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 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.[1] 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%.[2] The number of people rejecting a British honour has doubled in the last decade.[3]

Reasons for rejection[edit]

Honours are rejected for a variety of reasons. Some potential recipients have rejected one honour then accepted another (such as Sir Alfred Hitchcock[4]), or have initially refused an honour then accepted it,[who?] or have accepted one honour then declined another (such as actor Robert Morley[5]) or refused in the hope of another higher distinction (Roald Dahl refused being decorated as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE),[4] allegedly because he wanted a knighthood so that his wife would be entitled to be known as "Lady Dahl").[6]

Sometimes a potential recipient refuses a knighthood or peerage but accepts 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). Examples are E. M. Forster, Paul Scofield, Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter (although Pinter's widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, was later appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire or DBE),[7] David Hockney, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Augustus John, V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, Francis Crick and Paul Dirac.

Some may refuse an honour based on political reasons, relating to the British state or the Royal Family. Nationalists of the constituent countries may prefer awards from their respective nations, such as Welsh nationalists refusing British awards for Welsh awards such as from the Gorsedd or St David Awards.[8][9][10][11][12] In 2022, when Gareth Bale accepted a MBE, some Welsh football supporters opposed and criticised his decision, describing him as "no longer a Welsh legend" because of his MBE.[13] A columnist at The National, a Welsh-based newspaper, stated "There is a duty to refuse honours from the current British state as a way of rejecting the colonial connotations of the gongs themselves".[14]

Honours declined[edit]


  • In 1657, Oliver Cromwell, already Head of State and Head of Government as Lord Protector, 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."[15]






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[citation needed], whilst three (Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss) continue to serve as MPs.

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.[48] These included:


  • Charles Babbage, scientist, declined both a knighthood and baronetcy.[49]
  • Hall Caine, novelist and playwright (1917); accepted knighthood in 1918.[50]
  • John Grubb Richardson,[51] declined, citing his religious beliefs.
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet (1865 and 1868); accepted peerage in 1884 on William Ewart Gladstone's urging.
  • John Lewis More O'Ferrall, lawyer from a family of Irish aristocracy, declined a baronetcy after serving as the first Commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.[52]
  • George Peabody, poet (1795 and 1864); Queen Victoria sent an adoring letter of thanks, enclosing a miniature portrait of herself and offering him a baronetcy or knighthood; Peabody declined both titles.[53]

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.[54] As of December 2017 some 208 baronetcies are listed as awaiting proofs of succession.[55]

Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter[edit]

  • Charles Vincent Massey, had to refuse the Garter due to the Government of Canada's policy on peerages and knighthoods. He accepted the Royal Victorian Chain in 1960.
  • Neville Chamberlain was offered the Order shortly before his death in 1940, but felt too ill to accept.[56]
  • Harold Macmillan declined the Order in March 1964, as he felt it should only be conferred for service during a national crisis, privately remarking that acceptance would have given him "the substance without the shadow."[56]

Knight Companion of the Order of the Thistle[edit]

  • Ramsay MacDonald declined the Order in 1935 as he felt accepting would go against his principles as a member of the Labour Party.[56]

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]

  • V. S. Srinivasa Sastri (in 1928; accepted appointment as a Companion of Honour (CH) in 1930).[110]
  • V. P. Menon (in 1948; official reason for declining was that with Indian independence, he had entered the service of the new Indian government.[111] According to his grandson, however, his actual reason for declining was that he could not accept a knighthood for having caused the partition of his country).[112]

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).[115][116]

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),[117] 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".[120]
  • Sir Harry Shackleton (in the 1951 Birthday Honours List).[121]

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).[4][123] Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Vanessa Redgrave, actress (accepted CBE in 1967; declined damehood in 1999,[4] but accepted it in 2022).
  • Geraldine McEwan, actress[5] (in 2002; had previously declined appointment as OBE in 1986).
  • Eleanor Rathbone, politician and social reformer (in 1949)[36]
  • 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; this 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.[169]

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[170] (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, Welsh actor (appointed OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours list for his services to drama[171]). In 2020 Sheen returned the award after researching the relationship between Wales and the British state, saying "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."[172]
  • 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.[173] 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.[174][175][176][177]

Knights who have "renounced" their knighthoods include:

Replacement honours proposed[edit]

Those objecting the British Honours system have proposed alternative honours.


There have been calls to introduce a Welsh honours system such as a "Medal Cymru" which was backed by a petition but the Senedd's Assembly Commission has said that it was not an appropriate time to introduce "Medal Cymru" due to the "current economic climate" in 2009. One particular option that was considered following a public consultation, was to award one "Medal Cymru" per year from the Senedd. Tanni Grey-Thompson has said that this proposal would be a "lovely idea".[178] In 2013, the St David Awards was launched alongside the existing British honours system, awarding Welsh people for "inspiring and exceptional work".[179] In 2021, a petition was launched to the Senedd titled "The inauguration of an Honorary National System of Awards; The Cymru Knighthood Award", proposing a Welsh honours system. The Welsh Government said that it did not have plans to introduce a Welsh honours system to replace the British honours system.[180]

See also[edit]


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