List of people who have declined a British honour
The following is a partial list of people who have declined a British honour, such as a knighthood or other grade of honour. In recent times most refusals have been for appointment to the Order of the British Empire.
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.
- 1 Reasons for rejection
- 2 Identities of those who declined an honour or title
- 3 Honours declined
- 3.1 Kingdom
- 3.2 Dukedom
- 3.3 Marquessate
- 3.4 Earldom
- 3.5 Viscountcy
- 3.6 Barony
- 3.7 Life peerage (barony)
- 3.8 Baronetcy
- 3.9 Knighthood (Knight Bachelor)
- 3.10 Appointment to the Order of the Bath
- 3.11 Appointment to the Order of Merit (OM)
- 3.12 Appointment to the Order of the Star of India
- 3.13 Appointment to the Order of St Michael and St George
- 3.14 Appointment to the Order of the Indian Empire
- 3.15 Appointment to the Royal Victorian Order
- 3.16 Appointment as a Companion of Honour (CH)
- 3.17 Appointment to the Order of the British Empire
- 4 Renouncing an honour
- 5 Declining a baronetcy (Bt)
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Reasons for rejection
People may reject state honours for various reasons, among which are:
- Opposition to specific governmental actions or policy
- Republicanism and anti-monarchism
- Inappropriate due to the nature of the individual's work or position, or would attract unwanted attention
- Lack of pretension
- Anti-imperialism or general unwillingness to be associated with the former British Empire (especially with regards to the Order of the British Empire)
- Inadequately recognises 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[who?]
- 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
Some potential recipients have rejected one honour then accepted another one (such as Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Alfred Hitchcock), or have initially refused an honour then accepted it,[who?] or have accepted one honour then declined another (such as actor Robert Morley and actress Vanessa Redgrave), or refused in the hope of another higher distinction (Roald Dahl refused being decorated as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), allegedly because he wanted a knighthood so that his wife would be entitled to the title "Lady Dahl").
Since John Key restored the New Zealand Order of Merit to the pre-2000 British Monarch system, Richie McCaw has repeatedly declined 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 prior to his retirement because only 20 living New Zealanders can gain membership at any one time.
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), 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.
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, KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, PC (Can), FRS, politician and 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. In any case Churchill had a low opinion of the House of Lords and had no interest in being in it.
- Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, KG, PC, FRS, politician and Prime Minister (in 1880; had previously accepted the Earldom of Beaconsfield)
- Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, PC, FRS, politician (1857)
- Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, KG, GCVO, PC, politician and 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.
- Sir Alexander Cambridge, GCB, GCVO, CMG, DSO, formerly Prince Alexander of Teck (in 1917 accepted the Earldom of Athlone instead)
- Henry Lascelles, 5th Earl of Harewood, GCVO (in 1922, as he reportedly held the belief that marquessates tended to die out more quickly than earldoms)
- John Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer, KG, PC, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (in the 1890s).
- Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, PC outgoing Prime Minister (declined the Earldom of Banbury in 1804 as he wished to remain in the Commons; later accepted the viscountcy of Sidmouth)
- Arthur Balfour, former Prime Minister (in 1919, accepted the Earldom of Balfour in 1922)
- R. A. Butler, KG, CH, PC, Conservative politician (in 1964; accepted life peerage as Baron Butler of Saffron Walden in 1965)
- Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, declined the Earldom of Wiltshire on his death bed in 1596
- Neville Chamberlain, after his retirement as Prime Minister in 1940 (also declined appointment as KG, October 1940)
- Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, PC, politician (in 1809)
- Sir Anthony Eden, KG, MC, PC (on his retirement as Prime Minister in 1957; later accepted the Earldom of Avon in 1961)
- William Ewart Gladstone, Prime Minister (in 1885)
- William Legge, had also declined a knighthood; his son was created Baron Dartmouth instead.
- Harold Macmillan, OM, PC, politician and Prime Minister (in 1963; later accepted the Earldom of Stockton in 1984)
- Sir Angus Ogilvy, KCVO, PC (in 1963, upon his marriage to Princess Alexandra of Kent; later accepted a knighthood in 1988)
- R. H. Tawney, economic historian and ethical socialist. 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.
- Charles Booth, disenchanted with politics, declined Gladstone's overtures; created a Privy Councillor by Balfour in 1904
- John Grigg, 2nd Baron Altrincham, writer, historian and politician[why?][when?]
- Arthur Henderson, declined offer of peerage by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931 (MacDonald wanted to remove a rival for Labour Party leadership)
- John Henry Whitley, retiring Speaker of the House of Commons (in 1928).
- George Macaulay Booth, Director of the Bank of England; declined Lloyd George's offer.
- Leonard Elmhirst, philanthropist, agriculturalist and educationist; 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."
- Sir Thomas Holderness, retiring Permanent Under-Secretary of State for India, refused in 1920 on financial grounds,[clarification needed] although he accepted a baronetcy.
- Sir Alan Lascelles, Private Secretary to the Sovereign; declined in 1953 as he felt titles to be a show of self-importance.
- T.P. O'Connor, journalist and Irish Nationalist MP 1880–1929, declined the offer from Lloyd George.
- Joseph Strutt, soldier and MP, declined all honours but suggested the offer (of the barony of Rayleigh) be transferred to his wife instead, which was done.
Life peerage (barony)
- Isaiah Berlin, OM, philosopher (in 1980)
- Tony Blair, former Prime Minister. Also refused appointments to the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle (in 2007)
- Albert Booth, Labour MP and Secretary of State for Employment 1974–79, declined peerage on democratic and socialist grounds.
- Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister
- Charles Clarke, Labour MP and Cabinet minister
- 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)
- Jean Floud, educational sociologist Nuffield College, Principal Newnham College, Cambridge, declined a peerage (in 1978)
- Michael Foot, Labour Party leader 1980–83
- John Freeman, Labour MP, journalist, diplomat, business executive.
- Geoffrey Goodman, journalist, industrial correspondent; declined peerage in the mid-1970s
- James Griffiths, Labour MP, Secretary of State for Wales, 1964–66
- Sir Edward Heath, former Prime Minister. Preferred to retain seat as an MP, he personally disapproved of political honours while realizing their usefulness as a source of political patronage
- Arthur Holt, Liberal MP (1951–64), declined offer of a life peerage in 1967
- Ludovic Kennedy, author, journalist and broadcaster, declined offer of life peerage from Liberals in 1967 as he was intending to join the SNP (he later accepted a KBE)
- Sir John Major, KG, CH, outgoing Prime Minister (in 2001 as he thought a seat in the Lords was incompatible with retiring from politics; he later accepted appointment as KG)
- Bruce Millan, MP, Labour Secretary of State for Scotland (1976–79); EU Commissioner for Regional Development[when?]
- Jim Mortimer, General Secretary of the Labour Party 1982-85
- Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, Roman Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster (in 2009; reportedly on advice from the Holy See for pro-republican sympathies)
- Frank Pick, Chief Executive of London Transport in the 1930s[disputed ]
- J. B. Priestley, author (in 1965)
- Norman Willis, General Secretary TUC from 1984–93[when?]
- George Woodcock, General Secretary TUC, declined a peerage in 1970 as being incompatible with democratic socialism
- Thomas Jackson, trade union leader, 1979 
- Jack Jones, trade union leader, on several occasions, as he advocated the abolition of the House of Lords
As a part of the House of Lords reform in 1999, relevant[clarification needed] members of the Royal Family were offered life peerages, which would have given them the right to sit in the House of Lords, but all declined. These included:
- Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh KG KT OM GBE AK QSO CD PC
- Charles, Prince of Wales
- Prince Andrew, Duke of York
- Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
- Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester
- Prince Edward, Duke of Kent
- Charles Babbage, FRS, scientist, declined both a knighthood and baronetcy[when?]
- Field-Marshal Sir Frederick Haines, declined a baronetcy in 1880 due to his wife's failing health.[clarification needed]
- Sir Edwin Plowden, KCB, KBE; later created a Life Peer (in 1959)
- John Grubb Richardson, Irish Quaker industrialist, declined, citing his religious beliefs.
Knighthood (Knight Bachelor)
- T. S. Ashton, economic historian, Professor of Economic History, University of London (in 1957)
- Frank Auerbach, artist, declined knighthood in 2003
- Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International; was offered several times, but refused on each occasion, citing human rights abuses in which the British government was complicit
- Alan Bennett, playwright (in 1996; had previously declined appointment as CBE in 1988)
- Arnold Bennett, novelist, declined knighthood offered for service in running the British government's French propaganda department during World War I.
- David Bowie, musician (in 2003)
- Danny Boyle, theatre and film director (in 2013)
- Lester Brain, aviator and airline executive (in late 1960s; later accepted appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1979)
- Peter Brook, theatre and film director
- Francis Crick, physicist, co-discoverer of DNA; was offered a CBE in 1963, but did not accept it.
- Paul Dirac, Nobel Prize winner for physics in 1933, 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.
- Lionel Elvin, Director Institute of Education London, 1958–73
- Michael Faraday, scientist: "I must remain plain Michael Faraday to the last."
- 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.
- Albert Finney, actor (in 2000; had previously declined CBE in 1980)
- E. M. Forster, author and essayist; declined knighthood in 1949, but accepted a Companion of Honour in the 1953 New Year Honours list and an Order of Merit in 1969.
- 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.
- John Gallagher, historian of empire and imperialism
- John Galsworthy, playwright, declined knighthood in 1918 New Year Honours but accepted appointment to the Order of Merit in 1929 as it was not a title.
- Calouste Gulbenkian, philanthropist (in 1951)
- Joe Haines, Press Secretary to Prime Minister Harold Wilson
- A. H. Halsey, sociologist, proponent of a fairer and more equal society.
- Richard Hamilton, artist[when?]
- Thomas Hardy, novelist (later accepted OM because as it was an honour without a title)
- Stanford G. Haughton, sound recordist/musician (in 1952)
- Stephen Hawking, CH, CBE, physicist, accepted CBE and CH but turned down a knighthood because he "does not like titles"
- Bill Hayden, Governor-General of Australia
- Patrick Heron, artist, declined a knighthood in the 1980s, reportedly in protest at government policy on arts education[when?]
- Peter Higgs, CH, physicist, Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Edinburgh; co-discoverer of the Higgs boson in 1999, because he felt honours are used for political purposes by the government. He later accepted appointment to the Order of the Companions of Honour, because he was (wrongly) assured that it was the personal gift of the Queen, in 2013.
- 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, CH, RA, artist (in 1990; accepted appointment as CH in 1997, and OM in 2012 because they are not titles)
- Charles Holden, architect, declined twice (1944, 1951) for two reasons: he considered it to be at odds with his simple lifestyle and considered architecture a collaborative process; another reason was that as they were not legally married, his partner and common-law wife, Margaret, would not have been able to call herself Lady Holden.
- Trevor Howard, actor
- John Hughes, Principal Ruskin College, Oxford; Vice Chair, Prices Commission (1977–79)[when?]
- Aldous Huxley, author (in 1959)
- Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan; offered a knighthood in 1925, he replied: "I prefer to be plain Mr Jinnah"
- Augustus John, artist[when?]
- Gus John, educationalist and campaigner for racial equality[when?]
- Rudyard Kipling, soldier, 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.
- T. E. Lawrence, Arabist, archaeologist, soldier; King George V offered Lawrence a knighthood on 30 October 1918 at a private audience in Buckingham Palace for his services in the Arab Revolt, but he declined.
- Essington Lewis, Australian mining magnate
- 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)
- Humphrey Lyttelton, jazz musician, broadcaster and author (in 1995)
- Dan McKenzie, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge (in 2003)
- 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 editor (in 1965); strongly disapproved of the honours system, certainly for journalists.
- John Loudon McAdam, Scottish road builder
- Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum (in 1999); in 2010 he accepted appointment to the Order of Merit, the personal gift of the British monarch
- Michael Meacher, Labour MP, minister and socialist.
- James Meade, economist; Nobel Prize for Economics winner (in 1969)
- Norman Miscampbell, Conservative MP. Margaret Thatcher recommended his appointment to a knighthood (in 1989), which he declined reportedly because he thought it would prevent him enjoying his retirement from political activity.
- Henry Moore, sculptor (in 1951)
- Stanley Morison (in 1953; also declined CBE)
- Robert Morley, actor (in 1975; accepted CBE in 1957)
- Edward Morton[disambiguation needed], Brigadier General in the Boer and First World War. Refused A Knightood but accepted a CBE as he felt unworthy after what he had seen during the First World War
- A. G. Norman, scientist (in 1969)
- John Osborne, playwright[when?]
- Peter O'Toole, film and stage actor
- William Pember Reeves, New Zealand politician, declined knighthood three times, including GCMG[when?]
- Frank Pick, chief executive of London Transport (also declined a peerage).
- Harold Pinter, playwright[when?] (later accepted CH)[when?]
- John Piper, artist[when?]
- Ronald Robinson, historian of imperialism and empire
- Gilbert Ryle, philosopher (in 1965)
- Simon Russell Beale, actor
- Frederick Sanger, British scientist and double Nobel Prize Winner (accepted OM, CH, and CBE)
- Amartya Sen, economist and Nobel Prize winner[when?]
- George Bernard Shaw, playwright and critic and socialist; also declined OM
- Paul Scofield, actor (in 1968)
- Alastair Sim, actor, declined a knighthood[when?] as his father had done[when?]
- Quentin Skinner, historian; Regius Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge; republican (in 1996)
- George Stephenson, railway engineer and inventor[when?]
- Robert Stephenson railway engineer and entrepreneur, son of George Stephenson[when?]
- Adrian Stokes, artist (in 1968)
- W. Strath, civil servant (in 1959)
- Rabindranath Tagore, eminent Bengali polymath and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 (renounced his knighthood in response to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919)
- Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, also declined the OBE. "The honours system is a relic of feudalism. Most of the major gongs are handed out to well-paid time servers, political cronies and big party donors."
- A. J. P. Taylor, eminent British historian. "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 than to make peace with the Establishment – and nothing more corrupting."
- Peter Townsend, Professor of Social Policy and founder of the Child Poverty Action Group[when?]
- Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer[when?]
- Sydney Walton, civil servant, secretary of the Consumer Council during World War I (declined knighthood in 1917)
- J. Steven Watson, historian, twice declined the offer a knighthood in 1960 and in 1966 on becoming Principal of University of St Andrews.
- Patrick White, Australian writer (1970)
- John Walpole Willis, colonial judge, barrister and author, refused a knighthood at least twice.
- John Henry Whitley, Liberal MP and Speaker of the House of Commons 1911-21
- Norman Willis, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress; "turned down a knighthood offered to him by John Major, just as he had turned aside a proposal from the Labour leader John Smith that he might consider going into the House of Lords"
- 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 thought was more important.
Appointment to the Order of the Bath
As Knight Grand Cross (GCB)
- Admiral George Cranfield Berkeley in 1812, expecting a peerage; he later settled for the KCB in 1813; elevated to GCB in 1815.
As honorary Knight Commander (KCB)
- Živojin Mišić, Serbian and Yugoslavian field marshal (1915)
- Stepa Stepanović, Serbian and Yugoslavian field marshal (1918)
As Companion (CB)
Appointment to the Order of Merit (OM)
- A. E. Housman, poet and classical scholar (in 1929)
- 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.
- H. G. Wells, writer.[when?]
Appointment to the Order of the Star of India
As Knight Commander (KCSI)
Appointment to the Order of St Michael and St George
As honorary Knight Grand Cross (GCMG)
As honorary Knight Commander (KCMG)
- Radomir Putnik, Serbian field marshal (1915)[when?][why?]
- Petar Bojović, Serbian and Yugoslavian field marshal (1918)
- Pavle Jurišić Šturm, Serbian and Yugoslavian general (1918)
- George Trefgarne, 1st Baron Trefgarne, politician (1951) 
As honorary Companion (CMG)
- Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Ceylonese civil servant (1946).
As honorary Dame Companion (CMG)
Appointment to the Order of the Indian Empire
As a Companion (CIE)
- 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.
- Alyson Bailes, diplomat and academic[when?]
Appointment as a Companion of Honour (CH)
- Francis Bacon, artist (in 1977; previously declined appointment as CBE in 1960)
- Robert Graves, poet and novelist (in 1984; had previously declined appointment as CBE in 1957)
- L. S. Lowry RA, artist (in 1972 and 1976; had previously declined appointment as OBE in 1955 and CBE in 1961 and a knighthood in 1968; holds the record for the most honours declined)
- Ben Nicholson, artist (in 1965)[why?]
- Philip Noel-Baker, former Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 1965 New Year Honours (accepted a life peerage in 1977)
- J. B. Priestley, writer (in 1969)
- Leonard Woolf, writer/publisher (in 1966)[why?]
Appointment to the Order of the British Empire
As a Knight Grand Cross (GBE)
- Charles Wilson, 1st Baron Moran (in 1962) – offered for services as chairman of a government committee but declined, commenting it was "the sort of thing given to civil servants".
- Sir Harry Shackleton (in 1951)[why?]
As a Knight Commander (KBE)
- T. E. Lawrence, Arabist, archaeologist, soldier, aircraftsman, writer (in October 1918)[why?]
- Calouste Gulbenkian, philanthropist (in 1951)[why?]
- J. H. Penson, botanist (1951)[when?][why?]
As a Dame Commander (DBE)
- Dorothy Hodgkin, Scientist, Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1964 (later accepted OM)
- Glenda Jackson, actress and politician
- 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
- Geraldine McEwan, actress (in 2002; had previously declined appointment as OBE in 1986)
- Vanessa Redgrave, actress, accepted CBE in 1967; declined damehood in 1999
- Dorothy Wedderburn, academic, Principal of Royal Holloway and Bedford College London, 1980–90
As a Commander (CBE)
- Richard Ithamar Aaron, philosopher, Professor of Philosophy, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (in 1962)
- Ian Albery, theatre producer[when?]
- W. Godfrey Allen, architect; Surveyor of the Fabric of Gloucester Cathedral (in 1957)
- Nick Anstee, former Lord Mayor of London (in 2010)
- Francis Bacon, artist (in 1960; later declined appointment as CH in 1977)
- C. H. Bagenal, scientist (in 1966)
- J. G. Ballard, author (in 2003; "the honours system is a Ruritanian charade that helps to prop up the top-heavy monarchy.")
- Nancy Banks-Smith, television critic (in 1970)
- Julian Barnes, novelist[when?]
- Jim Baty
- Wilfred Beard, General Secretary, United Patternmakers' Association (in 1959)
- Clive Bell, art critic (in 1953)
- Alan Bennett, playwright (in 1988; later declined a knighthood in 1996)
- Michael Billington, drama critic[when?]
- Michael Blakemore, playwright; theatre director[when?]
- Honor Blackman, actress (in 2002; she is a signed supporter of Republic, The Campaign for an Elected Head of State, the UK campaign to replace the monarchy with a republic)
- John Boorman, film director[when?]
- David Bowie, musician (in 2000; later declined a knighthood in 2003)
- John Carey, academic and literary critic
- Julie Christie, film actress[when?]
- John Cleese, actor/comedian (in 1996; he reportedly thought it was "silly", and later declined a life peerage)
- Prunella Clough, painter (in 1979; previously declined OBE in 1968)
- John Cole, journalist (in 1993)
- David Cornwell (uses John le Carré as nom de plume), author[when?]
- Francis Crick, scientist, co-discoverer of DNA (in 1963; later also refused a knighthood, but finally accepted appointment as OM in 1991)
- Julian A. Davies, chemist (in 1968)
- L.O. Doughty-Wylie, nursing administrator (in 1958)
- Bernie Ecclestone, owner of Formula One commercial rights (in 1996)
- Brian Eno, musician (in 2007)
- Albert Finney, actor (in 1980; also declined a knighthood in 2000)
- C. S. Forester, novelist (in 1953)
- Michael Frayn novelist and dramatist (in 1989; later declined a knighthood in 2003)
- Stephen Frears, film director
- Lucian Freud, artist (in 1977; later accepted appointment as CH in 1983, and OM in 1993)
- Jack Gallagher, historian, Beit Professor of Commonwealth History, Oxford
- Robert Graves, poet and novelist (in 1957; later declined appointment as CH in 1984)
- Graham Greene, author (in 1956) (later accepted appointment as CH and OM, neither of which are titles granting rank or precedence)
- Trevor Griffiths, playwright[when?]
- John Gross, Author, literary critic and journalist
- Claude Herbert Grundy, Queen's Remembrancer (in 1964)
- Jocelyn Herbert, stage designer (in 1981)
- Trevor Howard, film and stage actor in 1982
- Elgar Howarth, conductor and composer[when?]
- John Ireland, composer (in 1959)
- Leon Kossoff, painter[when?]
- Walter Lassally, cinematographer[when?]
- T. E. Lawrence, World War I British Army officer, archaeologist, Arabist, RAF aircraftsman, and writer, popularly known as "Lawrence of Arabia"; later declined a knighthood.[when?]
- F.R. Leavis, literary critic. Refused in 1966; but later accepted appointment as CH.
- 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.
- Malcolm McDowell, actor (in 1984)
- George Melly, musician, writer, critic, artist and raconteur (in 2001)
- Mary Midgley, philosopher[when?]
- Stanley Morison (in 1962; also declined a knighthood)
- Peter Nichols, playwright[when?]
- Ben Nicholson, artist (in 1955)
- Seán O'Casey, playwright (in 1963)
- Gareth Peirce, solicitor (gazetted CBE in 1999, but later she returned its insignia, blaming herself and apologizing to then PM Tony Blair for the misunderstanding)
- Lionel Penrose, Professor of Medical Genetics, University College London, 1945–65 (in 1967)
- Ronald Pickup, actor[when?]
- Cedric Price, architect[when?]
- Karel Reisz, Czech-born film director[when?]
- Andrew Robertson, Professor of Mechanical Engineering University of Bristol (in 1965); reportedly disapproved of the honours system
- R. E. Robinson, historian (in 1953) later Beit Professor of Commonwealth History, Oxford.
- Paul Rogers, actor[when?]
- Robert Simpson, composer[when?]
- Savenaca Siwatibau, Fijian academic[when?]
- David Storey, playwright and novelist
- Frank Swinnerton, novelist and critic (in 1969)
- Sue Townsend novelist and playwright[when?]
- Claire Tomalin, writer[when?]
- Polly Toynbee, Guardian columnist, in 2000
- Leslie Waddington, art gallery chairman[when?]
- Evelyn Waugh, novelist (in 1959, wanted a knighthood)
- Paul Weller, musician (in 2007)
- Garfield Weston, businessman [when?]
- Susannah York, stage and screen actress
- Hugo Young, journalist[when?]
As an Officer (OBE)
- Peter Alliss, golfer and commentator (in 2002)
- Lindsay Anderson, theatre and film director[when?]
- Alyson Bailes, diplomat and political scientist
- Nancy Banks-Smith, Guardian journalist, declined OBE, 1970.
- Leonard Barden, British chess champion and writer (in 1985)
- Michael Bogdanov, theatre director[when?]
- Jim Broadbent, actor (in 2002)
- Eleanor Bron, actor and writer
- Jez Butterworth, playwright, 2016
- Caryl Churchill, playwright[when?]
- Prunella Clough, painter (in 1968), later declined CBE in 1979
- Andrew Cruickshank, actor (in 1967)
- Roald Dahl, author (in 1986, wanted a knighthood)
- Eleanor Farjeon, author and poet (in 1959)
- Dawn French, comedian and actress (in 2001)
- Patrick French, author, biographer, in 2003
- Pam Gems, dramatist/playwright[when?]
- Hughie Green, TV personality, (in 1960)
- Graham Greene, author (in 1956) later also declined the CBE
- Laurence Harbottle, services to theatre[when?]
- George Harrison, former Beatle (in 2000), reportedly felt he deserved a knighthood, as his fellow ex-Beatle Paul McCartney had been awarded in 1997
- Tony Harrison, poet and playwright[when?]
- Hamish Henderson, poet and folklorist (in 1983, in protest against the Thatcher government's nuclear policies)
- H. F. Hutchinson, art historian (in 1966)
- Hattie Jacques, actress/comedian (in 1974)
- Jonathan Kent, theatre director
- Estelle Kohler, actress[when?]
- Nigella Lawson, chef, gourmand, television personality/presenter; cookery writer
- Doris Lessing, author (in 1977; later declined appointment as DBE in 1992, because it is in the name of a non-existent Empire; accepted appointment as CH in 2000)
- Ken Loach, film director (in 1977)
- L. S. Lowry, artist (declined OBE in 1955, a CBE in 1961, a knighthood in 1968 and appointment as CH, twice, in 1972 and 1976; holds the record for the most honours declined)
- W. J. M. Mackenzie professor of Political Science (declined OBE in 1951)
- John McCormick, Controller, BBC Scotland
- Ian McDiarmid, actor, theatre director[when?]
- Geraldine McEwan, actress in 1986 (later declined DBE in 2002)
- Paul McGuigan, filmmaker[when?]
- Kenneth McKellar, tenor
- I. D. Margary, historian (in 1960)
- Hank Marvin, guitarist (The Shadows)[when?]
- Doreen Massey, Professor of Geography[when?]
- Alan Mattingly, Ramblers' Association[when?]
- Stanley Middleton, novelist and educationalist (in 1979)
- Ernest Milton, classical actor (in 1965)
- Craig Murray, former United Kingdom Ambassador to Uzbekistan (had previously declined appointment as LVO; later declined appointment as CVO)
- Max Newman, mathematician and wartime codebreaker (in 1946, in protest against the inadequacy of Alan Turing's OBE)
- I. Newton, pianist (in 1964)
- Bill Nighy, actor[when?]
- T. Parry author and librarian (in 1959)
- Iorwerth Peate poet and scholar (in 1963)
- Eric Porter, actor (in 1969)
- T. F. D. Rippingham architect (in 1951)
- V. M. Sabherwall, Birmingham industrialist
- Anthony Sampson, author/journalist[when?]
- Jennifer Saunders, comedian and actress (in 2001)
- Nitin Sawhney, musician (in 2007, for ethical reasons) "I wouldn't like anything with the word 'empire' after my name."
- 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)[when?]
- Katherine Whitehorn, journalist, later accepted a CBE after retirement from regular journalism.
- Bransby Williams, actor/monologuist (in 1955)
- Grace Williams, composer[when?]
- Kenneth Williams, actor and comedian. "When offered something which obviously isn't worth the price ... we still have the right to say 'No thanks'" (1969)
- Michael Winner, film director (in 2006; saying, "An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King's Cross station.")
- 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."
As a Member (MBE)
- John Allen, political adviser to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, declined honour in 1969
- Major Derek Allhusen, Olympic equestrian gold medallist, 1969 New Year Honours (accepted CVO in 1984 as Standard Bearer of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms)
- Marcel Aurousseau, Australian geologist, 1956 New Year Honours
- R. Cade, founder of the Minack Theatre, Cornwall (in 1969)
- Patrick Collins, sports journalist and author[when?]
- Joseph Corré, co-founder of Agent Provocateur (in 2007, claiming his belief that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was "morally corrupt".)
- Emer Rose Crangle, aid worker (in 1999)
- Edward Tegla Davies, Wesleyan Methodist minister and a popular Welsh language writer (in 1963)
- John Dunn, broadcaster[when?]
- Lynn Faulds Wood, TV presenter (in 2016). "I would love to have an honour if it didn't have the word 'empire' on the end of it. We don't have an empire, in my opinion." 
- Howard Gayle, first black footballer to play for Liverpool FC. Declined the MBE in 2016 saying it would be "a betrayal" to Africans who suffered at the hands of the British Empire
- Marjorie Hebden, declined MBE for services to the Malvern Museum[when?]
- David Heckels, declined MBE[when?] for charitable services to the arts
- Dr. Bob Holman, community activist in Easterhouse, 2012 birthday honours.
- Gwendoline Laxon, declined MBE for services to charity[when?]
- Susan Loppert, art historian[when?]
- John Lydon, musician (formerly known as "Johnny Rotten")[when?]
- John Pandit aka Pandit G, musician, 2002, does not believe in the honours system, says acknowledgement should be given by funding projects
- Doris Purnell, declined MBE for services to drama[when?]
- John Sales, head gardener[when?]
- 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.[when?]
- T. W. Taylor schoolteacher (in 1957)[when?]
- Jonzi D, writer, choreographer and rap artist, declined MBE for services to the arts, saying subsequently: "I am diametrically opposed to the idea of empire. Man, I'm a Star Wars fan – empire is bad."
- Alan Watkins, journalist, political columnist[when?]
- Rachel Whiteread, artist in 1997
Renouncing an honour
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)
- 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)
- Narindar Saroop, Soldier and Tory politician. Returned CBE in 2016 in disgust at the 'Dishonours List of David Cameron "showering peerages, knighthoods and other rewards on friends and party backers."
- 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:
- Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, cricketer (knighted in 1936; renounced knighthood in 1947 upon India's independence)
- Rabindranath Tagore, author and poet and Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, 1913 (knighted in 1915; renounced knighthood in 1919 in protest over the Jallianwala Bagh massacre)
- C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, lawyer, parliamentarian and administrator (knighted in 1926 with the KCIE and again in 1939 with the KCSI; renounced both knighthoods in 1948 following Indian independence)
- Khwaja Nazimuddin, nobleman, administrator and politician who served as the Governor-General of Pakistan from 1948 to 1951 and as the Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1951–53 (knighted in 1934 with the KCIE; renounced knighthood in 1946 due to his personal belief in independence from Britain)
Declining a baronetcy (Bt)
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. 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.
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