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Order of the Elephant
Badge of the Order of the Elephant (heraldry).svg
Badge of the Order of the Elephant
Awarded by
Royal coat of arms of Denmark.svg
King / Queen of Denmark
Type Chivalric order in one class
Status Currently constituted
Motto Magnanimi Pretium
(Latin: The prize of greatness)
Post-nominals R. af E.
(Ridder af Elefantordenen)
Established 1693
First awarded 1768 Denmark Frederick VI of Denmark
Last awarded 2013 Finland Sauli Niinistö
Next (higher) None (Highest)
Next (lower) Order of the Dannebrog
DEN Elefantordenen BAR.png
Order of the Elephant ribbon

Collar of the Order of the Elephant.

Der Elefantenorden auf einer Grabstätte der Familie Blome in Heiligenstedten

The Order of the Elephant (Danish language: Elefantordenen ) is the highest order of Denmark. 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 bestowed on royalty and heads of state.[1]


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.[2] 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.[3] 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 order is worn by members of the royal family, and may also be bestowed on foreign heads of state. In very exceptional circumstances the order may also be bestowed on a commoner. The most recent holder 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. af E. in letters et cetera). Knights of the order are granted a place in the 1st Class of the Danish order of precedence as well as the right to use the honorific style His/Her Excellency (HE).


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

  • 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 can only be worn on New Years Day (during the Danish monarch's New Years Court) and on the Monarch's birthday.
  • 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 Moor mahout 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.[4]
  • 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 cross,[5] 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. 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.

Women's sash is about 6–7 cm wide.

  • The order originally had a distinctive habit worn by the knights on very solemn occasions[6] 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 alway 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. The only known exception to this policy is the insignia of United States President Dwight Eisenhower, which is on display at his presidential library.

Current knights and officers

Sovereign of the Royal Danish Orders of Chivalry

  • The Queen of Denmark

Knights of the Elephant

Current Knights of the Elephant listed by date of appointment

  • 20 April 1947: Princess Benedikte of Denmark
  • 20 April 1947: Queen Anne-Maria, former Queen of the Hellenes, Princess of Denmark
  • 16 November 1947: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (then Princess Elizabeth)
  • 16 November 1947: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
  • 8 August 1953: Emperor Akihito of Japan
  • 5 March 1957: Prince Mikasa of Japan
  • 21 February 1958: King Harald V of Norway
  • 21 April 1958: King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand
  • 6 September 1960: Queen Sirikit of Thailand
  • 17 February 1961: Count Ingolf of Rosenborg, former Prince of Denmark
  • 4 January 1962: King Constantine II, former King of the Hellenes
  • 11 March 1962: Princess Elisabeth of Denmark
  • 3 May 1963: Empress Farah, former Empress of Iran
  • 11 September 1964: Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark
  • 11 September 1964: Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark
  • 12 January 1965: King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden
  • 28 September 1965: Prince Hitachi of Japan
  • 10 June 1967: Prince Henrik of Denmark
  • 3 February 1968: Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg
  • 18 June 1968: King Albert II of the Belgians
  • 14 January 1972: Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark
  • 14 January 1972: Prince Joachim of Denmark
  • 16 January 1973: Princess Christina, Mrs Magnusson
  • 12 February 1973: Queen Sonja of Norway
  • 30 April 1974: Charles, Prince of Wales
  • 29 October 1975: Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands
  • 22 November 1976: Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg
  • 12 October 1978: Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, former President of the French Republic
  • 17 March 1980: King Juan Carlos I of Spain
  • 17 March 1980: Queen Sofía of Spain
  • 25 February 1981: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former President of the Republic of Iceland
  • 20 April 1983: Mauno Henrik Koivisto, former President of the Republic of Finland
  • 25 June 1984: António Santos Ramalho Eanes, former President of the Portuguese Republic
  • 3 September 1985: Queen Silvia of Sweden
  • 19 February 1986: Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, former President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
  • 25 April 1989: Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • 20 July 1991: Crown Prince Haakon of Norway
  • 6 May 1992: Mário Alberto Nobre Lopes Soares, former President of the Portuguese Republic
  • 9 August 1992: The Prince of Hanover
  • 13 October 1992: Princess Märtha Louise of Norway
  • 5 July 1993: Lech Wałęsa, former President of the Republic of Poland
  • 7 September 1994: Martti Ahtisaari, former President of the Republic of Finland
  • 16 May 1995: Queen Paola of the Belgians
  • 14 July 1995: Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden
  • 17 November 1995: Alexandra, Countess of Frederiksborg
  • 18 November 1996: Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of the Republic of Iceland
  • 14 January 1997: Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, Prince of Denmark
  • 18 March 1997: Guntis Ulmanis, former President of the Republic of Latvia
  • 31 January 1998: King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
  • 27 April 1998: Queen Noor al-Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • 2 June 1998: Empress Michiko of Japan
  • 3 May 1999: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of the Federative Republic of Brazil
  • 23 May 2000: Emil Constantinescu, former President of the Republic of Romania
  • 17 October 2000: Petar Stoyanov, former President of the Republic of Bulgaria
  • 7 February 2001: Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn of Thailand
  • 3 April 2001: Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland
  • 10 October 2001: Milan Kučan, former President of the Republic of Slovenia
  • 28 May 2002: Prince Philippe of Belgium, Duke of Brabant
  • 20 October 2003: Grand Duke Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg
  • 20 October 2003: Grand Duchess Maria Teresa
  • 16 March 2004: Ion Iliescu, former President of Romania
  • 9 May 2004: Crown Princess Mary of Denmark
  • 16 November 2004: Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan
  • 29 March 2006: Georgi Parvanov, former President of the Republic of Bulgaria
  • 24 May 2006: Karolos Papoulias, current President of the Hellenic Republic
  • 12 September 2007: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former President of the Federative Republic of Brazil[8]
  • 18 February 2008: Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, former President of Mexico
  • 24 May 2008: Princess Marie of Denmark, wife of Prince Joachim of Denmark[9]
  • 11 May 2011: Lee Myung-bak, former President of South Korea
  • 23 October 2012: Ivan Gašparovič, current President of Slovakia
  • 4 April 2013: Sauli Niinistö, current President of Finland

Officers of the Chapter of the Royal Danish Orders of Chivalry

  • Chancellor: Prince Henrik, The Prince Consort
  • Secretary: Henning Fode, Chamberlain, Private Secretary to The Queen
  • Treasurer: Ambassador Paul Fischer, LL.D., Chamberlain
  • Secretary of the Chapter: Mr Per Thornit, Chamberlain, Chief of TRH The Crown Prince and The Crown Princess's Household
  • Historiographer of the Chapter: Professor Knud J.V. Jespersen, dr. phil.

Other notable knights

Previous knights have included:

See also


  1. "The Royal Orders of Chivalry". The Danish Monarchy. 14 January 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  2. Rosenborg Slot - Objects
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Originally this cross was formed of six brilliant cut diamonds, but at present it is formed of six small hemispherical silver beads.
  6. i.e., at Danish coronations.
  7. Listing for Princess Marie of Denmark on Danish government information website. (Danish)
  9. Official List of Knights of the Order of the Elephant. (Danish)
  10. Salmonsens Konversationsleksikon, entry "Tycho Brahe" (Danish)

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