A Crikey subscriber writes to point out that former British PM Ted
Heath had a knighthood, and queries how we can say, as we did
yesterday, that he died a commoner. Heath was indeed made a Knight of
the Garter, the highest order of knighthood, in 1992. But knighthood is
an honour, not a peerage; he remained a member of the House of Commons
until his retirement in 2001.

Like most European countries, Britain divided its subjects into three
estates – the clergy, the nobility and the commons. Bishops and nobles
sat in the House of Lords, and everyone else was represented
(theoretically) in the House of Commons. Commoners therefore include
knights as well as esquires, gentlemen, serfs, and so on (see Wikipedia).

Once upon a time, Australians all learned British history at school, so
these distinctions came to us more naturally than they do now. We
should remember that Australia’s egalitarianism is not shared
everywhere.

Peter Fray

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