The Queen’s Birthday Honours has seen the appointment of nine new members to the Order of the Companions of Honour.

New inductees to the Order include Sir Paul McCartney, JK Rowling, designer Sir Terence Conran and cook and broadcaster Delia Smith. But what is a Companion of Honour, who can become one, and what does it mean to be one?

What is a Companion of Honour?

The Order of Companions of Honour was founded in 1917 by King George V to recognise distinguished achievement.  Membership of the Order is limited to the reigning monarch and 65 people at any one time. 

According to The Times, the honour was to be "conferred upon a limited number of persons for whom this special distinction seems to be the most appropriate form of recognition, constituting an honour disassociated either from the acceptance of title or the classification of merit."  The first members were all inducted to the Order in recognition of activities during the Great War; now, new Companions of Honour will have made "a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time".

[Quiz: Knight or not knight? Sort the sirs from the serfs]

Who can be made a Companion of Honour?

Though members of the Order must be British, Australian. New Zealanders or citizens of the other Commonwealth countries, people from other countries can become honorary Companions of Honour.  Companionship is a life-long honour.

What does it mean for people who become Companions of Honour?

The Queen presents new members of the Order with the riband and badge of Companionship (as shown below by George Osborne, an inductee in 2016).

George Osborne holds up the badge of the Order of Companions of Honour.

Being made a Companion of Honour confers no title or privileges - conferees can use the letters ‘CH’ after their name – but members of the Order will know that they join a very select group in being recognised for achievements in their particular field.

[Read more: 16 people who turned down honours from the Queen]

Who else has been made a Companion of Honour in the past?

Famous former Companions of Honour include Winston Churchill (who was inducted in 1922), composer Frederick Delius (1929), novelist and poet Vita Sackville-West (1948), sculptor Henry Moore (1955), actress Dame Sybil Thorndike (1970) and Labour politician Denis Healy (1979).

Companions of Honour inducted to the Order prior to this year and still living include physicist and author Stephen Hawking (1989), opera singer Dame Janet Baker (1993), broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough (1995), artist David Hockney (1997) actress Dame Judi Dench (2005) and former athlete and organiser of the 2012 Olympics Lord Sebastian Coe (2012).