On August 15th 2008, over a hundred soldiers of Norway's His Majesty The King's Guard attended the knighthood of their Colonel-in-Chief, Nils Olav, at a special ceremony in Edinburgh. Although the detachment was conveniently in the Scottish capital for the Military Tattoo, it might seem unusual for such an event to take place outside of Norway, and for the title to be bestowed by a British major general, albeit on the behalf of the Norwegian King. These issues have generally been overlooked, however, on account of the far stranger fact that Nils Olav is a penguin.
Not just any penguin, however. The King penguin in question was adopted by the Guards (and named, for lieutenant Nils Egelien and then-King Olav V of Norway) in 1972, and awarded the status of visekorporal (Lance Corporal). Since then, he has risen slowly but steadily through the ranks, becoming Corporal in 1982, Sergeant in 1987, regimental Sergeant Major in 1993, and Honourable Regimental Sergeant Major in 2001. In 2005, the centenary of Norway's peaceful separation from Sweden, a four-foot bronze statue of Olav was presented to his home, Edinburgh Zoo, and he was made Honorary Colonel-in-Chief, the highest rank yet bestowed upon a penguin in the Norwegian army.
During the most recent ceremony, a citation from King Harald V was read, noting that on account of "loyalty, courage and good endowments" Nils is a penguin "in every way qualified to receive the honour and dignity of knighthood"; then, since he lacks shoulders, he was knighted by having a sword dubbed on each side of his head. After the award was conferred, he took time to inspect the assembled troops, new insignia proudly displayed on a badge attached to his right flipper1.
Technically, there have been three Nils Olavs over the years (the original died in 1982), which would presumably make his full title Colonel-in-Chief Sir Nils Olav III. Olav has received medals for good conduct and long service, and (having become their mascot) there is also a statue in his honour at HMKG's base, Huseby Leir, in Oslo. At home in Edinburgh he can enjoy the largest penguin pool in the world. The zoo has featured King penguins, of which Olav is just the most famous, since it opened in 1913: fittingly, the first was presented to it by Norway.
1 Norwegian penguin becomes a 'Sir' (BBC, with video)
Norwegian King's Guard visits the penguin Nils Olav (Norway in the UK announcement)
Promote a penguin? Norway to run army (Scotsman article on 2005 promotion)
Another promotion for Nils? We're not having Olav! (Edinburgh Zoo news article)
Sir Nils Olav, The Black And White Knight (Forbes article)
Brought to you by silly season, a combined love of Edinburgh and Norway, and waiting for some incredibly slow calculations.