Ten of Scotland’s most reluctant peers

For many, the ultimate honour would be to have a title bestowed upon them.

But they’re not for  everyone.

We highlight 10 Scots to have renounced titles or declined Earldoms, knighthoods or gongs.

1. To the manor born

As Scotland’s senior nobleman, the titles bestowed on Angus Douglas-Hamilton (1938-2010), 15th Duke of Hamilton, included Keeper of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and hereditary bearer of the Crown of Scotland to the Parliament of Scotland. Yet the Duke of Hamilton styled himself simply as Angus Hamilton on his business cards and is said to have given up shopping at Edinburgh department store Jenners in favour of his local Tesco. He made a name for himself as an aviator and a racing car driver, and for restoring parts of Lennoxlove House in East Lothian by hand.

2. Tribune of the people

The son of a Scottish merchant, William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98) served as Prime Minister on four occasions, more than any other politician. He clashed repeatedly with Queen Victoria, who described him as a ‘halfmad firebrand’. His relationship with the Queen may have been one of the reasons that he turned down the offer of an earldom when he retired, with the New York Times heralding him as a ‘tribune of the people’ when he refused the honour.

3. 365 days in power

Like Tony Benn, former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1903-95) gave up a peerage so he could serve in the House of Commons. Having inherited his father’s title and become the 14th Earl of Home, Douglas-Home served as Foreign Secretary but gave up his seat in the Lords after being selected as Prime Minister in 1963. After the Conservatives lost the 1964 election, he remained on the opposition front bench and served under Edward Heath. He was awarded a life peerage in 1974 as Baron Home of the Hirsel of Coldstream.

4. Paved with success

John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836) has gone down in history as the man who transformed the world’s roads, using crushed stone and gravel on a bed of larger stones and adding a camber to drain away the water. His ‘Macadamised’ roads became famous around the world, but when a knighthood was finally offered to him he turned it down due to his old age.

5. Lost at sea

His grandfather may have served as Prime Minister, but it was the sea rather than politics that called to George Hamilton-Gordon (1841-70), 6th Earl of Aberdeen. After inheriting his title, he moved to North America under the alias George Osborne and worked as a lumberjack and sailor. He drowned while serving on a ship bound for Australia. His mother, the Countess of Aberdeen, gave books in his memory to the library in Maine from which her son had borrowed books in between his voyages.

6. The Sim-ple life

Star of stage and screen Alastair Sim (1900-76) was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s coronation honours list in 1953. But, two decades later, the character actor turned down a knighthood, arguing he was a ‘lifelong socialist’ and believed that ‘everyone is equal’.

7. Order of merit

Despite being lauded for his work as director of the National Gallery, Neil MacGregor (b.1946) turned down a knighthood in 1999. After becoming director of the British Museum in 2002, MacGregor, from Glasgow, accepted an appointment in 2010 to the exclusive Order of Merit, which has only 24 members.

8. Life in the fast lane

John Crichton-Stuart (b.1958), 7th Marquess of Bute, chose not to use his hereditary title when he became a racing driver, instead opting for the name Johnny Dumfries. He won the 1984 British Formula 3 Championship before becoming an F1 test driver for Ferrari. In 1986, he joined Lotus and raced alongside Ayrton Senna, finishing 13th in the championship. He won the Le Mans 24-hour race as part of the Jaguar team in 1988 and, since retiring, has gone under the name Johnny Bute.

9. Don Roberto

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936) left his family’s estates in Scotland at 17 to become a cowboy in Argentina. His adventures took him to Morocco, where he travelled disguised as a sheikh, to Spain where he panned for gold, to Texas where he befriended Buffalo Bill and to Mexico City, where he taught fencing. Back in the UK in 1883 he took up politics and helped to found both the Labour Party and the SNP.

10. We will remember them

Field Marshal Douglas Haig (1861-1928) led the British Army through some of the darkest days of the First World War, from the battles of the Somme (1916) and Passchendaele (1917) through to the Hundred Days’ Offensive. Following the Armistice, Haig was offered a viscountcy by Prime Minister David Lloyd-George, but turned down the honour, partly because it was the same rank given to his predecessor Sir John French and partly to bargain for better treatment for former servicemen. He went on to set up the Earl Haig Fund and the famous Poppy appeal, and later accepted an earldom.