Why These Americans Are Honorary British Knights and Dames

By Mary Jane Maxwell

One doesn’t necessarily have to be British — or even an aristocrat — to know what it’s like to be “knighted” by the reigning monarch of England.

Several dozen Americans, upon recommendation of both the British government and the monarchy, have become honorary knights (males) or dames (females) in recognition for their valuable service to the U.K. and the world.

While the British government and Crown often select high-ranking American civil and military officers to award this privilege, others achieve honorary knighthood through their contributions to the arts and sciences, public works and humanitarian service.

Unlike their British counterparts, non-British recipients are not permitted to use the titles “Sir” or “Lady” in front of their names. But they are entitled to add initials after their names that correspond to the particular distinctions bestowed upon them.

For example, Queen Elizabeth II in 2001 awarded the American evangelist Billy Graham with the Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his international contribution to religious life, enabling him to add the letters K.B.E. after his name.

When then-General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower was running the Allied campaign against the Germans in 1943, he received the Most Honorable Order of the Bath, Knight Grand Cross, an order established by King George I in 1725 in recognition of military service or exemplary civilian merit. Eisenhower received an additional British Order of Merit a few years later and became president of the United States in 1953.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush both received the Most Honorable Order of the Bath, Knight Grand Cross shortly following their presidential terms of office for their support in British foreign affairs.

And Queen Elizabeth II made American actress and U.N. Special Envoy Angelina Jolie an honorary dame in 2014 in recognition of her campaign against rape in war zones. In a private ceremony, the queen presented Jolie with the insignia of an Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, an honor reserved for people who have rendered important non-military service in a foreign land or in foreign affairs.

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