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What is the Order of the Companions of Honour – the new distinction given by King Charles to the Princess of Wales?

The Princess of Wales has just made history by becoming the first member of the Royal Family to be appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour.

The Order of the Companions of Honour is an order, awarded by The King as Sovereign of the Order. It is given to deserving individuals, who become Companions of Honour (who can then use the post-nominal letters CH) who have made significant contributions to the arts, science, medicine or public service over an extended period of time.

The order was founded by King George V in 1917, in addition to the Order of the British Empire, to recognise services of national importance. The order is sometimes considered to be junior to the more senior Order of Merit, founded by King Edward VII in 1902, to award people for contributions to science, the arts and learning.

Some individuals, most notably former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and the celebrated Sir David Attenborough have the distinction of being Companions of Honour and members of the Order of Merit.

Other members include actress former Prime Minister Sir John Major and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. There can only be 65 companions at one time; non-British nationals, which includes members from the Commonwealth of Nations, can be honorary members outside of the 65 primary members.

The insignia of the order is a crowned oval medallion with a rectangular crown within, which features an oak tree, the shield of the Royal Arms and a mounted armoured knight. A blue border surrounds the insignia and reads ‘In action faithful and in honour clear’ – the motto of the order.  Men wear the order around their necks on a red neck ribbon bordered in gold, with women wearing the order as a bow on their left shoulder.

Companions of the Order are not conferred any further titles beyond the post-nominal letters, as becoming a companion does not confer a knighthood upon the recipient.

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