Giuliani joins a distinguished club

CNN | February 13, 2002
By Dylan Reynolds

LONDON, England -- When Rudolph Giuliani received his honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday, he joined an exclusive club with a membership dating back to ancient Rome.

Giuliani received the award in recognition for his work following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Honorary knighthoods are awarded by the queen, on the advice of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to those who have made an important contribution to relations between their country and Britain.

Unlike British citizens, those receiving honorary knighthoods are not dubbed (touched on the shoulder with a sword while kneeling), and Giuliani will not be able to refer to himself as "Sir Rudolph."

Giuliani will, however, be awarded a medal making him a Knight of the British Empire -- an order dating back to 1917. He will also be able to use the letters KBE after his name.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Walter Rogers said: "It means that when he goes to white-tie dinners, he will wear that medal around his neck, with his white-tie outfit."

Previous foreign citizens with honorary knighthoods include the former U.S. Secretary of State Caspar Weinberger, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and former French President Francois Mitterrand.

Riding into war

The origins of knighthood are obscure, but they are said to date back to ancient Rome.

Since then, knighthood has evolved -- it is no longer awarded solely for military merit, and Giuliani will not be expected to take up arms on behalf of the queen.
Today, recipients of knighthoods range from teachers to scientists, and from actors to industrialists.

Historians say the use of the term "knight" in England may have come from the Anglo-Saxon word "cnyht" or "cnite," meaning "military follower."

Knighthood became established in many European countries, and a would-be knight would undergo strict military training from boyhood -- including some time as an assistant to a knight with whom he rode to war.
He would also have to prove himself worthy by displaying chivalry, generosity, self-denial, bravery and fighting skills.

In addition, he would need enough money to provide himself with weapons, armour, horses and a number of armed followers.

The conferment of knighthood involved strict religious rites including fasting, a vigil, bathing, confession and absolution before the ceremony took place.

The original method of knighting was that used on battlefields, when the candidate knelt before the royal commander of the army and was touched on the back and shoulder with his sword.

The second method involved greater ceremony, which could include the offering by the knight of his sword on the altar.

Although the monarch's "lieutenants in the wars" and a few others of high birth could knight others, successive monarchs began to limit the power to confer knighthood -- particularly Henry VIII. Eventually, it became the custom for monarchs to confer all knighthoods personally.

However, knighthoods were not necessarily always popular -- many preferred to avoid an honour which could cause them great expense and inconvenience.

The alternative to knighthood was the payment of a fine instead of military service, and kings such as Edward II, James I and Charles I found such fines a handy source of income for the crown.

Public humiliation

In extreme cases, when a knight was found guilty of treachery or treason, he could lose his honour by formal degradation -- a public ceremony in which the award was stripped from him.

The last public degradation was in 1621 at Westminster Hall, when Sir Francis Mitchell had his spurs broken and thrown away, his belt cut and his sword broken over his head. Currently, a person can be stripped of his knighthood if convicted of a criminal offence.

Today, the queen usually confers knighthood in Britain. After the name of the knight-elect is announced, they kneel on a knighting-stool in front of the queen who then lays the sword blade on their right and then left shoulder.

Contrary to popular belief, the words "Arise, Sir" are not used, and the queen then invests the knight with a star or badge, depending on the order.