Married Couples Being Knighted

For no reason I suddenly have a question about the honours list. Has the UK ever made both halves of a married couple Sir and Dame at the same time? What about at different times?

How many women, if any, were ever granted life peerages via the list (or hereditary ones before that became almost obsolete)? And how many of them had titled partners?

Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis was knighted, becoming Sir Denis Thatcher, while she was still in office. This made her, technically, Lady Thatcher, but she didn’t use the title. Then, after her resignation, she herself was made a life peer, also entitling her to be Lady Thatcher, and at this point she did use the title.

Ian Paisley was made a life peer earlier this year. His wife, Eileen Paisley, had already become a life peer in 2006.

It’s not unusual for women to be granted life peerages. I don’t have any global figures but, of the 8 life peerages created in 2009, 2 went to women. It was 2 out of 10 in 2008, 5 out of 18 in 2007.

Here’s a link to the list of all life peerages granted under the *Life Peerages Act *since 1958. After a quick look through I’d estimate that there have been about 200 women granted life peerages.

Far fewer women have been granted hereditary peerages. They generally tended to be conferred on kings’ mistresses or on the widows of men who died before achieving the honour.

A recent example of a married couple being honoured together were the historians, Sir David Cannadine and Linda Colley, in the 2009 New Years honours list. He became a knight bachelor, while she received a CBE.

An example of two being honoured separately would be Dame Cleo Laine and her late husband, Sir John Dankworth. She became a DBE in 1997, whereas he had to wait until 2006 to become a knight bachelor.

But what both these cases illustrate is the anomaly that there is no exact female equivalent of a knight bachelor. To be made a Dame of one of the orders of chivalry is usually thought to be the female equivalent of a knighthood and they do indeed rank equal with a Knight Commander or Knight Grand Cross of that same order. But a knight bachelor ranks slightly below them. And a CBE ranks slightly below a knight bachelor. Indeed, Colley ranks higher as the wife of a knight bachelor than she does as a CBE in her own right. The only way round this problem would have been to give the husbands a knighthood in one of the orders of chivalry, but presumably the convention that arty or academic types become knight bachelors overrode this. One can also imagine the Honours Committee making the very fine judgement that Dame Cleo and Sir David were, in the last analysis, ever so slightly more eminent than their spouses.

Denis Thatcher was made a Baronet (which is hereditary) which gave his wife the courtesy title of Lady Thatcher but did not disbar her from continuing to sit in the House of Commons. After she left the Commons she was offered a Life Peerage, as ex-Prime Ministers usually are. Some sections of the media consistently refer to her as ‘Baroness Thatcher’ which emphasizes that she holds the title in her own right rather than as an adjunct of her late husband. Other Baronesses are often refereed to in this distinctive style as well.
You can hear ‘Lady Thatcher’ almost as commonly in the media, though.


Sir Robert and Dame Pattie Menzies. Dame Pattie was granted her title in 1954, 9 years before Sir Robert in 1963.

Sir Winston Churchill’s widow was created Baroness Spencer-Churchill shortly after her husband’s death.She had previously got a GBE in 1946, though I don’t recall ever hearing of it before now.

I don’t know if this is an appropriate place to ask, or if a new thread ought to be created… however, I’m wondering why and how an American would be made into a British peer? I believe that Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Anthony Hopkins have both been knighted, but to what purpose? Did the queen of England really like Silence of the Lambs or Jesus Christ Superstar and decide to confer knighthood upon them? Can you say no if you’re offered this “privilege”? What are the perks of being a peer in the US? What’s the POINT!? Do you get dual-citizenship along with it? Do they grant knights a fiefdom or ladies-in-waiting or something?

From the scant reading I’ve done on wikipedia, Americans are not legally allowed to claim the title of Sir, because of something in the US Constitution. I’d appreciate clarification on that, too.

It used to be customary to grant a former PM an earldom as a retirement honour (though Labour PMs usually declined). Because of his role in WWII Sir Winston was offered a dukedom (a new title, Duke of London), but he declined because his eldest son was interested in a political career (for which he to be in the House of Commons, not the Lords). He would’ve been the first PM since Horatio Nelson to be created a duke.

Knighthood or damehood is not the same as being a peer. Peers are either life peers, who sit in the House of Lords (a bit like the Senate, but much less powerful), or hereditary peers who no longer have seats in the Lords (some hereditary peers became life peers in the reforms a few years ago. and continue to be members of the House of Lords).

People like Anthony Hopkins and Elton John are not peers. They have been knighted, that is given senior rank in various ceremonial orders such as the Order of the British Empire. Therere are lower ranks such as Commander, Officer, Member. These awards are purely honorary. The only perk is the prestige of people calling you Sir this or Dame that, or Fred Bloggs OBE or whatever.

Non-Brits sometimes have these awards conferred on them. The custom is that they don’t use the “Sir” or “Dame”, if they are given one of the “Knight Commander”-level gongs. So Bill Gates, for example, is an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Were he British, he could call himself Sir Bill.

People do turn down awards, or make it known that they would not accept one (I believe Stephen Fry is one - it certainly seems odd that he is not at least an MBE, anyway). And people sometimes give them back in protest, such as John Lennon, former MBE.

Most of the awards are decided by the government, other parliamentary parties, and various committees. The Queen does dish out a few to royal staff and so on, but it probably wouldn’t have been her who decided that Andrew Lloyd Webber got one. I guess they might run things past her as a courtesy.

Too late to correct that: apparently, you can’t renounce membership of an order. Lennon return his medal as a protest against the Vietnam war, but strictly speaking remained an MBE.

Lloyd Webber isn’t an American. And Hopkins was knighted prior to becoming an American citizen.

Actually you only need to be a citizen of one of the 16 countries that Queen Elizabeth is also queen of. So an Australian, or New Zealander, or Jamaican could be made a knight and use Sir or Dame in front of his/her name. New Zealand even has knighthoods of it’s own (so did Australia, briefly). In theory Canadians can also be knighted, but ever since the Nickle Resolution in 1919 the Canadian government has advised the monarch no to grant titular honours to Canadians. There were a few exceptions after WWII. THis applies to peerages too (Conrad Black had to give up his Canadian citizenship to become Lord Black).

It gets tricky with family. For example, Richard Attenborough is Lord Attenborough, due to being given a life baronetcy. His brother David is only Sir David, although there is no doubt that he has been offered as high a life peerage as his elder brother, but it isn’t compulsory to accept. He remains Sir David. Thing is though, Sir David’s knighthood is of a very high order, and even more so he is Companion of Honour and Order of Merit, two distinctions that are much more in the Monarch’s gift, and limited to a small number of living people. To be Sir David, OM, CH, CVO, CBE is about as much of an honour that this country can give. (Except for the Victoria Cross and the George Cross) Well, I suppose that a hereditary Dukedom is possible, but when Churchill (no stranger to aristocracy) turned his down then that was that.

Thanks for the correction. I guess I always just assumed LW was American because his musicals are so trite and watered-down. Like the light beer of an art form. Not to say I don’t occasionally enjoy ALW musicals or light beer… but to say they’re good would be a stretch.

But on-topic: lots of very helpful and eminently more readable information provided here. Thanks to everyone! I read the wiki page and my head was just swimming with incomprehension.

Viscount Nelson was never PM, nor a Duke (not a British one, anyway).

Are you thinking of the Duke of Wellington? but he got his dukedom for his military service, not as PM.

A current example of a husband and wife both holding peerages in their own right (rather than knighthoods): the former cricketer Lord Cowdrey (a life barony) and Lady Herries of Terregles (a hereditary lordship in the peerage of Scotland).

A recent example of a husband and wife both holding hereditary peerages in their own right: the 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma and the 7th Baron Brabourne.

Any current examples of gay couples where both have been knighted?