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 and learned societies. 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. 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 Company of Merchants of the Staple of England (13th Century), 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).
Universities and colleges
- The University of Sydney obtained a Royal Charter in 1858 (3 February 1858)
- The University of Tasmania obtained a Royal Charter (Letters Patent) in 1915 (30 August 1915)
- The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
- Australian Gas Light Company received a royal charter in 1837
- Van Diemen's Land Company received a royal charter in 1825
- Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
- Australian Institute of Building
- Engineers Australia
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia
- Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers
- Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia Incorporated
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- Royal Australian Chemical Institute
- Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators
- Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
- Australian Red Cross 28 June 1941
- Royal Automobile Club of Queensland
- Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland
- Royal Queensland Art Society
- Royal Queensland Golf Club
- Royal Queensland Show
- The Scout Association of Australia (23 August 1967)
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.
However, several non-technical higher education institutions have been founded, or refounded, under royal decree:
- Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique, National Fund for Scientific Research, 1928
- Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten, 1938
- International Institute for Research and Education, 1982
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.
A Royal Charter is granted by Order in Council, either creating an incorporated body, or giving an existent one special status. 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.
Companies and societies
Companies, corporations, and societies in Canada founded under or augmented by a Royal Charter include:
- The Canada Company incorporated by Act of Parliament in June 1825. Royal Charter was issued in August 1826 to purchase and develop lands. Purchased the Crown Reserve of 1,384,413 acres and a special grant of 1,100,000 acres in the Huron County area.
- The Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, founded in 1824 as the first learned society in Canada, received its Royal Charter in 1831
- The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College), French: Collège royal des médecins et chirurgiens du Canada, is a national, nonprofit organisation organization established in 1929 by a special Act of Parliament to oversee the medical education of specialists in Canada.
- The Royal Society of Canada; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1883 by Queen Victoria
- The Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1898 by Queen Victoria
- The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1903 by King Edward VII
- The Royal Conservatory of Music; founded in 1886 as the Toronto Conservatory of Music; reconstituted by a Royal Charter issued in 1947 by King George VI
- The Royal Winnipeg Ballet; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1953 by Queen Elizabeth II
- The Royal Life Saving Society of Canada; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1960 by Queen Elizabeth II
- The Royal Hamilton College of Music; founded in 1897 as the Hamilton Conservatory of Music; reconstituted by a Royal Charter issued in 1965 by Queen Elizabeth II
- The Royal Western Nova Scotia Yacht Club; founded in 1898 as the Digby Yacht Club; reconstituted by a Royal Charter issued in 1969 by Queen Elizabeth II
- Royal Canadian Yacht Club created by Royal Charter 1854
- The Royal Heraldry Society of Canada; founded in 1966 as the Heraldry Society of Canada; reconstituted by a Royal Charter issued in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II
British royal chartered corporations operating in Canada
- The East India Company; granted Royal Charter in 1600 issued by Queen Elizabeth I (tea sales in North America)
- The Hudson's Bay Company; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1670 by King Charles II (administration of parts of current Quebec, Northern Ontario & North West Territories (including Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) & Judicial connections with Upper Canada)
- The Bank of British North America capital raised in Britain, founded by Royal Charter issued in 1836 (Amalgamated with Bank of Montreal 1918)
- The Royal Commonwealth Society; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1882 by Queen Victoria
- The Royal Academy of Dance; founded in 1920 as the Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing; reconstituted by a Royal Charter issued in 1936 by King George V
- The Boy Scouts Association founded in 1910; incorporated by royal charter in 1912; Canadian General Council, now called Scouts Canada, formed in 1914 and incorporated by Act of the Canadian Parliament in 1914.
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.
- St. John's; claimed as England's first oversea colony by Royal Charter issued in 1583 by Queen Elizabeth I
- Nova Scotia; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1621 by King James I
- Saint John; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1785 by King George III
Universities and colleges
A number of Canadian universities and colleges were founded or reconstituted under Royal Charter.
- University of King's College; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1802 by King George III
- McGill University; founded as the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning by a Royal Charter issued in 1821 by King George IV; reconstituted by a Royal Charter issued in 1852 by Queen Victoria
- University of New Brunswick, founded in 1785 as the Academy of Liberal Arts and Sciences, received a provincial charter in 1800, and Royal Charter in 1827.
- University of Toronto; founded as King's College by a Royal Proclamation of King George IV issued 15 March 1827
- Victoria University founded by Royal Charter issued on 12 October 1836 by Queen Victoria, federated with the University of Toronto in 1890.
- Trinity College founded as the University of Trinity College by a Royal Charter issued in 1852 by Queen Victoria, federated with the University of Toronto in 1904
- Queen's University; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1841 by Queen Victoria
- Laval University; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1852 by Queen Victoria
- Bishop's University; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1853 by Queen Victoria
- University of Ottawa; granted a Royal Charter in 1866 by Queen Victoria, eighteen years after its founding. The University's Pontifical Charter was granted by Pope Leo XIII in 1889.
Other educational institutions
Several Canadian private schools were founded or reconstituted under Royal Charter.
- King's-Edgehill School; founded as King's Collegiate School by Royal Assent in 1788 and granted a Royal Charter in 1802 by King George III
- Upper Canada College; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1829 by King George IV
- The Royal Gibraltar Police was granted Royal Charter in 1992.
- The Royal Gibraltar Post Office was granted Royal Charter in 2005.
Between 1842 and 1997, a number of organisations had received Royal Charter:
- The Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers) was granted Royal Charter in 1951 and disbanded in 1995
- The Royal Hong Kong Police Force was granted Royal Charter in 1969 by Queen Elizabeth II, now Hong Kong Police Force (since 1997).
- The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club obtained Royal Charter in 1959, now Hong Kong Jockey Club (since 1996).
- The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club obtained Royal Charter in 1894
- The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – now the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (since 1997)
- The Royal Observatory, Hong Kong was granted Royal Charter in 1912 by King George V – now Hong Kong Observatory (since 1997)
- The Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force was granted Royal Charter in 1951 by King George VI – now Government Flying Service (since 1993)
- The Royal Hong Kong Golf Club was granted Royal Charter in 1889 – now Hong Kong Golf Club (since 1996)
- The Standard Chartered Bank was granted Royal Charter in 1853. It is one of the three banknote-issuing banks in Hong Kong.
- The Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch Chartered originally in 1847, disbanded 1859, reorganised 1959.
The Institution of Engineers was incorporated by royal charter in 1935.
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.
- Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (1784)
- Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (1667)
- Royal Black Institution (1797)
- Royal Irish Academy – charter granted 1785
- Royal Cork Yacht Club – (1720)
- Royal Irish Academy of Music - (1872)
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:
- Royal Irish Regiment (1684–1922) – disbanded
- Royal Irish Constabulary 1868–1922 – disbanded and replaced by Garda Síochána
- Royal Irish Artillery – disbanded 1801
- Royal Irish Rifles – disbanded 1763
- Royal Ulster Rifles 1793–1881 – renamed Royal Irish Rifles and retained name until 1921 (renamed as Royal Ulster Rifles until 1947 when it merged with Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Royal Irish Fusiliers to form North Irish Brigade
- Royal Irish Fusiliers 1827–1947
- Royal University of Ireland 1880–1908
- Royal Irish Fisheries Company
- Trinity College, Dublin 1592 – present
The British Institute of Florence was granted a Royal Charter in 1923.
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.
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) and learned societies; professional institutions, such as the Institution of Royal Engineers and charities.
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.
Most new grants of Royal Charters these days are reserved for eminent professional institutions, learned societies, or charities, who have a solid record of achievement and are financially stable. Though a royal charter is not necessary for them to incorporate or operate, it is often sought as recognition of "pre-eminence, stability and permanence" in representing their field of activity. For example, the six accountancy institutes which make up the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies each have a Royal Charter which allows their qualified members to style themselves Chartered Accountants.
The BBC operates under a Royal Charter which lasts for a period of ten years, after which it is renewed.
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.
A list of UK chartered professional associations can be found here.
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.
American colleges popularly believed to have been established by Royal Charter, but actually by some other type of grant:
- Harvard College 1639 – By Act of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
- Yale University 1701 – as Collegiate School by Act of the General Assembly of Connecticut
- Princeton University 1746 – as College of New Jersey by the letters patent from King George II via the Governor of the Province of New Jersey
- Brown University 1764 – as College of Rhode Island by an Act of the Governor and General Assembly of the English Colony of Rhode Island
- Rutgers University 1766 – as Queen's College by letters patent from King George II via Governor William Franklin of the Province of New Jersey
- Dartmouth College 1769 – by Letters Patent from King George III via the Governor of the province of New Hampshire.
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.
- Koninklijk in the Netherlands and Belgium
- Congressional charter, equivalent document in the United States
- Chartered bodies | Privy Council. Privycouncil.independent.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- BBC Trust | Charter and Agreement.
- Non-University Higher Technical Education in Belgium Gilbert Van Vaek and Henk Van Daele
- Gilbert Van Vaek and Henk Van Daele Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- Belgium Royal Historical Commission Archived 13 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- When is an institution considered a recognised higher education institution or a university?
- Privy Council Office: Royal Charter
- Privy Council: Royal Charter
- Handbook of Upper Canadian Chronology: Revised Edition By Frederick H. Armstrong 1841. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
- "The Canadian Encyclopedia: Literary and Historical Society of Quebec". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
- New Brunswick; reprint of: Kurley, Daniel; Times Globe: Elusive Oak; 11 June 1998. New-brunswick.net. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: Going Royal: A History of Public Service. Rasc.ca. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Royal Conservatory of Music: The RCM: History of The Royal Conservatory of Music. Rcmusic.ca. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Canada Council for the Arts: Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Canadacouncil.ca (27 March 2004). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- The Royal Life Saving Society of Canada Saskatchewan Branch, Inc.; Constitution Archived 24 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- Royal Hamilton College of Music. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Royal Western Nova Scotia Yacht Club: Annapolis Basin Archived 18 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- The Royal Heraldry Society of Canada: Ottawa, Ontario. Heraldry.ca. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- "Corporate Collections > Reference > The Charter". Hudson's Bay Company. Retrieved 14 June 2007.
- The Royal Commonwealth Society: Values of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Rcs.ca (4 January 2007). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Royal Academy of Dance Canada: About us. Radcanada.org. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Canada4Life; Nova Scotia. Canada4life.ca. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- City Solicitor (June 2000), "Powers of Canadian Cities: The legal framework", Canada's Cities: Unleash our Potential, Toronto: City of Toronto, retrieved 23 May 2009
- Canada's Cities: Unleash our Potential. Canadascities.ca (1 September 2001). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Victoria (6 July 1852), "Royal Charter of McGill University", written at Westminster, in McGill University, Admin and Governance > University Secretariat, Montreal: Queen's Printer, retrieved 23 May 2009
- "Our History | UNB". www.unb.ca. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Trinity College: About Trinity: History. Trinity.utoronto.ca (13 March 2005). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Colleges. Utoronto.ca (29 March 2010). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Queen's University: Queen's University Royal Charter Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- Le Bas Canada 1763–1867. Republiquelibre.org. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Canada Post: Canada Post confers stamp on Bishop's University; 20 January 2003
- "About the History of the University of Ottawa". University of Ottawa Archives. Retrieved 30 April 2008.
- History of the Hong Kong Observatory. Hko.gov.hk. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Text of letters patent (royal charter) of incorporation, dated 9 September 1935. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
- Brief history of the British Institute of Florence Retrieved 13 March 2013.
- Royal Society of South Africa Brief History
- Privy Council Office – Chartered Bodies. Privycouncil.independent.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- 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).
- Privy Council website
- Royal Charter of the BBC
- Royal Charter of the Australian Academy of the Humanities
- Charter of the University of Birmingham
- Royal Charter of Rhode Island (1663)