The White Eagle emblem originated when Poland’s legendary founder Lech saw a white eagle’s nest. When he looked at the bird, a ray of sunshine from the red setting sun fell on its wings, so they appeared tipped with gold, the rest of the eagle was pure white. He was delighted and decided to settle there and placed the eagle on his emblem. He also named the place Gniezdno (currently Gniezno) from the Polish word gniazdo (nest). This tale could be considered as an allusion to the legend of the city of Rome which was founded by Romulus and Remus. Auspicium is the ancient rite of observing birds of prey flights in order to get support of gods for future arranged actions. A less romantic version assumes that Poland adopted the emblem from the Roman Empire (like many other European countries).
The image of the white eagle appeared for the first time on the coins made during the reign of Bolesław I, initially as the Piast family’s personal coat of arms. The stylized bird’s appearance caused dispute between scholars who could not identify its species. The most probable is the white-tailed eagle but cock, pigeon, and peacock were also taken into consideration. Since XII c. the eagle has appeared on the shields, ensigns, coins, and stamps of Piast dukes. It appeared on the Polish coat of arms during Przemysł II reign as a reminder of the Piast tradition before the fragmentation of Poland.
The eagle’s graphic form has changed throughout centuries. Its recent shape, accepted in 1927, was designed by professor Zygmunt Kaminski and was based on the eagle’s form from the times of Stefan Batory's reign. The shield itself also changed shape. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's shield was divided into four parts, with Polish Eagle and Lithuanian Pahonia on opposite sides. Kings used to place their own emblems in the center of the national coat of arms (i.e. House Vasa).
Despite the fact that new emblems were given to provinces established by the invaders after the partitions of Poland, the White Eagle remained there with or without crown and occasionally with face turned towards left and in some exceptions with Pahonia. But in most cases they were combined with the invader’s emblem.
The resurrection of the Polish Kingdom was approved by Austria and Germany in 1916. A year later, the first Polish bank-notes with crowned eagle on an indivisible shield were introduced. After regaining independence the White Eagle was implemented by the act of 1919. Official image of the coat of arms (which remind Stanislaw Poniatowski’s emblem) was used until 1927 when Zygmunt Kaminski designed a new one.
After World War II, authorities of the Polish People Republic removed crown from the eagle’s head. It was approved by resolution in 1955. As a result the government of the Polish Republic in Exile introduced a new emblem presenting the eagle wearing a crown with a cross at the top. Eventually the Third Republic of Poland’s government brought the crown back. Recently it is a symbol of the Republic of Poland. Its effigy appears on many public administration buildings. It is present at schools and courts. Furthermore it is placed on the averse of polish coins and even on the Poland national football team’s shirts.