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Stripping people of knighthoods and peerages after death

honour medals

When someone who has been honoured is disgraced while still alive, there is a procedure to remove some of the honours previously awarded to them. Sir Anthony Blunt became plain Mr Blunt again when it was revealed that the Queen’s art advisor had been a Soviet spy and recruiter. Similarly OBEs and the like have been stripped from disgraced beneficiaries.

The Jimmy Savile case raised cries for this to be done posthumously, in that Savile died before allegations of child abuse surfaced. Cooler heads pointed out that the award is for life, and ‘dies’ with the person. Despite this, it is a common cry when someone’s alleged crimes are only revealed posthumously. The case of Sir Cyril Smith, a one-time Lib-Dem MP, is one of the most recent. It seems unfair to some that these people escaped unscathed by death from the obloquy they should have faced.

Posthumous removal of honours would open a very large can of worms. Many famous characters from the past would be potential candidates. Should Richard III be stripped of his kingship because of the princes in the Tower? A standing committee would be needed to review cases that were presented and to conduct investigations. And since it would not be sufficient for a dead person to be simply accused of undeserving behaviour, some procedure would be needed to establish their guilt or innocence. Such a procedure could not, of course, hear their defence or give them their day in court. Issues such as these make it likely that when the outrage has died down, the dead will be allowed to stay dead, with their reputations tainted but their honours intact.

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2 Responses

  1. IMHO it is a reminder to not let our guard down in the face of ‘doing good works’

  2. And if honours die as some suggest, why is Sir Cyril Smith OBE still described as such on his Wikipedia page?

    I’m equally unhappy with official ‘apologies’ issued to those long dead. I mean, could you subsequently retract an apology if it was found to be wrongly given? Or could you re-award a knighthood if it was found to have been wrongly stripped away? Could a future Labour government ever strip Margaret Thatcher of her peerage? Could they retroactively remove her as Prime Minister?

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