Declining a British honour

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The following is a partial list of people who have declined a British honour, such as a knighthood or another grade of honour. In recent times most refusals have been for appointment to the Order of the British Empire.[1]

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. Therefore those who now decline an honour, when it is announced, normally will have indicated acceptance beforehand, thereby avoiding any friction or embarrassment. However Keith Hill failed to do so and declined publicly.[citation needed]

People may reject state honours for various reasons. Some are republicans who do not believe in a monarchical system; others do not want to be associated with the British Empire (all UK honours are given in the name of the Monarch and the Empire). Some believe the honours system both reflects and reinforces social class distinctions, and diminishes the chance of a more equal and fairer society.[who?] Some potential recipients have rejected one honour then accepted another one (such as Sir Alfred Hitchcock[2]), or have initially refused an honour then accepted it[who?], or have accepted one honour then declined another (such as actors Robert Morley and Vanessa Redgrave[3]), or refused in the hope of another higher distinction (Roald Dahl refused being decorated as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE),[2] allegedly because he wanted a knighthood so that his wife would be entitled to the style "Lady Dahl").[4]

Sometimes a potential recipient will refuse a knighthood or peerage, but will accept an honour that does not bestow a title (or Precedence), such as the Order of Merit (OM) or the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH): Bertrand Russell, E. M. Forster, Paul Scofield, Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter (although Pinter's widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, was later appointed a DBE),[5] David Hockney, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Augustus John, Francis Crick and Paul Dirac are examples of this last category. The artist Francis Bacon refused all honours, allegedly on the grounds they "were so ageing". The record for refusing the most state honours is held by the artist L.S. Lowry. Some people have also rejected a life peerage.[citation needed]

Identities of those who declined an honour or title[edit]

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.,[6] but many more have been become known since then.

Honours declined[edit]

Kingdom[edit]

  • 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. 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."[7]

Dukedom[edit]

Marquessate[edit]

Earldom[edit]

Viscountcy[edit]

Barony[edit]

Life peerage (barony)[edit]

As a part of the House of Lords reform in 1999, relevant members of the Royal Family were offered Life Peerages, which would have given them the automatic right to sit in the House of Lords, but all declined.[19] These included:

Baronetcy[edit]

Knighthood (Knight Bachelor)[edit]

Appointment to the Order of the Bath[edit]

As Knight Grand Cross (GCB)[edit]

As Honorary Knight Commander (KCB)[edit]

As Companion (CB)[edit]

Appointment to the Order of Merit (OM)[edit]

Appointment to the Order of St Michael and St George[edit]

As Honorary Knight Grand Cross (GCMG)[edit]

As Honorary Knight Commander (KCMG)[edit]

As Honorary Companion (CMG)[edit]

As Honorary Dame Companion (CMG)[edit]

Appointment to the Order of the Indian Empire[edit]

As a Companion (CIE)[edit]

  • Narayan Malhar Joshi (1879-1955), Member of the Bombay Corporation (1919-1922) and Indian Legislative Assembly; delegate to the ILO and Round Table Conferences (1921, on the grounds he was too poor for the honour)[49][50][when?]

Appointment to the Royal Victorian Order[edit]

As a Commander (CVO)[edit]

Appointment as a Companion of Honour (CH)[edit]

Appointment to the Order of the British Empire[edit]

As a Knight Grand Cross (GBE)[edit]

As a Knight Commander (KBE)[edit]

As a Dame Commander (DBE)[edit]

As a Commander (CBE)[edit]

As an Officer (OBE)[edit]

As a Member (MBE)[edit]

Renouncing an honour[edit]

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.[citation needed] However, 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.[citation needed]

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)
  • John Lennon, musician (returned MBE insignia in 1969; returned with letter that read, "I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts.")
  • Gareth Peirce, solicitor (gazetted CBE in 1999, but later she returned its insignia, blaming herself and apologizing to then Prime Minister Tony Blair for the misunderstanding)
  • Susan Wighton, AIDS worker (returned MBE insignia in 2006 in protest at the British Government's Middle East foreign policies)

Knights who have "renounced" their knighthoods include:

Declining a baronetcy (Bt)[edit]

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.[65] Around 83 baronetcies are currently listed as awaiting proofs of succession. Notable "refuseniks" include Jonathon Porritt, lately of Friends of the Earth, and journalist Ferdinand Mount.[citation needed]

The Cabinet Office disclosed on 24 January 2012 the refusal of a baronetcy in recent times[when?] by Sir Edwin Plowden, KCB, KBE (later created a Life Peer (1959)).

See also[edit]

  • Canadian titles debate - Ongoing debate since 1919 over whether or not Canadians can accept British honours
    • Black v. Chrétien - a 2001 legal case that affirmed the power of the Canadian prime minister to block such appointments

References[edit]

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  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Harvey McGavin (22 December 2003). "Honoured? No thanks, say elite of arts and TV". London: The Independent. 
  4. ^ Roald Dahl among hundreds who turned down Queen's honours[dead link], Walesonline (also published in the Western Mail), 27 January 2012; retrieved 7 January 2013.
  5. ^ Singh, Anita (31 December 2010). "Lady Antonia Fraser leads New Year Honours 2011 list". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
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  8. ^ "Biography of Benjamin Disraeli". National Portrait Gallery. 15 August 2010. Retrieved 5 October 2013. 
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  50. ^ Who's Who, 1956, pg 39
  51. ^ Craig Murray, "On Being Hurt"; retrieved 21 October 2011.
  52. ^ a b Adams, Stephen (21 October 2008). "Doris Lessing rejected top honour for being 'in the name of a non-existent Empire'". London, UK: The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  53. ^ C.S., Lewis (1994). W. H. Lewis, Walter Hooper, ed. 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." 
  54. ^ Hennessy, Patrick (29 December 2012). "Ken Livingstone turned down CBE for Olympic role". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 5 October 2013. 
  55. ^ Andrew Alderson and Nina Goswami (5 August 2005). "When Sir Ian heard who the lawyer was, it is likely he let out a long, hard sigh". London, UK: The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  56. ^ Hastings, Chris (21 December 2013). "'He would have felt insulted': Did George Harrison refuse an OBE because he envied Paul McCartney's knighthood?". Daily Mail (London). 
  57. ^ Anne Gillies (24 December 2012). "BBC ALBA - Trusadh, Series 3, Kenneth McKellar". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 5 October 2013. 
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  65. ^ Whitaker's Almanac, 2005, p. 83, et seq.

External links[edit]

  • Full list published by the Cabinet Office's website