Elephant and Castle

Introduction

The Elephant Castle has a long history in Europe and is often surrounded by Myths. It all started when Charlemagne received a white Elephant Abul-Abbas from Harun-Al-Rashid (Caliph from 1001 nights) as a gift in 802.


After that there are several accounts of Elephants. In 1255: Louis IX of France gifts his elephant to Henry III, who subsequently installs it in the Tower menagerie. This is the first known elephant to visit England for 1200 years. In 1257 the Tower elephant dies, reportedly from drinking too much red wine.


After that the Elephant Castle was introduced in heraldry. In 1441 was the
earliest mention of an Elephant in the Coventry Coat of Arms. In 1622: the Worshipful Company of Cutlers adopts arms showing two elephants plus a smaller elephant with a castle on its back. Ivory was often used in cutlery of the period, hence the elephant connection.


The Elephant and Castle district is called after this. In 1693 the Order of the Elephant (Danish: Elefantordenen) is the highest order of Denmark. It is almost exclusively bestowed on royalty and heads of state.

In 1572 the IIalian Vida mentions in Ludus scachorum a castle (rocco) on the back of an Elephant, which is often mentioned as the reason why the rook is often called a castle in several languages.


802 Abul-Abbas the Elephant of Charlemagne

Abul-Abbas, also Abul Abaz or Abulabaz, was an Asian elephant given to Emperor Charlemagne by the caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid, in 797. The elephant's name and events from his life in the Carolingian Empire are recorded in the annales regni francorum (Royal Frankish Annals), and Einhard's vita Karoli Magni also mentions the elephant. However, no references of the gift have been found in Abbasid records, nor any mentions of interactions with Charlemagne, possibly because Rashid regarded the Frank as a minor ruler.


Abul-Abbas was brought from Baghdad which was then a part of the Abbasid empire by a Frankish Jew named Isaac, who along with two other emissaries, Lanterfrid and Sigimund, was sent to the caliph on Charlemagne's orders. Being the only surviving member of the group of three, Isaac was sent back with the elephant. The two began the trek back by following the Egyptian coast into Ifriqiya (modern Algeria and Tunisia), ruled by Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab who had bought the land from al-Rashid for 40,000 dinars annually. Possibly with the help of Ibrahim, Isaac set sail with Abul-Abbas from the city of Kairouan and traveled the remaining miles to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. They landed in Genoa in October of 801. The two spent the winter in Vercelli, and in the spring they started the march over the Alps to the Emperor's residence in Aachen, arriving on 1 July, 802. Abul-Abbas was exhibited on various occasions when the court was assembled, and was eventually housed in Augsburg in what is now southern Bavaria.

In 810, when he was in his forties, Abul-Abbas died of pneumonia, probably after swimming in the Rhine. The elephants' bones were conserved at Lippenham until the 18th century.

Later sources state that Abul-Abbas was an albino. According to legend, he was also used as a war elephant in 804 when the Danish king Godfred attacked a trading village near Denmark and moved the people by force to his newly-built trading village in Hedeby. Charlemagne mobilized his troops against the Danes, and legend has it that he sent for his elephant to join in the mighty battle. However, the few contemporary sources mention neither the colour of the elephant nor his use in war or details regarding the manner of the death of Abul-Abbas. The Royal Frankish Annals contain only short reports about the transport of Abul-Abbas (801), his delivery to the Emperor (802) and his death (810).

1200 - 1400 Elephant and Castle Candlestick

This candlestick highlights a fashion in the 12th and 13th centuries for designs of beasts and monsters on domestic objects. The Elephant and Castle represented here was an exotic motif inspired by the use of elephants in Eastern warfare.


1572 Chess Castle

A popular theory is that the Italian Vida introduced the chess castle in the  Ludus scachorum in 1572. The chess castle was depicted as a castle (rocco) on the back of an elephant. According to Macdonnell is the castle introduced in 1562 in England.

1760 Elephant and Castle District London


Elephant and Castle is a district in south London, an important road junction since at least the eighteenth century. It is now notorious for its two vast traffic circulatory systems around a rather tatty shopping centre and some brutalist architecture that houses a government department. Its name derives from the sign of a public house in the area, which shows an elephant surmounted by a castle.

As you say, it’s often asserted that the name is a corruption of Infanta de Castile, usually said to be a reference to Eleanor of Castile, the wife of Edward I (in Spain and Portugal, the infanta was the eldest daughter of the monarch without a claim to the throne). That would put Elephant and Castle in the same class of pub name as Goat and Compasses but, like the story of the way that name came into being, it’s almost certainly false.

Not the least of the problems is that Eleanor of Castile wasn’t an infanta (or at least wasn’t known as that — the term only appeared in English about 1600); the one infanta that the British have heard about from school history lessons is Maria, a daughter of Philip III of Spain, who was once controversially engaged to Charles I. But she had no connection with Castile. The form Infanta de Castile seems to be a conflation of vague memories of two Iberian royal women separated by 300 years.

The castle here is actually a howdah on the back of the elephant, in India a seat traditionally used by hunters. The public house called the Elephant and Castle was converted about 1760 from a smithy that had had the same name and sign. This had connections with the Cutlers’ Company, a London craft guild founded in the 13th century which represented workers who made knives, scissors, surgical instruments and the like. The guild used the same emblem. The link here is the Indian elephant ivory used for knife handles, in which the Cutlers’ Company dealt.

The real story here is actually rather more interesting than the one usually told, but a lot more British people have heard of an infanta from history lessons than know about the medieval emblem of a trade guild.

1622 Elephant of Worshipful Company of Cutlers

The Worshipful Company of Cutlers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The trade of knife making and repairing was organised in the thirteenth century; the organisation received a Royal Charter later in 1416. The Company has lost a strong connection to its trade, which has shifted north to Sheffield, Yorkshire, where there is a similar association, the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire. Thus, it remains primarily as a charitable institution. It funds and administers a variety of educational initiatives such as scholarships and awards. The Company ranks eighteenth in the order of precedence of Livery Companies.


Arms were first granted to the Company in 1476. The current elephant and castle crest was granted in 1622. It features two elephants and three crossed-swords, a helmet and a smaller elephant and castle. The original blazon reads: "Gules, three pairs of swords in saltire argent, hilts and pommels or Crest: An elephant's head couped gules, armed or".


The elephant probably relates to the ivory used in hafting swords, knives and other weapons - an expensive material employed for the best of implements.

The Company's motto was originally "Pervenir a bonne foy", which later became "Pour parvenir a bonne foy", an Anglo-Norman phrase meaning "To succeed through good faith." The elephant and castle crest gave rise to a pub of the same name on the site of an old cutler's in Newington, London, which in turn gave its name to the entire area, the Elephant and Castle.

Elephant of the Bastille

Napoleon intended an elephant to be cast in bronze from conquered spannish canons and be big enough for visitors to ascend on an interior staircase to a tower on its back. The Elephant should be placed at the Bastille.

Unfortunately, when the time came for the monument to actually be erected, France was engaged in an unsuccessful military campaign in Spain. So the elephant was cast in plaster instead of bronze.

Two years later when Napoleon's Empire collapsed the "Elephant of Revolutionary Oblivion" was left to rot. It became overgrown and infested with rats. Locals petitioned for it to be removed, but it remained even when a column memorializing the dead of July 1830 was erected on the other side of the place de la Bastille. In 1846, the great unwieldy mass was finally removed.


Slideshow

Elephant and Castle today



Worshipful Company Of Cutlers


Timeline

Year Event
801 Charlmagne receives a white Elephant Abul-Abbas from Harun-Al-Rashid (Caliph from 1001 nights) as a gift. 810: The Elephant dies.
12th ct Fresco in San Baudelio, Spain of an Elephant and Castle
1255 Louis IX of France gifts his elephant to Henry III, who subsequently installs it in the Tower menagerie. This is the first known elephant to visit England for 1200 years. 1257: The Tower elephant dies, reportedly from drinking too much red wine.
1441 Earliest mention of an Elephant in the Coventry Coat of Arms
1572 Italian Vida introduced depicted a chess castle (rocco) in the  Ludus  Scachorum on the back of an elephant.
1622 The Worshipful Company of Cutlers adopts arms showing two elephants plus a smaller elephant with a castle on its back. Ivory was often used in cutlery of the period, hence the elephant connection.
1693 The Order of the Elephant (Danish: Elefantordenen) is the highest order of Denmark. It is almost exclusively bestowed on royalty and heads of state.
1763 A Captain Samson presented a Bengal elephant to the King at the Queen's House (what was to become Buckingham Palace). The beast was walked through the streets of London from Rotherhithe with 'two blacks and a seaman' on its back. It was kept for some time, taking regular walks in St James Park.
1765 The first recorded mention of the name Elephant and castle. The name is thought to be taken from a local coaching inn, which in turn was named after the arms of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers.
1861  The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant (เครื่องราชอิสริยาภรณ์อันเป็นที่เชิดชูยิ่ง ช้างเผือก) is the most awarded order of Thailand.
It was established by King Rama IV of The Kingdom of Siam.


Sources

http://www.elephantandcastle.org.uk/history-of-change
http://londonselephants.blogspot.com/
http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-ele1.htm
http://molcat1.bl.uk/illcat/record.asp?MSID=8148&CollID=58&NStart=13
http://www.davidicke.com/forum/showthread.php?p=1059446762
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abul-Abbas
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_elephant
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_elephants_in_Europe
http://mommylife.net/archives/2009/08/les_misearables_2.html
http://www.davidicke.com/forum/showthread.php?p=1059446762
http://blog.londonconnection.com/?p=9801
http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/LX/WarElephant.html
http://karava.org/elephant_flags
http://www.flickr.com/photos/martin-m-miles/galleries/72157624944292219/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/34664244@N05/3704428619/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/moirabot/2422067453/
http://bestiary.ca/chimaera/page/2
http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O69137/candlestick/