LONDON — Caspar W. Weinberger received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II today, the highest British royal honor that can be bestow on an American.
The brief, private ceremony at Buckingham Palace did not mean the former U.S. defense secretary has become Sir Caspar. That accolade is reserved for the Queen's own subjects. But it was Britain's way of saying thanks to an exceptionally good friend.
Asked why he got the knighthood, Weinberger modestly replied: "I haven't the faintest idea."
But the announcement on Feb. 1 cited his "outstanding and invaluable contribution" to Anglo-American defense cooperation, and his "unfailing support and assistance" during the 1982 Falkland Islands War between Britain and Argentina.
The 70-year-old Weinberger, who counts Winston Churchill among his heroes, did not have to kneel before the Queen as a commoner and be tapped on both shoulders with a sword, as is the custom for British subjects.
"Her Majesty was nice enough just to present it to me," he said, adding: "I'm very honored, very pleased, and still very astonished."
He received a red ribbon with the badge of the Order of the British Empire, and a separate silver star signifying the title Knight Grand Cross--the highest order of chivalry for a foreigner.
It means he can now call himself Caspar Weinberger GBE. More than 50 other Americans have been similarly honored.
Weinberger, wearing a gray suit, was accompanied by his wife, Jane, and Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, who had recommended him for the honor.
The 25-minute ceremony was held without reporters or photographers present in the small, blue-walled Queen's Audience Room where the 61-year-old monarch often receives official visitors.
"She was very gracious as always, and very generous in her remarks," Weinberger told reporters afterward. He politely avoided mentioning what they discussed.
He carried his new insignia in a blue presentation box which he opened for photographers just before driving away to a luncheon hosted by U.S. Ambassador Charles H. Price II.
When Weinberger's award was announced, reporters asked him whether he was ready to be called "Sir Cap." He replied: "Good God, no. Our Constitution has some harsh words about titles. But I really am flattered."
Asked after the ceremony whether he is now more of an Anglophile, he replied: "Well, it's hard to be not."