masłomiąca in 1939, ... 
  15. ^ Boniecki (Fredro-Boniecki), herbu Bończa, Adam Józef Feliks (1901). "DĄBROWSCY h. RADWAN z Dąbrówki" (online book). Herbarz Polski - Część I.; Wiadomości Historyczno-Genealogiczne O Rodach Szlacheckich.. Warsaw, Warsaw governorate, Vistula land (Russian POLAND), RUSSIAN EMPIRE: Gebethner i Wolff. IV.: 147. DĄBROWSCY h. RADWAN z Dąbrówki pod Piasecznem, w ziemi warszawskiej, w różnych stronach osiedli, przeważnie w ziemi rożańskiej. Przydomek ich „Żądło“. Żyjący w połowie XV-go wieku Jakób z Dąbrówki, ... 
  16. ^ Okolski, herbu Rawicz, Szymon (15 September 1643). "RADWAN alias WIRBOW.". ORBIS POLONUS (in Latin). Kraków, Kraków voivodeship, Lesser Poland province, KINGDOM OF POLAND AND THE GRAND DUCHY OF LITHUANIA: Franciscus Caesarius. II: 572. Archived from the original on 8 June 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2017. Dąbrowfcij, cognominati Zedlowie ... 
  17. ^ "DWÓR DĄBROWSKICH W MICHAŁOWICACH - "Nowe życie dworu" (wystawa)" [DĄBROWSKI MANOR/MANSION IN MICHAŁOWICE - New Life of the Manor/Mansion (Exhibition)]. SlideShare (in Polish). Kraków, Kraków county, Lesser Poland voivodeship, Southern Poland, POLAND: Małopolska Institute of Culture. 12 December 2016. Archived from the original on 3 June 2017. Retrieved 3 June 2017. Photographs from the family archive of Jan Majewski; Tadeusz Żądło Dąbrowski [herbu Radwan]... 
  18. ^ Zdrada, Jerzy (1973). "Jarosław Dąbrowski 1836-1871". Kraków, POLAND, EU: Wydawnictwo Literackie. p. 9. Jarosław Radwan Żądło Dąbrowski urodzil się 13 listopada 1836 roku Żytomierzu na Wołyniu. Rodzina Dąbrowskich wywodziła się z Mazowsza, najprawdopodobniej ze wsi Dąbrówka pod Piasecznem w ziemi warszawskiej. Notują ją herbarze szlacheckie od XV wieku, ale była to zawsze szlachta dość uboga, w niektórych tylko okresach dochodząca do pewnej zamożności. 
  19. ^ Dostoyevsky, Aimée (2001). "FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY: A STUDY". Honolulu, HAWAII: University Press of the Pacific. p. 6. The Dostoyevsky were Schliahtitchi and belonged to the “grassy Radwan.” That is to say, they were nobles, they went to war under the banner of the Lord of Radwan, and had the right to bear his arms. My mother had the Radwan armorial bearings drawn for the Dostoyevsky Museum at Moscow. I have seen them, ... 
  20. ^ KGB III 1, Nr. 342, p. 287
  21. ^ KGW V 2, p. 579; KSA 9 p. 681
  22. ^ KGB III 5, Nr. 1014, p. 288
  23. ^ Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche: Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsche's. Band I, Naumann, Leipzig 1895: page 10
  24. ^ Hans von Müller: Nietzsches Vorfahren, in the magazine Zukunft, May 28, 1898
  25. ^ Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche: Nietzsches Ahnen, also in Zukunft, June 25, 1898
  26. ^ Herbarz polski Kaspra Nisieeckigo S.J., i wydany przez Jana Nep. Bobrowicza (w Lipsku: nahl. i. dr. Breitkopfa I Haertela), Tom. VI. (1841), p. 532
  27. ^ In the Politisch-Anthropologische Revue, April 1906
  28. ^ Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche: Der junge Nietzsche, Kröner, Stuttgart 1912
  29. ^ Hans von Müller: Nietzsches Vorfahren published by Richard Frank Krummel and Evelyn Krummel in Nietzsche-Studien 31 (2002), p. 253-275.
  30. ^ KGB III 7.3/1 p. 193

See also[edit]