When America, as we know it today, was originally colonised around the 17th century, it inherited many of the cultural systems of the countries that founded the early colonies.

As Britain was one of the countries that staked a considerable claim on what would become modern-day North America, there were many cultural souvenirs of British history within the evolution of the new nation. 

The early British settlers were often devout British subjects who were devoted to the country and the monarchs who ruled it, and this sense of deference and respect was upheld in the blossoming new American towns and cities that began to emerge. 

This can be seen even today in some of the place names that were chosen as the fledgling country developed, with many being a variation of places from the early settlers’ homelands. 

New York (though originally New Amsterdam) was named after the English city of York, and the state of Virginia was named in honour of The English monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, who was known as the virgin queen. 

Walker Art Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So, in the early days of the evolution of America, the social system was very much influenced by the British system of royalty and nobility, with all its legendary Counts, Barons, Knights and Lords. 

Aristocracy and Modern Day America

Modern America has changed much since then, and one aspect of the early colonies that failed to survive the American War of Independence was this social system of nobility. 

When America became a republic, it spelt the end of the social hierarchy known as the aristocracy, and with its break from Britain, there was no longer a place for the culture of noble titles bestowed by a monarch. 

As America grew in its independence from Britain, it assumed a much more egalitarian and democratic approach to society and shunned the age-old hierarchical system of nobility that had thrived in Europe for centuries. 

The new systems of government that developed were staunchly republican and fiercely averse to any culture or arbitrary privileges such as the appointment of noble titles in reward for loyal service or charitable works. 

As a result, for the citizens of the new America, there was no opportunity for them to rise within the social order and be honoured by their Government with a noble title, such as a Knighthood or a Lordship. 

This remains true today, meaning that Americans cannot receive a knighthood from their own country, because America is a republic and doesn’t recognise the system of formal nobility that can be found in many other countries around the world where a monarchy or royal equivalent has endured. 

However, social systems do tend to develop along similar lines the world over, with a central government that awards certain honours, rights or privileges to its citizens for certain achievements or endeavours, and America is no exception. 

The United States’ Honours System

While the republican nation doesn’t issue honours like a knighthood, as happens every year in England for example, it does have certain awards that are presented to individuals of merit and distinction within American society. 

For example, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is widely regarded as the American equivalent of a British knighthood or MBE. It’s a similar level of honourable recognition in that it is only awarded to a select few individuals, who have made a significant contribution to the country, in the fields of security, world peace, cultural achievements or some other type of valuable attainment. 

Toma2552, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This American honour is comparable to the British tradition of bestowing knighthoods on worthy citizens, though it does not yet have the historic legacy and enduring nobility of the more conventional knighthoods.  

Americans Knighted in the British Honours System

There is another option available to citizens from the US who dream of attaining a knighthood, and this is due to some of the remaining Orders of Knights around the world that allow foreign nationals to be admitted into their ranks. 

For example, the legendary British system of knighthoods has historically acknowledged the achievements and endeavours of American citizens by granting them honours within the Order of The British Empire, sometimes at the level of Knighthood or Damehood. 

Notable Americans who achieved such lofty status within the British social system include; 

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

So, even though America, as a republic, doesn’t officially recognise titles of nobility or grant honours such as a knighthood, Americans can be knighted in an honorary way, and they can belong to chivalry orders of organisations in other parts of the world. 

As is reflected in the range of Americans who have been knighted, noteworthy citizens from all industries, sectors and occupations have an opportunity to rise within the echelons of society and attain recognition for their service, contribution or body of work. 

Such remarkable contributions can result in the esteemed bestowal of honours, even from the monarch of a foreign country, and as a result, the noble title of Knight or Dame is available to American citizens. 

An alternative route for US citizens

While the above routes to a knighthood (or the American equivalent) open up the possibilities for American nationals to rise within society, there is an alternative route that the Founding Fathers would likely claim as a reflection of the American Way, and that’s the practice of purchasing a noble title of Knight. 

While these opportunities may be extremely rare in modern times, there are still occasions when knighthoods become available for purchase, usually through specialist agents who have unique connections with such exclusive vendors. And these opportunities are usually available to citizens of all nations, assuming they fit the other criteria required, such as the relevant means and identity checks. 

So, for those Americans who are drawn to the idea of becoming an official Knight or Dame, it’s possible to fast-track the process of attaining honours in recognition of a life’s work, and pursue the modern approach of simply purchasing a genuine noble title – a practice that has been conducted throughout the finest noble systems of the world, and still endures today.