American citizens with honorary British knighthoods and damehoods

Ahead of Thanksgiving in the United States, we look at some of the notable American citizens who have received honorary British knighthoods and damehoods.

American Sirs Dames Honorary

Can foreign nationals receive knighthoods or damehoods from the Queen?

Any British national can receive an honour in the British honours system. However, the Foreign Office does also recommend honorary awards for citizens of countries that do not have the Queen as their head of state to be approved by Her Majesty the Queen.

In these cases, the awards are ‘honorary’. Should someone receive an honorary knighthood or damehood, the recipient is entitled to place initials after his/her name. However, unlike citizens of countries that do have the Queen as their head of state, they are not entitled to style themselves ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’.

Recipients of honorary awards who later become British nationals may also apply to convert their awards to substantive ones, as was the case with violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, Baron Menuhin – who would also go on to receive the Order of Merit (Gazette issue 50849) and a life peerage (Gazette issue 53332) – and business executive Dame Marjorie Scardino.

Americans who have been awarded an honorary knighthood or damehood

For over a century, US citizens have received honorary British knighthoods and damehoods. For example, US Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, and Dwight D Eisenhower all became Knights of the Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. Eisenhower also became an honorary member of the Order of Merit in 1945 for running the Allied campaign during World War 2. (Gazette issue 38205)

In the world of entertainment and the arts, Bob Hope became a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1998, while more recently Getty Images co-founder Mark Getty was similarly honoured in 2015. Getty’s father, Paul Getty was also awarded an honorary knighthood in 1986 for services to causes ranging from cricket, to art and to the Conservative Party. His honorary knighthood would eventually become substantive in 1997 upon the required acquisition of British citizenship.

Other famous names to receive honorary knighthoods and damehoods include Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates, who received her damehood in 2013 for humanitarian work. Angelina Jolie also became a Dame Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George in 2014 for her services to the United Kingdom's foreign policy and for campaigning to end sexual violence in war zones.

Famous Americans with knighthoods or damehoods

Here is a selected list of notable Americans who have been awarded with an honorary knighthood or damehood:

  • George H W Bush GCB
  • Dwight D Eisenhower GCB
  • Bill Gates KBE
  • Melinda Gates DBE
  • Mark Getty KBE
  • Paul Getty KBE
  • Billy Graham KBE
  • J Edgar Hoover KBE
  • Bob Hope KBE
  • Angelina Jolie DCMG
  • Ralph Lauren KBE
  • Yehudi Menuhin, Baron Menuhin KBE
  • André Previn KBE
  • Ronald Reagan GCB
  • Dame Marjorie Scardino DBE
  • Steven Spielberg KBE

See also

Everything you need to know about nominating someone for a UK honour

What is the difference between a CBE, OBE, MBE and a knighthood?

Find out more

Types of honours and awards (

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 25 November 2019