Nobody Wants to Be a Knight Anymore

Nobody Wants to Be a Knight Anymore
Illustration:Wellcome Collection

Most of what I know of knighthood comes from Disney’s Sword in the Stone, but I have seen it multiple times and thus am an expert. And as an expert, I can definitively say that there is one main way a person becomes either an officer, commander, or member of the now-defunct Order of the British Empire and that is by being an orange-haired jerk or his himbo son. However, apparently, there is a second way: The UK government and crown will just sell the titles to folks who don’t even live in leaky castles.

And according to The Guardian, some would-be knights are taking umbrage at this path to knighthood, along with the brutal, racist, murderous history of the Order of the British Empire. In the past nine years, 443 people have said no to knighthood, double the number from previous years. Lynn Faulds Wood, who was offered the honor for hosting the television series Watchdog, says she really doesn’t want to be given a title it seems like anyone can buy:

“I’ve changed laws and I’ve helped saved a lot of people’s lives, so maybe I’m deserving of an honour, but I just wouldn’t accept it while we still have party donors donating huge amounts of money and getting an honour.”

After all, the 700-year-old title was intended for the purpose of creating knights to act as the “feudal vassals of political leaders,” as historian Sarah Douglas writes for Ohio State University, not political vassals for capitalist leaders. It wasn’t until the “Victorian Era when the idea was [of chivalry] embraced by an increasingly politically marginalized aristocracy and authors who wanted to spin creative tales of pageantry and adventure,” that the term knight became synonymous with “fancy English person who is good and helps people,” a definition others, like Howard Gayle, Liverpool Football Club’s first black player, anti-racism advocate, and knighthood refuser, rightly take some issue with:

“This is a decision that I have had to make and there will be others who may feel different and would enjoy the attraction of being a Member of the British Empire and those three letters after their name, but I feel that it would be a betrayal to all of the Africans who have lost their lives, or who have suffered as a result of empire,” Gayle said.

History’s other famous “refuseniks” include Aldous Huxley, Roald Dahl, and Nigella Lawson. In 2020, 68 people out of 2,504 turned down the Queen’s offer of celebrating her birthday by adopting a title that hasn’t meant anything since the Magna Carta was the hot new trend in human rights, which still leaves a goodly number of Brits who presumably want the letters and, I’m assuming, the specially engraved sword that comes with. Listen, Queen Elizabeth, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure you are), take the advice of someone who has read a lot of books containing the letter “u” in weird places and has seen a cartoon movie enough times to know how your government works: The title already belongs to Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellan, any one of whom is adequate, with the set being a compliment to the crown for at least the next 700 years. Your work in this space is done.

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