John Lennon Returned an Honor From Queen Elizabeth Over Britain’s Messy Politics

John Lennon rose to fame as a member of The Beatles, quickly becoming an icon of ’60s culture. A talented singer and songwriter, Lennon eventually gained recognition as one of the most politically-aware members of the group, never afraid to speak his mind, no matter what the consequences.

Even after the Beatles disbanded, Lennon remained politically active and involved in the peace movement. At times, Lennon’s dedication to his ideals meant that he had to ruffle some feathers — and once, he even snubbed his nose at an honor given to him by Queen Elizabeth herself. 

John Lennon (1940 - 1980) at a press conference at London Airport after the Beatles' return from Manila.
John Lennon | George Stroud/Express/Getty Images

John Lennon was one of the most popular members of the Beatles

Born in Liverpool in 1940, Lennon was one of the founding members of the group that eventually became known as The Beatles. A great wit as well as the “leader” of the group, Lennon often made headlines for his quirky remarks.

All throughout the ’60s, The Beatles released hit after hit, forming the soundtrack that would inspire generations of people all around the world.

Lennon was a writer and creative thinker. He published several books of poems and art during his time with The Beatles, and beginning in the late sixties, became a face of the anti-war movement.

In 1970, The Beatles disbanded, but Lennon remained no less popular than he was during their heyday, releasing new songs and forming a musical alliance with his partner, Yoko Ono. Lennon and Ono produced more than a dozen records, and while they weren’t always received well critically, fans loved their artsy, counterculture inspired lyrics. 

When did the Beatles receive their MBE medals?

In 1965, when The Beatles were still at the peak of their popularity, they were honored with one of the greatest distinctions that can be bestowed on a British citizen. On Oct. 26, 1965, Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr all made a trip to Buckingham Palace to receive individual Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) medals, presented by Queen Elizabeth herself.

While the decision to award The Beatles with the MBE medals was a controversial one at the time, since rock and roll music was still very divisive in Britain, thousands of fans were supportive of the honor. For years, a wild rumor circulated that stated the band members were so nervous prior to receiving the medals from Queen Elizabeth that they smoked marijuana beforehand.

Why did John Lennon return his MBE?

RELATED: Did The Beatles Really Smoke Marijuana Before Receiving An Honor From Queen Elizabeth?

Most rock stars would be thrilled to receive such a high honor from Britain’s monarch. However, four years after originally receiving his MBE medal, Lennon decided that he didn’t want it after all.

According to People, Lennon became disenchanted with Britain’s politics in the late sixties and returned his award. “I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts,” Lennon wrote in a letter accompanying the award.

Around the same time that he returned the medal, Lennon went on the record to state that he never really wanted the medal in the first place: “It all just seemed part of the game we’d agreed to play. We’d nothing to lose, except that bit of you that said you didn’t believe in it. I really think the Queen believes in it all. She must.”

There’s no doubt that Lennon would have continued shaking things up well into his later years — however, Lennon was shot to death by Mark David Chapman in 1980, when he was still in his prime. Still, Lennon remains an icon of peace for fans all around the world.