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. 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 the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity which received its charter 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, 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).
- Scout Association of Australia (23 August 1967)
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
Companies and societies 
Professional organisations 
- Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
- Australian Institute of Building
- Engineers Australia
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia
- Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia Incorporated
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
- Royal Australian Artillery Association
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- Royal Australian Chemical Institute
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 Hudson's Bay Company; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1670 by King Charles II
- The Royal Commonwealth Society; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1882 by Queen Victoria
- 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
- Scouts Canada; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1912 by King George V This reference is wrong. Scouts Canada did not exist in 1912 or until 1914. There were several separate scout organisations in Canada in 1912. The Boy Scouts Association (really just a small unrepresentative council trying to get monopoly control the Boy Scouts) based in England was incorporated by the Royal Charter in 1912. The Boy Scouts Association formed a branch in Canada which was incorporated as the The Boy Scouts Association, Canadian General Council by Act (or charter) of the Canadian parliament in 1914. This branch corporation changed its name to Boy Scouts of Canada then Scouts Canada. Scouts Canada represents itself as the scouts.
- 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 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 Ontario Museum, created in 1912 under the Royal Ontario Museum Act by the Province of Ontario, hence not created by a royal charter
- 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
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 under Royal Charter.
- The University of King's College; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1802 by King George III
- King's-Edgehill School; founded as King's Collegiate School by Royal Assent in 1788 and granted Royal Charter 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
- The University of Toronto; founded as King's College by a Royal Proclamation issued in 1827 by King George IV
- Upper Canada College; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1829 by King George IV
- Queen's University; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1841 by Queen Victoria
- Université Laval; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1852 by Queen Victoria
- The University of Trinity College (later became a college federated with the University of Toronto); given university status by a Royal Charter issued by Queen Victoria in 1852
- Bishop's University; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1853 by Queen Victoria
- The University of Ottawa; granted 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.
Hong Kong 
Between 1842 and 1997, a number of organisations had received Royal Charter:
- Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers) was granted Royal Charter in 1951 and disbanded in 1995
- Royal Hong Kong Police Force was granted Royal Charter in 1969 by Queen Elizabeth II, now Hong Kong Police Force (since 1997).
- Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club obtained Royal Charter in 1959, now Hong Kong Jockey Club (since 1996).
- Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club was granted Royal Charter in 1894
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - now the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) (since 1997)
- Royal Observatory, Hong Kong was granted Royal Charter in 1912 by King George V - now Hong Kong Observatory (since 1997)
- Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force was granted Royal Charter in 1951 by King George VI - now Government Flying Service (since 1993)
- Royal Hong Kong Golf Club was granted Royal Charter in 1889 - now Hong Kong Golf Club (since 1996)
- Standard Chartered Bank was granted Royal Charter in 1853. It is one of the three banknote-issuing banks in Hong Kong.
- Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch
A number of Irish institutions retain the "Royal" prefix, even though the Republic of Ireland severed all remaining connections between the state and the British monarch in 1949.
- Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (1784)
- Royal Black Institution (1797)
- Royal Irish Academy - Charter granted 1785
- Royal Cork Yacht Club - (Est. 1720)
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
South Africa 
The University of South Africa received a Royal Charter in 1877.
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.
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 College of Law and Malvern College are the only private education institutions to have received a Royal Charter.
Most Royal Charters are now granted to professional institutions such as the 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 limited 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.
A list of UK chartered associations can be found here
- The College of Optometrists (CoO) (18 September 1995)
- The Institute of Directors (IoD) (16 July 1906)
- The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) (1912)
- Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) (22 July 2005)
- Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) (1976)
- Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) (28 July 1980)
- The Energy Institute (EI) (2003)
- The Society for the Environment (SoE) (4 May 2004)
- Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) (1984)
- Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors - UK and Ireland (IIA)(7 April 2011)
- Chartered Institute for Information Technology (BCS) (1984)
- Royal College of Art (1967)
- Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development
- Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)
- Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS)
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
- Chartered Management Institute (CMI)
- Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators
- Royal College of Nursing
- Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
- Royal College of Surgeons of England
- Royal Town Planning Institute
- Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
- Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
- Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
- Institution of Engineering and Technology
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants ACCA
- Landscape Institute, the UK professional organisation and educational charity for Landscape Architects
- Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers (ICS)
- Society for Radiological Protection (SRP)
- Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) (2002)
- Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM)
United States 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (November 2010)|
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 authority 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 General Assembly of the Province of New Jersey
- Brown University 1764 - as College of Rhode Island by Letters Patent from The Governor and General Assembly of the English Colony of Rhode Island
- Rutgers University 1766 - as Queen's College by Governor William Franklin of New Jersey
- Dartmouth College 1769 - by Letters Patent by King George III via the Governor of the province of New Hampshire. The distinction between the Letters Patent forming Dartmouth versus those documents founding William & Mary or Kings College (Columbia) is that the seal of the Province of New Hampshire appears on the Dartmouth document, while the Great Seal of the Realm appears on the William & Mary and King's documents.
See also 
- 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[dead link]
- Belgium Royal Historical Commission[dead link]
-  When is an institution considered a recognised higher education institution or a university?
- Privy Council Office: Royal Charter
- Privy Council: Royal Charter
- "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.
- 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.
- George V (4 January 1912), "Royal Charter of The Boy Scouts Association", written at Westminster, in Scouts Canada, Scoutdocs, Ottawa: King's Printer, retrieved 23 May 2009
- Royal Academy of Dance Canada: About us. Radcanada.org. 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[dead link]
- Royal Hamilton College of Music. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Royal Western Nova Scotia Yacht Club: Annapolis Basin[dead link]
- The Royal Heraldry Society of Canada: Ottawa, Ontario. Heraldry.ca. 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
- Trinity College: About Trinity: History. Trinity.utoronto.ca (13 March 2005). Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Queen's University: Queen's University Royal Charter[dead link]
- Le Bas Canada 1763-1867. Republiquelibre.org. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Colleges. Utoronto.ca (29 March 2010). 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.
- 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)