Philanthropy and Honours in the British Empire

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One of the main ways in which the British Empire rewarded philanthropy among British and imperial subjects was the honours system, an elaborate, hierarchical collection of awards and orders of chivalry. In its symbolism and rhetoric this system supplied a trans-imperial, color-blind judgment of both service and rank. This article uses discourses about honours to examine the formal and informal ways in which class, culture and race factored into public and private judgments about the relative worthiness of different kinds of philanthropy. In practice, British officials and elites were often cynical about the motivations of people outside of Britain and outside of traditional social elites, while applying less rigorous standards of intention to philanthropists within traditional elites in Britain. Inconsistencies in public debates and private judgments about merit in the honours system undermined its authority in the empire/former empire.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-276
Number of pages20
JournalNew Global Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • British history
  • class
  • honours system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


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