Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

British honours system

The honours system of the United Kingdom is a means of awarding those, deserving on merit, for achievement or service to the country. The awards exist within a graduated series of importance and with names sometimes dating back centuries.

The recipients are chosen by the Sovereign, who is the 'fountain of honour', acting upon the advice of the Prime Minister. Private nominations are also made to the Prime Minister's Office and foreign nationals are recommended by the Foreign Secretary. Commonwealth governments are also entitled to recommend their citizens for British orders, though most have established their own honours systems. Certain honours are awarded at the personal discretion of the monarch.

Honours are usually conferred twice a year - on the Sovereign's official birthday and at the New Year. There is usually an elaborate ceremony for bestowing honours, the most famous of which is the well-known "knighting" ceremony, in which the sovereign taps the recipient on the shoulder with a ceremonial sword.

Honours are sometimes refused or returned; see list of people who have declined a British honour.

Table of contents
1 Honours conferred
2 Orders of Chivalry and other orders
3 Honorary Awards
4 See also

Honours conferred

Orders of Chivalry and other orders

Containing only grade, which is knightly:

Divided into three grades (Knight or Dame Grand Cross, Knightor Dame Commander, and Companion), the two highest being knightly:

Divided into five grades (Knight or Dame Grand Cross, Knight or Dame Commander, Commander, Officer or Lieutenant, and Member), the two highest being knightly:

Containing only one grade, which is not knightly:


Several orders became obsolete in the twentieth century:

Honorary Awards

Citizens of countries which do not recognise the Queen as head of state sometimes have honours conferred upon them, in which case the awards are "honorary" - the holders are entitled to place initials behind their name but not style themselves "Sir ...". Examples of foreigners with honorary knighthoods are Bob Geldof and Rudolph Giuliani, while Arsène Wenger and Gerard Houllier have honorary OBE's. Recipients of honorary awards who later become subjects of Her Majesty may apply to convert their awards to substantive awards.

There is no law preventing foreigners from holding a peerage, though only Commonwealth citizens can sit in the House of Lords. However, the Canadian prime minister was able to advise the Queen not to grant Conrad Black a titular honour while he remained a Canadian citizen.

See also