Of all the honours that the Queen of England bestows on her subjects, a knighthood is easily the most coveted. To British citizens, few titles could be greater than having a “Sir” or “Dame” in front of their name. So what kind of person would turn down such a title? Surprisingly enough, many notables have done so. Here are some of them.
The Australian statesman turned down a knighthood in 1887, when Australia was still a colony of Great Britain. He went on to become one of Australia's founding fathers (it became a nation in 1901) and serve as Prime Minister three times. It seems that his refusal of a knighthood was due to a combination of humility (he would turn down several honours) and his preference for Australia becoming a republic, severing the last of its political links to the British Empire. Australia continued to award knighthoods (conferred by the Crown) after winning independence from Britain, even though many saw them as a remnant of the colonial past. Though it has still not become a republic, Australia finally stopped awarding knighthoods in 1983.
The actor and playwright, famous for playing a variety of rotund eccentrics, accepted an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1957, but turned down a knighthood in 1975. Other actors to turn down knighthoods included Trevor Howard, Alistair Sim and Paul Schofield.
The essayist and author (Brave New World) refused a knighthood in 1959, only four years before his death. Random fact: Huxley, C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy all died on November 22, 1963.
The great sculptor, a major figure in the modern art movement, was always keen to remember his roots as the son of a Yorkshire coal miner. Hence, he turned down a knighthood in 1951 because he didn't want to be seen as an establishment figure.
One of India's great hyphenates -- spiritual man, the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize (for literature, in 1913), poet, songwriter, dramatist, novelist, painter, educator -- Tagore was offered a knighthood by King George V in 1915… and accepted it. However, he renounced his knighthood in 1919, following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which hundreds of Indians, suspected of plotting an insurrection, were gunned down by British troops.
Just to prove that turning down knighthoods isn't just for modern-day rebels, Faraday (1791-1867), the great chemist and physicist who discovered the electromagnetic field, also turned down a knighthood. Over a century later, another famed scientist, Stephen Hawking, also reportedly said no to the Queen.
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