The Order of the Guards of the Fatherland – The Order of Viesturs (Vesthardus Rex)
In 1938, the Republic of Latvia had two state honours – the military Order of Lāčplēsis and the civilian Order of Three Stars. On July 12, 1938, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a law on establishing two new orders and medals of honour. President Kārlis Ulmanis proclaimed the law, and on August 11, the country had the Order of Viesturs and the Cross of Recognition, too.
The Order of Viesturs (Vesthardus Rex) was established in commemoration of the might of Latvia in ancient times. The motto for the Order was “Confortamini et pugnate” (“Be Strong in Battle!”). The order was designed by the artist Herberts Mangolts.
The Order of Viesturs had five classes and three levels of medals of honour. It was exclusively a military award, given to people with achievements in the training of the state’s armed forces, in maintaining public order, in protecting the country’s borders, and in teaching the country’s residents about statehood.
The Order of Viesturs is a straight, white-enamelled cross with a gilded edge. At each end of the cross are two smaller and one larger red-enamel relief. At the centre of the front of the cross is a white-enamel medallion with the red letters VR (Vesthardus Rex, or the ruler Viesturs), and the medallion has a gilded edge. On the back of the cross is a gilded medallion with the aforementioned motto, “Confortamini et pugnate,” with the year 1219 at the centre. That was the year when the ancient Semigalians, under the leadership of Viesturs, launched a battle against German Crusaders.
Viesturs was the military ruler of the ancient Semigalians, with a seat at the Tērvete Castle. Written sources from the 13th century variously present his name as Viestards, Viesthardus, Vesthardus, Vestardus and Vesters. We don’t know when Viesturs was born or died, but we do know that at the beginning of the 13th century, he controlled the western part of the region of Zemgale.
Linguist Ernests Blese has argued that Viestards is a man’s name from the Baltic tribes which indicates someone who has something to say to everyone else and who takes care of everyone else. When the Germans invaded, Viesturs first co-operated with the crusaders, but he took up arms against them in 1219. The same year, he had promised the apostolic representative of the pope that he would allow the Christian faith to be proclaimed in Zemgale, but then he went to war. In 1228, his forces attacked German fortresses at Daugavgrīva and Aizkraukle and sacked them.
The medal of honour of the Order of Viesturs is crossed by a second white-enamelled cross with split ends. If the order was awarded for military achievements, two crossed swords were added. The ribbon is dark red with an open-work silver depiction of the Great Seal of the Republic of Latvia in heraldic colours. The Order of Viesturs, First Class and Second Class comes with a four-point silver star with the medal of honour of the order at its centre.
The Order of Viesturs was awarded only for 20 months. The first was awarded on November 17, 1938, and the last – on June 13, 1940. The order was granted to 3,221 people, mostly soldiers. The Order of Viesturs, First Class was given to six generals. The Order of Viesturs, Second Class was received by 28 military personnel. 126, 390 and 701 people received the Order of Viesturs, Third, Fourth and Fifth Class. The three levels of the medal of honour were awarded to 578, 1,022, and 730 persons respectively.