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The Order of the Elephant (Danish: Elefantordenen) is a Danishorder of chivalry and is Denmark's highest-ranked honour. It has origins in the 15th century, but has officially existed since 1693, and since the establishment of constitutional monarchy in 1849, is now almost exclusively used to honour royalty and heads of state.
A Danish religious confraternity called the Fellowship of the Mother of God, limited to about fifty members of the Danish aristocracy, was founded during the reign of Christian I during the 15th century. The badge of the confraternity showed the Virgin Mary holding her Son within a crescent moon and surrounded with the rays of the sun, and was hung from a collar of links in the form of elephants much like the present collar of the Order. After the Reformation in 1536 the confraternity died out, but a badge in the form of an elephant with his profile on its right side was still awarded by Frederick II. This latter badge may have been inspired by the badge of office of the chaplain of the confraternity which is known to have been in the form of an elephant. The order was instituted in its current form on 1 December 1693 by King Christian V as having only one class consisting of only 30 noble knights in addition to the Grand Master (i.e., the king) and his sons. The statutes of the order were amended in 1958 by a Royal Ordinance so that both men and women could be members of the order.
The elephant and castle design derives from an elephant carrying a howdah, the familiar castle replacing the unfamiliar howdah, and finds use elsewhere in European iconography, as discussed at howdah.
The Danish monarch is the head of the order. The members of the royal family are members of the order, and foreign heads of state are also inducted. In very exceptional circumstances a commoner may also be admitted. The most recent member of the order who was neither a current or former head of state nor royal was Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, a leading industrialist and philanthropist.
The order of the Elephant has one class: Knight of the Order of the Elephant (Ridder af Elefantordenen, usually abbreviated as R.E. in letters et cetera). Knights of the order are granted a place in the 1st Class of the Danish order of precedence.
The collar of the order is of gold. It consists of alternating elephants and towers. On the cover of the elephants there is a D which stands for Dania, mediaeval Latin for Denmark. According to the statutes of the order, the collar is usually only worn on New Years Day (during the Danish monarch's New Years Court) and on major occasions (coronations or jubilees).
The badge of the order is an elephant made of white-enamelled gold with blue housings. It is about 5 cm high. On its back the elephant is bearing a watch tower of pink enameled masonry encircled by a row of small table cut diamonds at the bottom with another row just below the crenellation at the top. In front of the tower and behind the elephant’s head (which has a diamond set in its forehead and smaller diamonds for its eyes) a colorfully attired and turbaned Moormahout is sitting, holding a golden rod; on the right side of the elephant there is a cross of five large table cut diamonds and on the left side the elephant bears the crowned monogram of the monarch reigning when it was made. At the top of the tower is a large enameled gold ring from which the badge can be hung from the collar or tied to the sash of the Order. There are about 72 elephants at the chancery of the Order or in circulation. It is estimated that together with an unknown number of elephants in museums around the world, the total number of the elephants is about a hundred.
The star of the order is an eight-pointed silver star with smooth rays. At its center there is a red enameled disc with a white cross, surrounded by a laurel wreath in silver. It is worn on the left side of the chest.
The sash of the order is of light-blue silk moiré and 10 cm wide for men 6 cm wide for women. It is placed on the left shoulder with the elephant resting against the right hip. The collar is not worn when the sash is used.
The order originally had a distinctive habit worn by the knights on very solemn occasions consisting of a white doublet, white breeches, white stockings and white shoes, over which was worn a red mantle with a white lining and with the star of the order embroidered in silver on left side. Over this red mantle was worn a short white shoulder cape with a standing collar, embroidered with scattering of numerous gold flames, upon which was worn the collar of the order (the habit was always worn with the collar of the order, never its ribbon). The habit also had a black hat with a plume of white and red ostrich feathers. This habit was almost identical to that worn by the knights of the Order of the Dannebrog.
Upon the death of a Knight of the Order of the Elephant, the insignia of the order must be returned. There are a few exceptions known.
Nicolae Ceauşescu, President of the Socialist Republic of Romania (Note: Awarded on the November 1980 state visit to Denmark, but revoked by the Queen on December 23, 1989. The insignia have been returned to Denmark and Ceauşescu's name has been deleted from the official rolls.)
For the history and insignia of the original confraternity of Christian I see Boulton, D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre, 1987. The Knights of The Crown: The Monarchical Orders of Knighthood in Later Medieval Europe, 1325–1520, Woodbridge, Suffolk (Boydell Press), (revised ion 2000).
^The knights of the Order were often called the Blue Knights (in reference to the color of their ribbon), as opposed to the White Knights (again, in reference to the color of their ribbon) of the junior Danish order of chivalry, the Order of the Dannebrog, also instituted by Christian V.
^In an article entitled "Has anyone seen our elephant?" The July 1, 2004 issue of the Copenhagen Post reported that the original mold for the elephant badge had been stolen from the court jeweler, Georg Jensen.
^Originally this cross was formed of six brilliant cut diamonds, but at present it is formed of six small hemispherical silver beads.