The Polish coat of arms is an eagle on the red field (background):

enter image description here

In Poland it is always said that it is a White Eagle. This is mentioned in current Constitution (translated by me):

Art. 28. Godłem Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej jest wizerunek orła białego w koronie w czerwonym polu.
Article 28. Picture of a white eagle with a crown on the red field is the coat of arms of the Republic of Poland.

Almost the same is in the Coat of Arms, Colors and Anthem of the Republic of Poland, and State Seals Act:

Art. 2. Godłem Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej jest wizerunek orła białego ze złotą koroną na głowie zwróconej w prawo, z rozwiniętymi skrzydłami, z dziobem i szponami złotymi, umieszczony w czerwonym polu tarczy.
The coat of arms of the Republic of Poland is a picture of the white eagle with a golden crown on his head, turned right, with spread wings, a golden beak and claws, placed on the red field.

(Flag colours, white and red, are directly taken from the coat of arms colours).

As rules of heraldry say, there is no white colour, but silver is represented as white:
Source 1:

The coat of arms is centered on a shield (...) There are five colors which are called tinctures. There are also two metals and several furs. Gold (Or) can be depicted as yellow and silver (Argent) is depicted as white. (...)

Source 2:

The basic colour palette: The two metals are silver and gold (white and yellow)

Source 3:

ar•gent (ˈɑr dʒənt)
1. the heraldic color silver or white.
2. Archaic. the metal silver.
3. silvery; silvery white.
[1400–50; late Middle English argentum < Latin: silver, money]

Some years ago I read somewhere that there are two exceptions for the rule that white is silver (argent), the one is the Polish eagle and the other is... I forgot. I'm only sure this was some important country.

Up to now I've avoided citing Wikipedia, but it seems to be necessary :-(

Arthur Charles Fox-Davies has argued that in extremely rare circumstances, white can be a heraldic colour different from argent. He bases this in part on the "white labels" used to difference the arms of members of the British Royal Family. However, it has been argued that these could be regarded as "white labels proper", thus rendering white not a heraldic tincture. In Portuguese heraldry, white seems to be regarded as a tincture different from argent, as evidenced by the arms of Santiago do Cacém, in which the white of the fallen Moor's clothing and the knight's horse is distinguished from the argent of the distant castle, and in the arms of the Logistical and Administrative Command of the Portuguese Air Force. source

All the sources cited in the text above are however obsolete. The reference to Mr. Arthur Fox-Davies is I think his private opinion (he argued...). However after reading this I'm not sure if the second exception mentioned some paragraphs before was Portugal.

My questions are:

  1. Is the eagle of Polish coat of arms white or silver?
  2. If yes, it's white, is Portugal white this other exception or are there any other countries? (I remember it being important country, but I don't know if it still exists. I consider Portugal being an important country)
  • As a side note, similar (but not the same) eagle was in CoA of Duchy of Mazovia (and today Mazovian Voivodeship). Link to Polish Wikipedia, where it however is referred as being silver. The same here
    – Voitcus
    Jul 4, 2013 at 12:28

2 Answers 2


The Order of the White Eagle was ordained by King Władysław (Vladistas) in 1325, instituted on the occasion of his son Casimir's marriage. Ensign: a white eagle, crowned. To this order belonged both noble Poles and Russians [Lexicon Tetraglotton (1660)]. In 1705, Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, revived the order. From 1705, many important nobles were inducted to the order and wore its insignia, giving it diplomatic importance. (The Russian branch of the order diverged and became awarded separately by the Czar. Ensign: a white eagle on a cross, eared in flames.)

The reason for the ensign is unknown, but is likely derived from the military eagle of the Rome, because it was common for knights of the white eagle to be inducted as Counts of the Holy Roman Empire at that same time that they were received into the Order of the White Eagle.

One way of wearing the White Eagle was as a silver eagle suspended from braids of gold chain. In other cases the eagle was enameled white. Also, the military eagle of the free forces of Poland was always silver. This is the eagle that atop the standard carried before the army, the finial. For this reason the white eagle is sometimes associated with silver, as opposed to the gold eagle finials belonging to standards of the Holy Roman Emperor.

There are various fables "explaining" the white eagle, but these are all of relatively recent invention and have no antiquity.

Concerning the confounding of white and silver: although some heraldic devices confound silver and white, this is merely a convenience, called the "tincture". In official heraldry notices, the eagle is described as argent (silver), but this is only because French heraldry knows no white. In common parlance in Poland, it was always without question that the eagle was white.


The OP is making a mountain out of a molehill. Up until recent centuries, it was common (in English at least) to use the heraldic colors when describing coats of arms and flags.

Polish heraldry and vexilology might use ordinary modern Polish words for colors, but English heraldry uses special heraldic words. Thus in English the Polish eagle wasn't white or silver, it was "argent". Argent was considered to be ideally silver colored, but practically either white or silver were equally good for argent when coloring a coat of arms. Fancy and elaborate depictions of heraldry often included gold paint for the heraldic color "or", meaning gold or yellow. But silver tends to tarnish and turn black over time.

In this depiction of an earlier version of the coat of arms of Jerusalem, for example, it looks like a black cross on gold. https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fupload.wikimedia.org%2Fwikipedia%2Fcommons%2Fd%2Fde%2FKonradin.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FConradin&docid=mbKPrmSUv1rM0M&tbnid=y5sNqCBtF4Hw3M%3A&w=993&h=1432&bih=913&biw=1280&ved=0ahUKEwj5x8eOt_7MAhXn7oMKHfRgCfgQMwgfKAIwAg&iact=mrc&uact=8[1]

But heraldic experts are certain that it was actually a white cross on gold.


So silver is not often used for argent when coloring coats of arms.

Thus I own a modern book on heraldry where all the or in coats of arms actually looks like gold, being yellow and shiny, but all the argent is plain uncolored white paper because they didn't have a process to print a good silvery surface.

And because flags are made of fabric that moves a lot and would quickly flake off many forms of applied gold or silver, it is even more common to use yellow and white dyes instead of or and argent in flags.

That is why most heraldry books say that in heraldry there is no difference between white and silver. Only a few experts suggest there could be a difference between white and silver in a few rare instances.

Now that computer graphics are common, it is easy to depict or as metallic and golden and argent as metallic and silvery on a computer screen. So perhaps or will be subdivided into gold and yellow, and argent subdivided into silver and white, in future computerized heraldry.

And in flags white is almost always used, even when it is based on argent in a coat of arms. When future computer and TV screens become as thin, light, and flexible as cloth, there may be future flags made out of such computer screens, which might be programmed to display or and argent as gold and silver instead of yellow and white.

But in the context of heraldry - and the flag of Poland is based on its coat of arms - it is at the present almost always pointless to try to make a distinction between silver and white.

  • 1
    I don't think the questioner necessarily made a mountain out of a molehill - good research before asking isn't bad, after all. Arguably, you could have also just said "argent = white" and then quoted from the heraldry book of yours. But you didn't and I think that's a good thing! Good answer otherwise.
    – Marakai
    May 29, 2016 at 7:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.