What Does It Mean when Celebrities are Knighted?

9 Jan

5th article in our series “Royal Family’s Influence on Pop Culture”

That celebrities and other public figures occasionally get knighted is one of the things we periodically hear about within England.  It may appear unusual to us because the practice is such a traditional vestige of the country’s strictly monarchal past.  Because we imagined many US citizens and possibly other nationalities don’t know what that term actually means, we thought we should focus on the practice.  Also given the site’s entertainment mission we thought the practice wasn’t that usual it is an honor that many entertainers have received.  In this article we will attempt to demystify what this event actually entails, means, and how it came to be.

Queen Elizabeth II practicing knighting.

Because of the lack of monarchy within these shores why might a US citizen want to know about this practice since that tradition doesn’t exist here; one reason might be because it is the hallmark of one of this country’s non-Spanish, Dutch, or French colonial heritages.  Maybe not discussed in the greatest detail here, yet Americans have many heritages.  Yet for this article we are going to restrict most of our focus on the English heritage evident in our customs, language, and parts of our democratic tradition.  Another reason might be a number of Americans have won this exotic honor.  In general, the histories of monarchical heritage are way too involved and complex for the purposes of this article and for those reasons great amounts of this information will be avoided.

So lets explore what knighthood means, according to Internet writer Mike Juddery:

Of all the honors 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.” [1]

Though this may be so in contemporary times, we might want to understand the times the practice comes from.


The Accolade, c.1901 by Leighton

The Orders Of Knighthood:

The institution of knighthood stems from the holy orders that the Catholic Church established in the middle Ages. The word order’ (from the Latin ordo) then meant a closed circle, the members of which were bound by certain obligations and swore to observe a set of rules. During the crusades, the rules governing monastic orders were extended to the soldiers who, once in the Holy Land, established various religious-military orders to ensure the safety of pilgrims and the sick and to further the battle for Christianity. Some of the most renowned medieval orders of knighthood were the Templars (1118->), the Hospitallers (1113->) and the Order of Teutonic Knights (1198->).” [2]

What is “Knighthood?:

The terms are often confused, and often needlessly distinguished. The term knighthood comes from the English word knight (from Old English cniht, boy, servant, cf. German Knecht) while chivalry comes from the French chevalerie, from chevalier or knight (Low Latin caballus for horse). In modern English, chivalry means the ideals, virtues, or characteristics of knights. The phrases “orders of chivalry” and “orders of knighthood” are essentially synonymous.

The German translation for “knight” is Ritter (literally, rider). The Latin term in the Middle Ages was miles, since a knight was by definition a professional soldier. In modern times, the Classical Latin term eques was preferred.” [3][4]

Orders Of Merit:

The institution of knighthood was transformed when the French bourgeoisie began to reward members of the Third Estate, first for distinguished service on the field of battle and later for civilian achievements. Thus a new category of orders was created: orders of merit. The first of them, the French Legion of Honour, was established in 1802 and got its system of rank in 1805. The Legion of Honour is a mixed order, that is, it admits members for both military and civil achievements. Orders exclusively for military achievement were soon founded alongside the mixed orders of merit. The Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty, established in 1918, is one such order. There are also entirely civilian orders of merit, for instance those for distinction in the arts and sciences, orders conferred by royal courts and orders for women. Orders of merit are no longer the exclusive right of the nobility or elite, and new classes of rank have been introduced: knight grand cross, commander and knight. Modern orders of merit tend to have five classes: grand cross; grand officer or commander, first class; commander, officer or knight, first class; and knight or chevalier.”[5]


Civilian achievements could include any achievement that involves public service, the arts, charitable work, and a wide range of activities that might not be military in nature.

A knight became an example of behavior and it was a knights duty to be versed in many arts such as writing, musicianship, the courts, land management, and law.” [6]

Yet for all of the status implied by the title there is some rank is implied by the different titles.  Don’t be surprised if some individual appear on forthcoming list more than once, many are nominated for more than one award at different times.  The classes of this honor are ranked from highest to lowest:

  •  Listosaur writer Alison Hill affectionately defines proper knighthood as:  “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” [8] These are but a few of the individuals who have been granted this honor:

– Sean Connery, Elton John, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Rolf Harris, Henry Cooper, Bob Geldof, Paul McCartney, George Martin, Ian McKellan, Ralph Richardson, Christopher Lee, Roger Moore, Terry Wogan, Mick Jagger, Salman Rushdie, Bono, Nick Faldo, Terry Practchett, Alfred Hitchcock, Edmund Hillary, Barbara Cartland, Ben Kingsley, Kiri Te Kanawa, Alan Sugar, Bob Hope, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Andre Previn, Bill Gates.

  • Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross (GBE) is a prestigious honor yet it is slightly below the previous title. Unfortunately the title “Sir” or “Dame” is not attributed to this title.
  •  Knight Commander or Dame Commander (KBE) is a title frequently given to foreign-born honorees and/or those who have earned their qualifications outside of England.  Unfortunately the title “Sir” or “Dame” is not attributed to this title.  These are but a few of the individuals who have been granted this honor:

– Bob Geldof, Bono, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, Ridley Scott, Alfred Hitchcock

Commander (CBE) is a prestigious honor yet it is slightly below the previous title. Unfortunately the title “Sir” or “Dame” is not attributed to this title.  These are but a few of the individuals who have been granted this honor.

– Vanessa Redgrave, Annie Lenox, Roger Daltry, The Bee Gees, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Sting, and Robert Plant, Richard Attenborough, Alan Parker, Richard Burton,

This is our assumed order for Dame Commander of the British Order

-Shirley Bassey

Officer of the British Empire (OBE)

– Robert Morley

Member of the British Empire (MBE)

– The Beatles,

Companion of Honor (CH)

– Doris Lessing

This is a list of some of the many who turned down this honor.

– David Bowie, Vanessa Redgrave, L.S. Lowry, Alfred Deakin, Robert Morley, Aldous Huxley, Doris Lessing, Henry Moore, Rabindranath Tagore, Michael Faraday, John Lennon, Stephen Hawking…

These artists sighted a wide range of reasons that they did not want the title; most of the time the reason had a political basis.   Yet in many cases the celebrity purely appeared to want to avoid being defined as part of the British establishment.

Prestigious (and sometimes controversial) as it is, do you think more countries should honor the successes of public figures the way England has?

Also see: Royal Family’s Influence on Fashion


Essential References

[1] 10 Famous People Who Turned Down a Knighthood – Mental Floss, 2013

[2] History of the orders of knighthood 2012

[3] Favier, Jean: Dictionnaire de la France Médiévale. Paris: 1993, Fayard.

[4] Walrop: La Noblesse de Flandres avant 1300.

[5] History of the orders of knighthood 2012

[6] 2012 Kalif Publishing

[7] Listosaur 2012

[8] http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Which_celebrities_have_been_knighted


82 Responses to “What Does It Mean when Celebrities are Knighted?”

  1. parisienne January 9, 2013 at 12:56 PM #


    Very informative article! I have a question……From the information presented I assume that being called a sir or dame is the highest honor one can have in England? What about being Lord? For example, Lord so and so. The only reason I ask is because I was watching Globe Trekker this morning and they did a program on England. The host went to visit someone who’s father was a Lord. The house that was occupied by this Lord had to be opened to the public to help pay taxes.

    I apologize for going on and on but what are the benefits of each title? Lord, Sir and so on.

  2. Comic Relief January 9, 2013 at 8:39 PM #

    Thanks for the compliment. I have to be honest; all of this is very new to me.
    This is what “answers yahoo” said regarding “lords” and “ladies”:

    Best Answer – Chosen by Asker

    A Lord (Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount or Baron – those are the five ranks of the British peerage in order of rank, top to bottom) can only be created by the Queen. There are two types, hereditary and for life. It used to be that all peerage titles were hereditary and passed down from father to son for ever unless the family line dies out (some titles can be passed down the female line, most can’t – it depends on the wording of the Letters Patent issued by the monarch to create the title). Very few hereditary Lords are created these days – only 3 in the last 60 years or so, and those were prominent retired politicians. It used to be customary to make a retired Prime Minister into an Earl, and that accounts for one of those – Harold Macmillan, who became the Earl of Stockton. The other two were Viscount Whitelaw and Viscount Tonypandy. Both of those titles have died out as neither of them had any sons.

    Originally, yes, lords did have land and money and were responsible for ruling a part of the country under the King. Some still have the family estates, others don’t. For example, the current Baron Kingsale lives in New Zealand and is the son of a municipal drains inspector, and his cousin, the 35th Baron, only had a limited private income and had to work at various jobs to make ends meet (including starting a dating agency in Australia at one time, plumbing, kitchen fitting, and as a truck driver).

    I said there are two types of Lords – the other is a life peerage. This came into being in 1958 because the upper house of the British Parliament is the House of Lords, consisting of all Lords plus the few Ladies resulting from the peerages that can pass down the female line, and it is a way of getting useful people into it. Life peers are always created with the rank of Baron and as the name “life peer” suggests, it only lasts for life and doesn’t pass to children. The kind of people who get created life peers are retired politicians and experts in all walks of life. For instance, Lord Winston is a pioneering test-tube baby specialist, and Baroness Gardner of Parkes is a dentist – so they can make useful contributions to new laws on health care through actually knowing what they’re talking about. In 1999, the House of Lords was reformed and now it consists only of life peers plus 92 hereditary ones elected by the others, plus the 26 most senior bishops of the Church of England as before. Thus the House of Lords is now almost like the Canadian Senate, which consists entirely of people who are appointed to be senators rather than being elected. There are moves to make the House of Lords into an elected House, in which case there won’t be any point in creating life Barons or Baronesses any more. Personally I hope it won’t happen as it’s a good system – the Lords can consider Bills in more detail and at more leisure than the elected House of Commons, and they often make useful amendments thanks to the expertise that exists amongst the life peers.

    The other way to become a Lady is to marry a Lord, as a woman always takes her husband’s title. It only works for women as it doesn’t work the other way round – that’s just the way it’s always been going back to the days before sex equality. That’s also why a Queen’s husband isn’t a King, but a King’s wife is a Queen. Or marry a knight or a baronet – the wife of a “Sir” gets the title of “Lady”.


  3. Comic Relief January 9, 2013 at 8:40 PM #

    I’m hoping to get some answers from Ozzie, yet I really perplexed by our relationship with the U.K.

    I just found out Star Wars was largely filmed in the U.K.

  4. Comic Relief January 9, 2013 at 8:41 PM #

    What I don’t understand is why it is that the English seem so much like us in many ways, but so different in so many others.

    • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:28 PM #

      Please explain this statement CR.

      • Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 7:56 PM #


        If I could make sense of what I was saying I would not have questions.
        This might seem disorganized, but I will try anyway…..

        If the countries actual history of invasions wasn’t bad enough1, every decade for the last 40 years the Brits have executed an invasion or another on these shores.
        • 1960’s Literature
        • 1970’s Rock
        • 1980’s Fashion
        • 1990’s Visual art
        • 2000’s Acting

        Actually I could go on….
        I guess I don’t know why we’re so connected when we appear to be so different.

        [1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2227705/The-British-coming-Over-centuries-weve-invaded-staggering-90-worlds-nations.html

        • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:59 PM #

          We’re really not all that different. The difference comes from the monarchial traditions that they still have. Americans don’t have a monarchy

          • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:10 PM #

            Yeah! But the Brits really know how to give a party. Hahahaha!

            • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 8:13 PM #

              That is true. 🙂

          • Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 8:13 PM #

            I recognize those distinctions yet it’s the mutual facination that seems good for both parties. 🙂

  5. parisienne January 9, 2013 at 9:59 PM #

    They are cooler than us. LOL!

  6. parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:06 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

    • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:10 PM #

      Hi Paris!

  7. Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:11 PM #

    CR-Will be late tonight.

  8. parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:13 PM #

    Hi OB!

    • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:25 PM #

      I’m a little disappointed their are no foreign Dame’s. Also, George Bush really? I wonder which one?

      • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:31 PM #

        The father. http://articles.latimes.com/1993-12-01/news/mn-62855_1_queen-elizabeth-s-court

        • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:33 PM #

          Thank GOD!

          • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:35 PM #

            LOL. I’m sure he’s pleased. God that is.

            • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:38 PM #

              Well it would be worth seeing the look on Queen Elizabeth’s face though.

              • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:40 PM #

                It would but we don’t want her to have a heart attack or something. Charles is having to much fun not being King

                • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:42 PM #

                  I’m sure that would be a good time to take a sick day.

  9. Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:19 PM #

    CR- Great article. Wow! This is really informative. Its interesting to see those of foreign origin who’s received a Knight title. No Dame’s? What’s up with that? Hahaha!

  10. parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:23 PM #

    Dame Helen Mirren is on there.

    • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:26 PM #

      Yes, but I’m talking Non-Brits

      • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:41 PM #

        I saw Bill Gates on the list above. I know of one Bill Gates. He’s American and owns Microsoft, lol! I’ll have to look it up…

        • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:45 PM #

          Yes, it’s that Bill Gates! He got a KBG in 2005.

  11. ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 7:23 PM #

    Hello everyone!

    Cool article! It was a great history refresher and I learned a few things too! 🙂

    • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:27 PM #

      Hi Ozzie!

    • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:35 PM #

      Does the public get to see these ceremonies?

      • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:39 PM #

        I think so. I’ve seen a few on YT

        • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:41 PM #

          Really? I’m going to try and find one.

          • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:49 PM #


            • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:01 PM #

              Ah! Thank u. Big HUG!!!

            • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:06 PM #

              How heavy are the swords? Do women get them as well?

              • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:11 PM #

                See now I want a sword.

              • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 8:12 PM #

                They don’t get swords. She just touches their shoulders with it.

                • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:14 PM #

                  Oh! Queen Elizabeth is so cool. I still want my own sword.

                  • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 8:20 PM #


                  • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 8:23 PM #

                    The people get a medal and an honor. No sword. That stays with Queen Elizabeth.

                    • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:25 PM #

                      Ah! Shucks I would say keep the medal I’ll take the sword.

      • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:23 PM #

        As Paris has said, yes! I have no idea if the whole ceremony is recorded or what happens with it (I assume it’s so those who are honoured can take it home with them) but clips are shown on the news.

    • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:36 PM #


      What did you learn?

      • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:12 PM #

        It was anything under a “sir” or “dame” is still part of a knighthood. They’re not really refered to as that. They’re mostly called honours. So there are those that a given a knighthood (sir or dame) and those that are honoured (GBE, KBE, CBE, OBE, MBE and CH).

        I hope that makes sense, lol!

        • Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 8:15 PM #

          I wondered whether some of that might sound different on the street. Thank you.

          • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:29 PM #

            Kind of off topic but if someone you know but don’t like has an OBE, you say it stands for Other Buggers’ Efforts, lol! I’m sure there are insults for the others, that’s the only one I know!

    • Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 7:59 PM #

      Cool, maybe you’ll help make some of this easier to understand.

  12. parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:24 PM #

    Hi Ozzie!

    • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:29 PM #

      Hi Paris!

  13. Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 7:35 PM #

    Hi everyone, catching up.

    • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:35 PM #

      Hi CR!

      Take your time. I have lot’s of questions to ask Ozzie! Hahaha!

  14. Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:40 PM #


    Do u know anyone that’s a Knight or Dame?

    • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:16 PM #

      Nope! Not personally. I’ve been in rooms (parties, etc) with a few but never actually known them.

      • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:19 PM #

        How cool.

        Ozzie do u own a sword?

        • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:32 PM #

          Nope! I would like one though! I’m pretty sure there are laws over what you can own and how you store them. A bit like there is for guns. Not sure it would be worth the hassle, lol!

  15. Open Book January 10, 2013 at 7:44 PM #

    I wonder can u buy these titles?

    • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 7:56 PM #

      I don’t think so. From my knowledge they are recommended by the government.

      I put a video up top for you.

      They brought the sword for her but she didn’t use it.

      • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:04 PM #

        Is that a real sword?

        • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 8:11 PM #

          I don’t know but it looks real so I guess so.

          • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:16 PM #

            Gosh if its real and I had to touch someone’s shoulder a few ears would get severed for sure.

    • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:19 PM #

      Buy? Not as far as I know but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did go on. It’s usually nomination. Anyone can be nominated as long as they’ve done something worthwhile or for the community.

      • Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:21 PM #

        So Brits are different than Americans after all. Hahaha!

  16. Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:22 PM #


    Do u own a sword?

    • parisienne January 10, 2013 at 8:24 PM #

      No I don’t. 🙂

  17. Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 8:27 PM #

    Since the US doesn’t participate it hard to know how these events are perceived in other western countries. Does England see these honors as being competitive?

    Paul Verhoeven — Knighted by The Netherlands in April, 2007
    Salma Hayek To Be Knighted In France 2013

    • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:37 PM #

      Do you mean competition between countries? Not as far as I’m aware. Between the people honoured? Probably!

    • Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 8:39 PM #

      Looking at the clip, you might have noticed France doesn’t necessarily knight everyone the Brits do and the opposite is equally true.

      • Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 8:40 PM #

        Thanks, I think you confirmed by suspicion.

        • Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 8:53 PM #

          “by” = “my”

        • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:58 PM #

          Sorry, I hadn’t looked at the clip! I know the French do have them (or the equivalent) but I’ve forgotten their name. I did meet a French viscount at a party in his hunting lodge when I was 7. Nice man but the lodge smelt of must and dead stuffed animals that hung on the walls, lol!

  18. Open Book January 10, 2013 at 8:28 PM #


    I have to go. Great discussion and article CR. I learned a lot.


    • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 8:38 PM #

      Night OB!

  19. parisienne January 10, 2013 at 8:37 PM #

    I have to go as well. Great discussion.

    • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 9:00 PM #

      Night Paris!

  20. Comic Relief January 10, 2013 at 8:48 PM #


    Seems like the brits derive so much cultural pride and direction from the monarchy yet the occassional cultural challenges to the monarchy persist. It’s amazing that so many are willing to reject the monarchy when they feel challenged by it’s checkered history.

    For the visitor, is one likely to see this kind of debate go on in public in the country or not?

    • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 9:28 PM #

      Sure! Just go to Speaker’s Corner or sometimes Parliment Square in London. Speaker’s Corner is great! Sane people and crazy people preaching in the same space. I wonder what happened to the 2012 loons…

      Back on topic! Those are good places to see debates. Also parliament sessions are televised (it’s boring unless you catch a good arguement going on). The newspapers are always up in arms over something. So yes, it’s pretty public.

      I hope that’s what you meant! My brain is starting to shut down for the night so I’m getting confused over things, lol!

      • ozzie20 January 10, 2013 at 9:30 PM #

        I forgot to add these!


        It’ll explain things better than my little tired brain could do tonight!

      • Comic Relief January 11, 2013 at 2:34 PM #


        I’m just amazed that you can stay up as long as you do. I am not a night person at all! In fact I start to turn off (involuntarily) the minute our discussions are over and that’s around 9:00. Ask O.B., after 9:00 many of our conversations end with me falling asleep, (and “no” not because I’m bored).

        I’m embarrassed to say it. I can wake up any time after one (and frequently do) but staying up that long is reeeeaaaally difficult for me. Your stamina leaves me in awe every time we have a discussion.

        • Comic Relief January 11, 2013 at 2:39 PM #

          Back on topic; thanks for the links they were fantastic. Now, I want to plan to visit.

      • Comic Relief January 11, 2013 at 2:41 PM #


        That’s what impresses me about England. The exceptionally long, powerful, and regal monarchal past matched with an incomparable contemporary social conscience.
        • Yes, they were some of the first to institute slavery but they were also some of the first to get out of the practice as well.
        • Many American’s think you guys are way too caught up in the past but you had your first female Prime minister back in the 1980’s.
        • Many American’s and Obama specifically used England as an example for a better health care system.
        • England ban on America’s bioengineered food is my latest case of U.K. envy.

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