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.[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, 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:

Some potential recipients have rejected one honour then accepted another one (such as Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Alfred Hitchcock[2]), or have initially refused an honour then accepted it, 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 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.[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): Bertrand Russell, 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, 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,[8] but many more have become known since then.

Honours declined



See also: Duke


See also: Marquess


See also: Earl


See also: Viscount


See also: Baron

Life peerage (barony)

See also: Life peer

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 right to sit in the House of Lords, but all declined.[28] These included:


See also: Baronetcy

Knighthood (Knight Bachelor)

See also: Knight

Appointment to the Order of the Bath

Further information: Order of the Bath

As Knight Grand Cross (GCB)

As honorary Knight Commander (KCB)

As Companion (CB)

Appointment to the Order of Merit (OM)

Appointment to the Order of the Star of India

Further information: 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)

As honorary Companion (CMG)

As honorary Dame Companion (CMG)

Appointment to the Order of the Indian Empire

Further information: Order of the Indian Empire

As a Companion (CIE)

Appointment to the Royal Victorian Order

Further information: Royal Victorian Order

As a Commander (CVO)

Appointment as a Companion of Honour (CH)

Appointment to the Order of the British Empire

Further information: Order of the British Empire

As a Knight Grand Cross (GBE)

As a Knight Commander (KBE)

As a Dame Commander (DBE)

As a Commander (CBE)

As an Officer (OBE)

As a Member (MBE)

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.[99]

Those who have returned insignia include:

Knights who have "renounced" their knighthoods include:

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.[100] 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.

The Cabinet Office disclosed on 24 January 2012 the refusal of a baronetcy in recent times by Sir Edwin Plowden, KCB, KBE (later created a life peer (1959)).

See also


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