Royal charter

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King's College, now the University of Toronto, was founded with the issuance of this royal charter

A royal charter is a formal document issued by a monarch as letters patent, granting a right or power to an individual or a body corporate. They were, and are still, used to establish significant organisations such as cities (with municipal charters) or universities. Charters should be distinguished from warrants and letters of appointment, as they have perpetual effect. Typically, a Royal Charter is produced as a high-quality work of calligraphy on vellum. The British monarchy has issued over 980 royal charters.[1] Of these about 750 remain in existence. The earliest was to the town of Tain in 1066, making it the oldest Royal Burgh in Scotland, followed by the University of Cambridge in 1231. Charters continue to be issued by the British Crown, a recent example being that awarded to the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, on 7 April 2011.

Charters have been used in Europe since medieval times to create cities (that is, localities with recognised legal rights and privileges). The date that such a charter is granted is considered to be when a city is 'founded', regardless of when the locality originally began to be settled (which is often impossible to determine).

At one time, a royal charter was the sole means by which an incorporated body could be formed, but other means (such as the registration process for limited companies) are generally used nowadays instead.

Among the past and present groups formed by royal charter are the British East India Company (1600), the Hudson's Bay Company, Standard Chartered, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O), the British South Africa Company, and some of the former British colonies on the North American mainland, City livery companies, the Bank of England and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).[2]


Universities and colleges

Companies and societies

Professional organisations

Other organisations


The royal decree is the equivalent in Belgium of a Royal Charter. In the period before 1958, 32 higher education institutes had been created by royal charter: these were typically engineering or technical institutions rather than universities.[5]

However, several non-technical higher education institutions have been founded, or refounded, under royal decree:

Since the Belgian state reform of 1988–1989, competency over education was transferred to the federated entities of Belgium. Royal decrees can therefore no longer grant higher education institution status or university status.[8]


A Royal Charter is granted by Order in Council, either creating an incorporated body, or giving an existent one special status.[9] This is an exercise of the Royal Prerogative, and, in Canada, there are hundreds of organisations under Royal Charters. Such organisations include charities, businesses, colleges, universities, and cities. Today, it is mostly charities and professional institutions who receive Royal Charters.

Application for a charter is a petition to the Queen-in-Council. To receive a Royal Charter, the organisation must have corporate members who have at least first degree level in a relevant field, consist of 5,000 members or more, be financially sound, and it must be in the public interest to regulate the institution under a charter. However, meeting these benchmarks does not guarantee the issuance of a Royal Charter.[10]

Companies and societies

Companies, corporations, and societies in Canada founded under or augmented by a Royal Charter include:

Territories and communities

Cities under Royal Charter are not subject to municipal Acts of Parliament applied generally to other municipalities, and instead are governed by legislation applicable to each city individually. The Royal Charter codifies the laws applied to the particular city, and lays out the powers and responsibilities not given to other municipalities in the province concerned.

Universities and colleges

A number of Canadian universities and colleges were founded or reconstituted under Royal Charter.

Other educational institutions

Several Canadian private schools were founded or reconstituted under Royal Charter.

Hong Kong

The emblem of the Royal Observatory, Hong Kong

Between 1842 and 1997, a number of organisations had received Royal Charter:


The Institution of Engineers was incorporated by royal charter in 1935.[35]


A number of Irish institutions retain the "Royal" prefix, even though Republic of Ireland severed all remaining connections between the state and the British monarch in 1949.

A more detailed list of current Irish institutions with Royal patronage is available here

A list of former Royal institutions with ties to Ireland, but they were mostly British institutions created in Ireland during British rule:


The British Institute of Florence was granted a Royal Charter in 1923.[36]

South Africa

The University of South Africa received a Royal Charter in 1877. The Natal Carbineers regiment received a Royal Charter in 1935, becoming known as the Royal Natal Carbineers until South Africa became a republic in 1961. The Royal Natal National Park's name remained unchanged, as did that of the Royal Society of South Africa, which received its Royal Charter in 1908.[37]

Sri Lanka

United Kingdom

Among the 750 or so organisations with Royal Charters are cities; the Bank of England; the BBC; theatres such as the Royal Opera House and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; Livery Companies; universities (mostly those founded before 1993); professional institutions, such as the Institution of Royal Engineers and charities.[38]

A Royal Charter is the mechanism by which a British town is raised to the status of city. Most recently Chelmsford in Essex was granted a Royal Charter in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Inverness, Brighton & Hove and Wolverhampton were given their charters to celebrate the Millennium, and Preston, Stirling, Newport, Lisburn and Newry to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2002.

Most British universities operate under Royal Charters, giving them the authority to award degrees. The most recent generation of UK universities were granted the power to award degrees by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 instead of by Royal Charter, while some other universities operate under Acts of Parliament. The University of Buckingham, The University of Law and Malvern College are the only private education institutions to have received a Royal Charter.[39]

Almost without exception, the longstanding learned societies, such as the Royal Society, Royal Society of Literature, etc have Royal Charters.

Most Royal Charters are now granted to professional institutions such as the British Computer Society and Chartered Institute of Linguists, and to charities such as the Royal Photographic Society. For example, the six accountancy institutes which make up the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies each have a Royal Charter which allows their members to style themselves Chartered Accountants. A Charter is not necessary for them to operate, but one is often sought as recognition of "pre-eminence, stability and permanence".

The BBC operates under a Royal Charter which lasts for a period of ten years, after which it is renewed.

A Royal Charter changes a body from a collection of individuals into a single legal entity. Once incorporated by Royal Charter, amendments to the Charter and by-laws require government approval.[38]

In January 2007, the UK Trade Marks Registry refused to grant protection to the American Chartered Financial Analyst trademark, as the word 'chartered' in the UK is associated with royal charters.[40]

A list of UK chartered associations can be found here















United States

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Although several American universities which predate the American Revolution purport to hold royal charters, in a number of cases they were in fact created by a grant from a local council such as a colonial legislature.

Colleges created by royal charter from King William III and Queen Mary II of England:

Colleges created by King George II of Great Britain:

American colleges popularly believed to have been established by Royal Charter, but actually by some other type of grant:

The distinction between the Letters Patent forming Dartmouth, Princeton, and Rutgers versus those documents founding William & Mary or King's College (Columbia University) is that the seal of the Province of New Hampshire appears on Dartmouth College's charter and that the seal of the Province of New Jersey appears on Princeton University's and Rutgers University's charters while the Great Seal of the Realm appears on the College of William and Mary|William & Mary and King's College documents.

See also


  1. Chartered bodies | Privy Council. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  2. BBC Trust | Charter and Agreement.
  3. 3.0 3.1
  4. [1]
  5. Non-University Higher Technical Education in Belgium Gilbert Van Vaek and Henk Van Daele
  6. Gilbert Van Vaek and Henk Van Daele Archived 17 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Belgium Royal Historical Commission Archived 13 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  8. [2] When is an institution considered a recognised higher education institution or a university?
  9. Privy Council Office: Royal Charter
  10. Privy Council: Royal Charter
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  13. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  14. The Royal Commonwealth Society: Values of the Royal Commonwealth Society. (4 January 2007). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  15. New Brunswick; reprint of: Kurley, Daniel; Times Globe: Elusive Oak; 11 June 1998. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  16. Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: Going Royal: A History of Public Service. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  17. Royal Academy of Dance Canada: About us. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  18. Royal Conservatory of Music: The RCM: History of The Royal Conservatory of Music. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  19. Canada Council for the Arts: Royal Winnipeg Ballet. (27 March 2004). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  20. The Royal Life Saving Society of Canada Saskatchewan Branch, Inc.; Constitution Archived 24 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  21. Royal Hamilton College of Music. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  22. Royal Western Nova Scotia Yacht Club: Annapolis Basin Archived 18 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  23. The Royal Heraldry Society of Canada: Ottawa, Ontario. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  24. Canada4Life; Nova Scotia. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  25. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  26. Canada's Cities: Unleash our Potential. (1 September 2001). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  27. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  28. Trinity College: About Trinity: History. (13 March 2005). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  29. Colleges. (29 March 2010). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  30. Queen's University: Queen's University Royal Charter Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  31. Le Bas Canada 1763–1867. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  32. Canada Post: Canada Post confers stamp on Bishop's University; 20 January 2003
  33. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  34. History of the Hong Kong Observatory. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  35. Text of letters patent (royal charter) of incorporation, dated 9 September 1935. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  36. Brief history of the British Institute of Florence Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  37. Royal Society of South Africa Brief History
  38. 38.0 38.1 Privy Council Office – Chartered Bodies. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  39. BPP University College appears on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills List of Recognised Bodies (those institutions or bodies, including universities, which have their own UK degree awarding powers (see BIS Recognised Bodies) but does not appear among the 987 bodies listed on the Privy Council's website as holders of Royal Charters (see Privy Council Office – Chartered Bodies).

External links