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Taking a look at the Order of the Elephant

The Order of the Elephant is the highest Danish Order one can get and is usually handed out only to members of royal families or heads of state. The order was founded by the Danish monarch in 1457, and after a short break, it was reintroduced in 1580. Since then it has been distributed to a number of people.

It was His Majesty King Christian I of Denmark and Norway who introduced the order in 1457. The King was married to Dorothea of Brandenburg, and the brotherhood is most likely inspired by the Brandenburg Swan Order, which was established in 1440.

Coat of arms of Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway surrounded by the collars of the Order of the Elephant and the Order of the Dannebrog. Photo: Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons.

The Order was approved by Pope Sixtus IV in 1474. During King Christian II’s reign, the brotherhood ceased, but it was restored as the royal knight order under the rule of His Majesty King Frederik II. The order consisted of only one class and got insignia designed with an elephant as the badge. The elephant has been the symbols of the order until today.

An older version of the order exhibited at the museum. Photo: Toxophilus via Wikimedia Commons.

Until 1808, the order was distributed to only royals, but after 1808, the order has been presented to non-royals. From 1892, it was also awarded to the Queen of Denmark, not just the King, and from 1958 the Order of the Elephant is fully opened to all women, regardless of whether they are royal or not.

Denmark’s ruling monarch is the head of the order; this is today her Majesty Queen Margrethe II. Today, the order is administered by the “order-chapter,” which is subject to the Danish Royal Court. The Order of the Elephant still holds its headquarter in Frederiksborg Castle Church and the coat of arms of all the recipients of the order.

Frederiksborg Castle, with the elephant fountain in front. Photo: Johan Jacob Bruun via Wikimedia Commons.

During the Second World War, a number of influential people from the allied countries were honoured with the Order of the Elephant. In 1945, Marshall Bernard Montgomery and General (later US President) Dwight D. Eisenhower were appointed as knights. In 1950, the order was awarded to Winston Churchill, although he was no longer the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

As of today, approximately 800 people have been awarded the order, and during the rule of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II, the Elephant Order has only been given to one ordinary Danish citizen, which occurred in 2000.

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