In most cases, the offer of an honour was rejected privately; others were rejected publicly, or accepted and then returned later based upon future events, as with John Lennon and Rabindranath Tagore. Nowadays, potential recipients are contacted by government officials, well before any public announcement is made, to confirm in writing whether they wish to be put forward for an honour, thereby avoiding friction or controversy. However, some let it be known the offer was declined, and there are also occasional leaks from official sources.
Reasons for rejection
People may reject state honours for various reasons, among which are:
Opposition to specific governmental actions or policy.
Inappropriate due to the nature of the individual's work or position, or would attract unwanted attention.
Personal opinion of pretension.
Anti-imperialism or general unwillingness to be associated with the former British Empire (especially with regards to the Orders of the British Empire, e.g. CBE, OBE, MBE acceptance of which must imply some approval or, at least, neutrality towards.)
Inadequate recognition of the individual or a spouse, partner, friend or colleague.
The archaic nature of the honour, notably with regards to peerages, knighthoods and baronetcies, or that honours conferring titles are meaningless in a modern society.
Feelings that the honours system both reflects and reinforces social class distinctions, and diminishes the chance of a more equal and fairer society.
Biased nature of the honours system, or feelings that undeserving people have been decorated.
To hide real wealth and business connections from the public realm.
Religious reasons (In front of God we're all of same value)
Specifically of peerages, to maintain eligibility for election to the House of Commons (essential for any national politician)
Since John Key restored the New Zealand Order of Merit to the pre-2000 British system, Richie McCaw has repeatedly declined a knighthood after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup. In December 2011, Prime Minister John Key revealed that he had asked McCaw about the possibility of a knighthood in the 2012 New Year Honours, but that McCaw had turned it down. According to Key, "He made the call that he's still in his playing career and it didn't feel quite right for him, that day where he's no longer on the pitch may be the right time for him." No formal offer was ultimately made. McCaw was appointed a member of New Zealand's highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, which does not bestow a title, in the 2016 New Year Honours. The honour surpassed the knighthood he had previously turned down.
Identities of those who declined an honour or title
Many modern examples were identified in December 2003 when a confidential document containing the names of more than 300 such people was leaked to The Sunday Times, but many more have become known since then.
In 1657, Oliver Cromwell, already Head of State and Head of Government, was offered the crown by Parliament as part of a revised constitutional settlement; he had been "instrumental" in abolishing the monarchy after the English Civil War. Cromwell agonised for six weeks over the offer. In a speech on 13 April 1657, he gave his opinion that the office of monarch, once abolished, should stay so: "I would not seek to set up that which Providence hath destroyed and laid in the dust, and I would not build Jericho again."
Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, was offered the Dukedom of London, but declined in order to remain in the House of Commons, and to allow his son Randolph a political career; Randolph died only three years after his father, so the dukedom would have had little time to affect his career as he had already been out of the Commons for ten years.
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister in 1886, and 1892 and possibly in 1901 – citing the prohibitive cost of the lifestyle that dukes were expected to maintain. According to Scribner's Magazine in 1900, "It is true that the Marquis of Salisbury might have been a Duke if he had not regarded his marquisate as a prouder title than a new dukedom could furnish."
Prince Louis of Battenberg, in 1917 during the First World War, when he was forced to renounce his German title. Offered a dukedom by George V, but declined as he could not afford the lavish lifestyle expected of a duke; accepted the Marquessate of Milford Haven instead.
R. H. Tawney (Twice declined an earldom, in 1920s and 1940s. Replied to Ramsay MacDonald's offer by asking what harm he had ever done the Labour Party, and to the offer from Clement Attlee he averred that he was surprised that Labour was still interested in such baubles.) Attlee himself later accepted an hereditary earldom.
Leonard Elmhirst, philanthropist; declined Clement Attlee's offer in 1946, replying: "My own work, however, as you know, has lain in the main among country people ... in India, the USA and in Devonshire ... acceptance would neither be easy for me to explain nor easy for my friends to comprehend."
John Cleese, film and television actor, comedian (in 1999; stated that he "did not wish to spend winters in England"; and being a peer would be "ridiculous"; had previously declined appointment as CBE in 1996).
As a part of the House of Lords reform in 1999, members of the Royal Family who were peers of the first creation were offered life peerages as a pure formality, which would have given them the right to sit in the House of Lords, but nobody seriously expected them to accept, and all declined. These included:
Paul Dirac, scientist, declined a knighthood in 1953, reportedly in part due to his dislike of being addressed by his first name, but probably had egalitarian objections to titles, having lived in the USA for many years; finally accepted an Order of Merit in 1973 as it was not a title.
Harry Ferguson, businessman, engineer and inventor; twice offered and declined knighthood in the last ten years of his life; in response to a letter from Winston Churchill offering to submit his name, Ferguson declined on the ground that knighthoods should be reserved for servicemen and statesmen, whose financial rewards were relatively small, and should not be given to businessmen or industrialists with financial wealth.
Michael Frayn, novelist and dramatist; declined a knighthood in the 2003 New Year Honours and a CBE four years previously; Frayn stated: "I haven't done this for reasons of modesty. I like the name 'Michael Frayn'; it's a nice little name to run around with. I've spent 70 years getting used to it and I don't want to change it now."
John Freeman, politician, journalist, diplomat, business executive. Also declined a peerage.
Keith Hill, Labour MP; declined knighthood in 2010 Dissolution Honours, stating: "My fundamental reason is that I have never had the least desire to have a title. I don't want to be discourteous, but I find the whole idea a little embarrassing and too much for me."
David Hockney, CHRA, artist (in 1990; accepted appointment as CH in 1997, and OM in 2012 because they are not titles).
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan; offered a knighthood in 1925, he replied: "I prefer to be plain Mr Jinnah".
Rudyard Kipling, writer, and poet; declined knighthood in 1899 and again in 1903; his wife stated that Kipling felt he could "do his work better without it". Kipling also declined the Order of Merit in 1921 and again in 1924. Kipling expressed his own view on the importance of titles and poetry in his poem "The Last Rhyme of True Thomas".
Edgar Lobel, Romanian-British classicist and papyrologist; (in 1955).
L. S. Lowry, artist (in 1968; had previously declined appointment as OBE in 1955 and CBE in 1961; later twice declined appointment as CH (1972, 1976); holds the record for the most honours declined).
Arthur Mann, then editor of the Yorkshire Post, declined two knighthoods in the 1920s on the basis that accepting would interfere with his journalism; upon retirement he became a Companion of Honour.
Kingsley Martin, journalist and successful editor of the 'New Statesman' reaching its highest circulation in the 1930s and 40's. He declined the 'honour' in 1965 because he strongly disapproved of the honours system, certainly for journalists.
A.J.P. Taylor, historian, probably due to anti-Establishment views - eg,'The Establishment draws its recruits from outside as soon as they are ready to conform to its standards and become respectable. There is nothing more agreeable in life than to make peace with the Establishment - and nothing so corrupting.
J. Steven Watson, historian, declined offer of knighthood twice, in 1960 and after becoming Principal of St. Andrews University in 1966.
Bill Woodfull, Australian cricketer; turned down offer of a knighthood for services to cricket in 1934, but accepted OBE for services to education in 1963 which he saw as more important work than playing cricket.
George Bernard Shaw, playwright, critic, and polemicist (in 1946; Shaw replied that "merit" in authorship could only be determined by the posthumous verdict of history). Shaw had wanted to decline the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, but accepted it at his wife's behest as honouring Ireland. He did not reject the monetary award, requesting it be used to finance translation of Swedish books into English.
Narayan Malhar Joshi (1879–1955), Member of the Bombay Corporation (1919–1922) and Indian Legislative Assembly; delegate to the ILO and Round Table Conferences (refused in 1921, on the grounds he was too poor for the honour).
Appointment to the Royal Victorian Order
As a Commander (CVO)
Craig Murray, former United Kingdom Ambassador to Uzbekistan (had previously declined appointments as LVO and OBE), in 1999, for reasons of Scottish nationalism and republicanism.
Doris Lessing, CH, author (declined DBE in 1992, stating it was in the name of a non-existent Empire; also declined appointment as OBE in 1977; accepted appointment as CH as it is does not carry a title, in 2000). Nobel Prize for Literature.
James Lees-Milne, writer and expert on English country houses and long-time associate of the National Trust (in 1993).
C. S. Lewis, author, theologian, Oxford professor (in 1951, declined in order to avoid association with any political issues).
Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, due to be honoured for his services to the 2012 Olympics (turned down an honour in the 2013 New Years Honours due to his belief that politicians should not get such awards).
L. S. Lowry, artist (in 1961; had previously declined appointment as OBE in 1955; declined a knighthood in 1968, and later appointment as CH in 1972 and 1976; holds the record for the most honours declined).
Philip MacDonald, author (in 1952); he thought the honours system added to the class-ridden nature of English society.
Nitin Sawhney, musician (in 2007, for ethical reasons) "I wouldn't like anything with the word 'empire' after my name." Apparently changed his mind, as he later accepted a CBE.
Phil Scraton, professor of criminology (in 2016) "I could not receive an honour on the recommendation of those who remained unresponsive to the determined efforts of bereaved families and survivors to secure truth and justice." "I could not accept an honour tied in name to the 'British empire'".
Jon Snow, newscaster (after having declined, investigated and presented a Channel 4 documentary, Secrets of the Honours System.)
Katherine Whitehorn, journalist, later accepted a CBE after retirement from regular journalism.
Benjamin Zephaniah, poet (in 2010), stating: "I get angry when I hear the word 'empire'; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds me of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised."
Joan Smith, journalist, declined MBE as it was counter to the views she had spoken about in her career, i.e. atheism, feminism and republicanism.
T. W. Taylor schoolteacher (in 1957).
Jonzi D, writer, choreographer and rap artist, declined MBE for services to the arts in 2012, saying subsequently: "I am diametrically opposed to the idea of empire. Man, I'm a Star Wars fan – empire is bad."
As no official provision exists for (unilaterally) renouncing an honour, any such act is always unofficial, and the record of the appointment in the London Gazette stands. Nevertheless, the physical insignia can be returned to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood — though even this act is purely symbolic, as replacement insignia may be purchased for a nominal sum. Any recipient can also request that the honour not be used officially, e.g. Donald Tsang, ex-Chief Executive of Hong Kong, was knighted in 1997 but has not used the title since the handover to China.
Those who have returned insignia include:
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist (returned MBE insignia in 2003 in her view of "a growing spirit of republicanism and partly in protest at the Labour government, particularly its conduct of the war in Iraq").
Roy Bailey, folk singer (returned MBE insignia in August 2006 in protest at the British Government's foreign policy in Lebanon and Palestine).
Carla Lane, television writer (appointed OBE in 1989; returned insignia in 2002 in protest at the appointment of CBE of the managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences due to the company's reputed animal testing).
Many offers of baronetcies have been declined from their inception, as this honour was one way, until recent times, for the Crown to raise money from landed gentry families. When a baronetcy becomes vacant on the death of a holder, the heir may choose not to register the proofs of succession, effectively declining the honour. The Official Roll of Baronets is kept at the Home Office by the Registrar of the Baronetage. Anyone who considers that he is entitled to be entered on the Roll may petition the Crown through the Home Secretary. Anyone succeeding to a baronetcy therefore must exhibit proofs of succession to the Home Secretary. A person who is not entered on the Roll will not be addressed or mentioned as a baronet or accorded precedence as a baronet. The baronetcy can be revived at any time on provision of acceptable proofs of succession, by, say, the son of a son who has declined to register the proofs of succession. As of December 2017 some 208 baronetcies are listed as awaiting proofs of succession. Notable "refuseniks" include Jonathon Porritt, lately of Friends of the Earth, and journalist Ferdinand Mount.
^Ceccarelli, Marco, ed. (2009). Distinguished Figures in Mechanism and Machine Science: Their Contributions and Legacies, Part 2. Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 92. ISBN 978-9-40178-946-2.
^Sarker, Sunil Kumar (2007). E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. New Delhi: Atlantic. p. 92. ISBN 978-8-12690-791-5.
^C. S., Lewis (1994). Lewis, W. H.; Hooper, Walter (eds.). Letters of C.S. Lewis. New York: Mariner Books. p. 528. ISBN 0-15-650871-0. Churchill offered Lewis the investiture following the Conservative Party's return to power in 1951.
^Newman, William (2006). "Max Newman – Mathematician, Codebreaker and Computer Pioneer". In Copeland, B. Jack (ed.). Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Codebreaking Computers. Oxford University Press. p. 177.
Honours and awards to Harold Pinter lists (in chronological order) honours, awards, prizes, and honorary degrees received by English playwright Harold Pinter (1930–2008), which often acknowledge his international importance and his reach beyond national and regional boundaries.
John Marwood Cleese (; born 27 October 1939) is an English actor, voice actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer. He achieved success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and as a scriptwriter and performer on The Frost Report. In the late 1960s, he co-founded Monty Python, the comedy troupe responsible for the sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus. Along with his Python co-stars Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman, Cleese starred in Monty Python films, which include: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983).
In the mid-1970s, Cleese and his first wife, Connie Booth, co-wrote the sitcom Fawlty Towers, and he starred in it as Basil Fawlty. The series resulted in Cleese receiving the 1980 BAFTA for Best Entertainment Performance, and in 2000 the show topped the British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. In a 2001 Channel 4 poll Basil was ranked second on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters. Cleese co-starred with Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and former Python colleague Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda (1989) and Fierce Creatures (1997), both of which he also wrote; for A Fish Called Wanda, he was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He has also starred in Time Bandits (1981) and Rat Race (2001) and has appeared in many other films, including Silverado (1985), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), two James Bond films (as R and Q), two Harry Potter films (as Nearly Headless Nick), and three Shrek films.
Emerging from the Cambridge Footlights in the 1960s, Cleese specialises in satire, black comedy, sketch comedy and surreal humour. With Yes Minister writer Antony Jay, he co-founded Video Arts, a production company making entertaining training films. In 1976, Cleese co-founded The Secret Policeman's Ball benefit shows to raise funds for the human rights organisation Amnesty International. Although a long running supporter of the Liberal Democrats, in 1999 he turned down a life peerage offer from the party.
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is a British order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later King George IV, while he was acting as regent for his father, King George III.
It is named in honour of two military saints, St Michael and St George.
The Order of St Michael and St George was originally awarded to those holding commands or high position in the Mediterranean territories acquired in the Napoleonic Wars, and was subsequently extended to holders of similar office or position in other territories of the British Empire. It is at present awarded to men and women who hold high office or who render extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country, and can also be conferred for important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (formerly the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath) is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, which involved bathing (as a symbol of purification) as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as "Knights of the Bath". George I "erected the Knights of the Bath into a regular Military Order". He did not (as is commonly believed) revive the Order of the Bath, since it had never previously existed as an Order, in the sense of a body of knights who were governed by a set of statutes and whose numbers were replenished when vacancies occurred.The Order consists of the Sovereign (currently Queen Elizabeth II), the Great Master (currently Charles, Prince of Wales, and three Classes of members:
Knight Grand Cross (GCB) or Dame Grand Cross (GCB)
Knight Commander (KCB) or Dame Commander (DCB)
Companion (CB)Members belong to either the Civil or the Military Division. Prior to 1815, the order had only a single class, Knight Companion (KB), which no longer exists. Recipients of the Order are now usually senior military officers or senior civil servants. Commonwealth citizens who are not subjects of the Queen and foreign nationals may be made Honorary Members.The Order of the Bath is the fourth-most senior of the British Orders of Chivalry, after The Most Noble Order of the Garter, The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, and The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick (dormant).
The Order of the Companions of Honour is an order of the Commonwealth realms. It was founded on 4 June 1917 by King George V as a reward for outstanding achievements and is "conferred upon a limited number of persons for whom this special distinction seems to be the most appropriate form of recognition, constituting an honour disassociated either from the acceptance of title or the classification of merit."Founded on the same date as the Order of the British Empire, it is sometimes regarded as the junior order to the Order of Merit. Now described as "awarded for having a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time", the first recipients were all decorated for "services in connection with the war" and were listed in The London Gazette. The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court is now the Chapel of the Order.
The Royal Victorian Order (French: Ordre royal de Victoria) is a dynastic order of knighthood established in 1896 by Queen Victoria. It recognises distinguished personal service to the monarch of the Commonwealth realms, members of the monarch's family, or to any viceroy or senior representative of the monarch. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the sovereign of the order, the order's motto is Victoria, and its official day is 20 June. The order's chapel is the Savoy Chapel in London.
There is no limit on the number of individuals honoured at any grade, and admission remains at the sole discretion of the monarch, with each of the order's five grades and one medal with three levels representing different levels of service. While all those honoured may use the prescribed styles of the order—the top two grades grant titles of knighthood, and all grades accord distinct post-nominal letters—the Royal Victorian Order's precedence amongst other honours differs from realm to realm and admission to some grades may be barred to citizens of those realms by government policy.
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