The Order of the Dannebrog

The Order of the Dannebrog, or the Order of the Flag of the Danes, is a Danish order of chivalry, established by King Christian V in 1671.

The Order takes its name from the legendary red flag with a white cross. According to legend, the flag came into Danish possession in 1219, during a crusade against pagan Estonians. A
battle took place at the location of present-day Tallinn, perhaps even at the very site of this museum. At first, it was going badly for the Danes, with the Estonians attacking from all directions. On top of a hill overlooking the battle, Archbishop Anders Sunesen relentlessly prayed for God to notice the plight of his crusaders, and, at the most crucial moment, when defeat seemed imminent, a red and white flag miraculously fell from the sky. The King picked it up and showed it to his troops who then recuperated and won the battle. The flag is not mentioned in any contemporary historical records, however, and first mentions of the legend are dated 300 years after the campaign.

According to the Statutes of the Order from 1693, the Order had one class and was limited to fifty Knights of royal or noble birth. They were known as the White Knights to distinguish them from the Blue Knights who were members of the higher-ranking Order of the Elephant. In 1808, King Frederick VI reformed and extended the Order. It became an Order of Merit, open to all worthy subjects irrespective of their social status. The Order was enlarged from one class to four and later yet to six. In 1951, the Order was opened to women. The Grand Commander class is still reserved for royalty and is limited to eight people. The reigning monarch is the Grand Master of the Order and decides who is to be included in the Grand Commander Class – most often it is people with close family ties to the Danish Royal House. The Order is otherwise often used as a reward in the field of diplomacy.

Interesting to note that the name of the Estonian capital is thought to be derived from ‘Taani-linn’, meaning ‘Danish castle’, for the castle the Danes built to help their war effort during the 13th-century Crusades.