Just don't call him 'Sir' — Kennedy receives knighthood

Sen. Edward Kennedy in April 2006.
Sen. Edward Kennedy in April 2006. Chuck Kennedy / MCT

WASHINGTON — The Kennedy Camelot mystique gained a new chapter Wednesday as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that Queen Elizabeth II has bestowed honorary knighthood on Sen. Edward Kennedy.

"I want to announce that Her Majesty The Queen has awarded an honorary Knighthood for Sir Edward Kennedy," Brown told a joint session of Congress to an eruption of cheers.

Though Brown called Kennedy 'Sir,' he technically can't. Under British rules, only British nationals can actually formally receive an honor from the Queen. Awards for non-nationals are honorary and don't come with the seal of the Crown. Instead of 'Sir' at the front of his name, Kennedy will have 'K.B.E. — Knight of the British Empire — after it.

Brown called the Massachusetts Democrat one of America's "most distinguished senators, known in every continent and a great friend. Northern Ireland is today at peace, more Americans have health care, more children around the world are going to school, and for all those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of Senator Edward Kennedy."

Kennedy, 77 and battling a brain tumor, wasn't in the House of Representatives chamber to hear the announcement. He issued a statement saying the honor "is moving and personal . . . . I accept this honor in the spirit in which it is given, with a continuing commitment to be a voice for the voiceless and for the shared ideals of freedom and fairness which are so fundamental to the character of our two countries."

Kennedy noted that his oldest brother, Joseph, who was killed in World War II, and his next oldest brother, John, the slain president, each had a special tie to Great Britain.

"It was from Britain that my oldest brother left for his last mission during World War II. It is in Britain that a portion of land at Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was signed, is now designated as American soil and dedicated to President Kennedy as a gift of the British people."

Kennedy isn't the only American politician to be awarded honorary knighthood by the queen. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was bestowed the honor in 2002 for helping steer New York through the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Last month the British government announced that the queen would make former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., an honorary Knight Commander in recognition of his efforts to strengthen the bond between Britain and the U.S. In 1988, former Sen. Charles "Mac" Mathias, R-Md., won a similar honor.


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