List of people who have declined 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 other grade of honour.

In most cases, the offer of an honour was rejected privately. Nowadays, potential recipients are contacted by government officials well before any public announcement to confirm in writing that they wish to be put forward for an honour, thereby avoiding friction or controversy. However, some have let it be known that the offer was declined, and there have also been occasional leaks from official sources.

A handful of people have accepted and later renounced an honour; these are listed at the end of the article.

In 2003, Sunday Times published a list of almost 300 people who had declined an honour between 1951 and 1999. In 2020, the Guardian reported based on a Freedom of Information request, that the number of people refusing an honour in 2020 was 68 out of 2,504 offered, or 2.7%.[1]

Reasons for rejection[edit]

People may reject state honours for various reasons, among which are:[citation needed]

  • Opposition to specific governmental actions or policy.
  • Anti-monarchism.
  • 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 and MBE)
  • 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, e.g party political donors and time-servers.
  • To hide real wealth and business connections from the public realm.
  • Religious reasons
  • Specifically of peerages, to maintain eligibility for election to the House of Commons (essential for any national politician)
  • Because the honours system has been brought into disrepute by rewarding political financial donors with knighthoods and peerages.

Some potential recipients have rejected one honour then accepted another (such as Sir Paul McCartney[citation needed] and Sir Alfred Hitchcock[2]), 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[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 title "Lady Dahl").[4]

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.[5][6]

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); E. M. Forster, Paul Scofield, Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter (although Pinter's widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, was later appointed a DBE),[7] David Hockney, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Augustus John, V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, Francis Crick and Paul Dirac are examples.

The artist Francis Bacon refused all honours, allegedly on the grounds they "were so ageing".[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,[8] but many more have become known since then.

Honours declined[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 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."[9]






Life peerage (barony)[edit]

Life peerages are offered to all former Prime Ministers when they step down as MPs. The last to accept a peerage was Margaret Thatcher in 1992. Her husband Denis was created a baronet. Four of her successors declined a peerage, whilst one (Theresa May) continues to serve as an MP.

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 with the exception of the Earl of Snowdon.[39] These included:


In addition to these, many offers of baronetcies have technically been declined, since this is a hereditary honour and was one way, until recent times, for the Crown to raise money from landed gentry. 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 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.[43] As of December 2017 some 208 baronetcies are listed as awaiting proofs of succession.[44] Notable "refuseniks" include Jonathon Porritt, lately of Friends of the Earth, and journalist Ferdinand Mount.[citation needed]

Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter[edit]

Knighthood (Knight Bachelor)[edit]

Appointment to the Order of the Bath[edit]

As Knight Companion (KB)[edit]

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

Appointment to the Order of the Star of India[edit]

As Knight Commander (KCSI)[edit]

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

As Knight Grand Cross Commander (GCMG)[edit]

As Knight Commander (KCMG)[edit]

As 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 (refused in 1921, on the grounds he was too poor for the honour).[97][98]

Appointment to the Royal Victorian Order[edit]

As a Commander (CVO)[edit]

  • Craig Murray, former United Kingdom Ambassador to Uzbekistan (had previously declined appointments as LVO and OBE),[99] in 1999, for reasons of Scottish nationalism and republicanism.

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

Appointment to the Order of the British Empire[edit]

As a Knight Grand Cross (GBE)[edit]

  • 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".[100]
  • Sir Harry Shackleton (in the 1951 Birthday Honours List).[101]

As a Knight Commander (KBE)[edit]

As a Dame Commander (DBE)[edit]

  • 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).[2][103] Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Geraldine McEwan, actress[3] (in 2002; had previously declined appointment as OBE in 1986).
  • Vanessa Redgrave, actress, accepted CBE in 1967; declined damehood in 1999.[2]
  • Bridget Riley, artist (accepted CH and CBE).
  • Dorothy Wedderburn, academic, Principal of Royal Holloway and Bedford College London, 1980–90.

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. 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.[133]

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.[134] (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".
  • Michael Sheen, actor (appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2009 New Year Honours list for his services to drama.[135]) In 2020, Sheen, who is Welsh, revealed, during an online interview with Owen Jones, that he had handed back the award after doing research for a lecture on the relationship between Wales and the British state, saying "I didn't mean any disrespect but I just realised I'd be a hypocrite if I said the things I was going to say in the lecture about the nature of the relationship between Wales and the British state."[136]
  • Susan Wighton, AIDS worker (returned MBE insignia in 2006 in protest at the British Government's Middle East foreign policies).
  • In June 1965 a number of holders of honours and decorations, mainly awarded for military service, returned their insignia in protest at the nomination of the four members of The Beatles for the MBE.[137] They included Hector Dupuis, a member of the House of Commons of Canada, Paul Pearson, a former RAF squadron leader, and James Berg, all of whom returned their MBEs; David Evan Rees, a former sea captain, who returned his OBE; and Richard Pape, a wartime escapee and author, who returned his Military Medal.[138][139][140][141]

Knights who have "renounced" their knighthoods include:

See also[edit]

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


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