Historical developmentCharters have been used in Europe since medieval times to grant rights and privileges to towns, boroughs and cities. During the 14th and 15th century the concept of incorporation of a municipality by royal charter evolved. Among the past and present groups formed by royal charter are the Company of Merchants of the Staple of England (13th century), the (1600), the , the (since merged into ), the (P&O), the , and some of the former British colonies on the North American mainland, City livery companies, the and the (BBC).
CorporationsBetween the 14th and 19th centuries, royal charters were used to create – for-profit ventures with shareholders, used for exploration, trade and colonisation. Early charters to such companies often granted trade monopolies, but this power was restricted to parliament from the end of the 17th century. Until the 19th century, royal charters were the only means other than an by which a company could be ; in the UK, the opened up a route to incorporation by registration, since when incorporation by royal charter has been, according to the , "a special token of Royal favour or ... a mark of distinction". The use of royal charters to incorporate organisations gave rise to the concept of the "corporation by prescription". This enabled corporations that had existed from
Universities and collegesAccording to the '' '', of the 81 universities established in pre-Reformation Europe, 13 were established ''ex consuetudine'' without any form of charter, 33 by alone, 20 by both Papal bull and or royal charter, and 15 by imperial or royal charter alone. Universities established solely by royal (as distinct from imperial) charter did not have the same international recognition – their degrees were only valid within that kingdom. The first university to be founded by charter was the in 1224, founded by an imperial charter of . The first university founded by royal charter was the in 1290, by King Denis of Portugal, which received papal confirmation the same year. Other early universities founded by royal charter include the (1349; papal confirmation 1379) and the University of (1354; no confirmation), both by ; the (1364; papal confirmation the same year) by ; the (1365; Papal confirmation the same year) by ; the (1432; Papal confirmation 1437) by ; the University of Girona (1446; no confirmation) and the (1450; papal confirmation the same year), both by ; the (1452; papal confirmation 1459) by the Dauphin Louis (later ); and the University of Palma (1483; no confirmation) by .
British IslesThe University of Cambridge was confirmed by a papal bull in 1317 or 1318, but despite repeated attempts, the University of Oxford never received such confirmation. The three pre-Reformation Scottish universities were all established by papal bulls: in 1413; in 1451; and (which later became the ) in 1494. Following the Reformation, establishment of universities and colleges by royal charter became the norm. The was founded under the authority of a royal charter granted to the Edinburgh town council in 1582 by as the "town's college". was established by a royal charter of (as Queen of Ireland) in 1593. Both of these charters were given in . The Edinburgh charter gave permission for the town council "to build and to repair sufficient houses and places for the reception, habitation and teaching of professors of the schools of grammar, the humanities and languages, philosophy, theology, medicine and law, or whichever liberal arts which we declare detract in no way from the aforesaid mortification" and granted them the right to appoint and remove professors. But, as concluded by Edinburgh's principal, Sir Alexander Grant, in his tercentenary history of the university, "Obviously this is no charter founding a university". Instead, he proposed, citing multiple pieces of evidence, that the surviving charter was original granted alongside a second charter founding the college, which was subsequently lost (possibly deliberately). This would also explain the source of Edinburgh's degree awarding powers, which were used from the foundation of the college. The royal charter of Trinity College Dublin, while being straightforward in incorporating the college, also named it as "mother of a University", and rather than granting the college degree-awarding powers stated that "the students on this College … shall have liberty and power to obtain degrees of Bachelor, Master, and Doctor, at a suitable time, in all arts and faculties". Thus the was also brought into existence by this charter, as the body that awards the degrees earned by students at Trinity College. Following this, no surviving universities were created in the British Isles until the 19th century. The 1820s saw two colleges receive royal charters: in 1828 and in 1829. Neither of these were granted degree-awarding powers or university status. The 1830s saw an attempt by to gain a charter as a university and the creation by Act of Parliament of , but without incorporating it or granting any specific powers. These led to debate about the powers of royal charters and what was implicit to a university. The essence of the debate was firstly whether the power to award degrees was incidental to the creation of a university or needed to be explicitly granted and secondly whether a royal charter could, if the power to award degrees was incidental, limit that power – UCL wishing to be granted a royal charter as "London University" but excluding the power to award degrees in theology due to the secular nature of the institute. Sir , arguing against the grant of a royal charter to UCL before the Privy Council in 1835, argued for degree-awarding powers being an essential part of a university that could not be limited by charter. However, Sir William Hamilton, wrote a response to Wetherell in the , drawing in Durham University and arguing that the power to award specific degrees had been explicitly granted historically, thus creating a university did not implicitly grant degree-awarding powers. UCL was incorporated by royal charter in 1836, but without university status or degree-awarding powers, which went instead to the , created by royal charter with the explicit power to grant degrees in Arts, Law and Medicine. Durham University was incorporated by royal charter in 1837, but although this confirmed that it had "all the property, rights, and privileges which ... are incident to a University established by our Royal Charter" it contained no explicit grant of degree-awarding powers. This was considered sufficient for it to award "degrees in all the faculties", but all future university royal charters explicitly stated that they were creating a university and explicitly granted degree-awarding power. Both London (1878) and Durham (1895) later received supplemental charters allowing the granting of degrees to women, which was considered to require explicit authorisation. After going through four charters and a number of supplemental charters, London was reconstituted by Act of Parliament in 1898. The Queen's Colleges in Ireland, at , , and , were established by royal charter in 1845, as colleges without degree awarding powers. The Queens University of Ireland received its royal charter in 1850, stating "We do will, order, constitute, ordain and found an University ... and the same shall possess and exercise the full powers of granting all such Degrees as are granted by other Universities or Colleges in the faculties of Arts, Medicine and Law". This served as the degree awarding body for the Queen's Colleges until it was replaced by the . The royal charter of the Victoria University in 1880 started explicitly that "There shall be and is hereby constituted and founded a University" and granted an explicit power of awarding degrees (except in medicine, added by supplemental charter in 1883). From then until 1992, all universities in the United Kingdom were created by royal charter except for , which was separated from Durham via an Act of Parliament. Following the independence of the , new universities there have been created by Acts of the (Irish Parliament). Since 1992, most new universities in the UK have been created by Orders of Council as secondary legislation under the , although granting degree-awarding powers and university status to colleges incorporated by royal charter is done via an amendment to their charter.
United StatesSeveral of the that predate the are described as having been established by royal charter. Except for , which received its charter from and in 1693 following a mission to London by college representatives, these were either provincial charters granted by local governors (acting in the name of the king) or charters granted by legislative acts from local assemblies. The first charters to be issued by a colonial governor on the consent of their council (rather than by an act of legislation) were those granted to (as the College of New Jersey) in 1746 (from acting governor ) and 1748 (from Governor Jonathan Belcher). There was concern as to whether a royal charter given by a governor in the King's name was valid without royal approval. An attempt to resolve this in London in 1754 ended inconclusively when Henry Pelham, the prime minister, died. However, Princeton's charter was never challenged in court prior to its ratification by the state legislature in 1780, following the US Declaration of Independence. Columbia University received its royal charter (as King's College) in 1754 from Lieutenant Governor James DeLancey of New York, who bypassed the assembly rather than risking it rejecting the charter. Rutgers University received its (as Queen's College) in 1766 (and a second charter in 1770) from Governor William Franklin of New Jersey, and Dartmouth College received its in 1769 from Governor Sir John Wentworth, 1st Baronet, John Wentworth of New Hampshire. The case of ''Dartmouth College v. Woodward'', heard before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1818, centred on the status of the college's royal charter. The court found in 1819 that the charter was a contract under the Contract Clause of the US Constitution, meaning that it could not be impaired by state legislation, and that it had not been dissolved by the revolution. The charter for the College of William and Mary specified it to be a "place of universal study, or perpetual college, for divinity, philosophy, languages and other good arts and sciences", but made no mention of the right to award degrees. The Princeton charter, however, specified that the college could "give and grant any such degree and degrees ... as are usually granted in either of our universities or any other college in our realm of Great Britain". Columbia's charter used very similar language a few years later, as did Dartmouth's charter. The charter of Rutger uses quite different words, specifying that it may "confer all such honorary degrees as usually are granted and conferred in any of our colleges in any of our colonies in America". Of the other colleges founded prior to the American Revolution, Harvard College was established in 1636 by Act of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and incorporated in 1650 by a charter from the same body, Yale University was established in 1701 by Act of the General Assembly of Connecticut, the University of Pennsylvania received a charter from the proprietors of the colony in 1753, Brown University was established in 1764 (as the College of Rhode Island) by an Act of the Governor and General Assembly of Rhode Island, and Hampden-Sydney College was established privately in 1775 but not incorporated until 1783.
CanadaEight Canadian universities and colleges were founded or reconstituted under royal charter in the 19th century, prior to Canadian Confederation, confederation in 1867. Most Canadian universities originally established by royal charter were subsequently reincorporated by acts of legislature. The University of King's College was founded in 1789 and received a royal charter in 1802 naming it, like Trinity College Dublin, "the Mother of an University" and granting it the power to award degrees. The charter remains in force. McGill University was established under the name of McGill College in 1821 by a provincial royal charter issued by George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie, Lord Dalhousie as Governor General of British North America, which stated that the "College shall be deemed and taken to be an University" and should have the power to grant degrees. It was reconstituted by a Royal Charter issued in 1852 by Victoria of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria, which remains in force. The University of New Brunswick was founded in 1785 as the Academy of Liberal Arts and Sciences and received a provincial charter as the College of New Brunswick in 1800. In the 1820s it began giving university-level instruction and received a Royal Charter under the name "King's College" as a "College, with the style and privileges of an University" in 1827. The college was reconstituted as the University of New Brunswick by an act of legislature in 1859. The University of Toronto was founded by royal charter in 1827 under the name of King's College as a "College, with the style and privileges of an University", but did not open until 1843. The charter was subsequently revoked and the institution replaced by the University of Toronto in 1849 under provincial legislation. Victoria University, Toronto, Victoria University, a college of the University of Toronto, opened in 1832 under the name of the Upper Canada Academy giving "pre-university" classes and received a royal charter in 1836. In 1841 a provincial act replaced the charter, reconstituted the academy as Victoria College, and granted it degree-awarding powers. Another college of Toronto, Trinity College, Toronto, Trinity College, was incorporated by an act of legislature in 1851 and received a royal charter in 1852 stating that it "shall be a University and shall have and enjoy all such and the like privileges as are enjoyed by our Universities of our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". Queen's University at Kingston, Queen's University was established by royal charter in 1841. This remains in force as the university's primary constitutional document and was last amended, through the Canadian federal parliament, in 2011. Laval University was founded by royal charter in 1852, which granted it degree awarding powers and started that it would "have, possess and enjoy all such and the like privileges as are enjoyed by our Universities of our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". This was replaced by a new charter from the National Assembly of Quebec in 1971. Bishop's University was founded, as Bishop's College, by an Act of Canadian Parliament in 1843 and received a royal charter in 1853 granting it the power to award degrees and stating that "said College shall be deemed and taken to be a University, and shall have and enjoy all such and the like privileges as are enjoyed by our Universities of our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". The University of Ottawa was established in 1848 as the College of Bytown. It received a royal charter under the name College of Ottawa raising it to university status in 1866.
AustraliaThe older Australian universities of University of Sydney, Sydney (1850) and University of Melbourne, Melbourne (1853) were founded by acts of the legislatures of the colonies. This gave rise to doubts about whether their degrees would be recognised outside of those colonies, leading to them seeking royal charters from London, which would grant legitimacy across the British Empire. The University of Sydney obtained a royal charter in 1858. This stated that (emphasis in the original): The charter went on to (emphasis in the original): The University of Melbourne's charter, issued the following year, similarly granted its degrees equivalence with those from British universities. The act that established the University of Adelaide in 1874 included women undergraduates, causing a delay in the granting of its charter as the authorities in London did not wish to allow this. A further petition for the power to award degrees to women was rejected in 1878 – the same year that London was granted that authority. A charter was finally granted – admitting women to degrees – in 1881. The last of Australia's 19th century universities, the University of Tasmania, was established in 1890 and obtained a royal charter in 1915.
Guilds, learned societies and professional bodiesGuilds and livery companies are among the earliest organisations recorded as receiving royal charters. The Privy Council list has the Saddlers Company in 1272 as the earliest, followed by the Merchant Taylors Company in 1326 and the Skinners Company in 1327. The earliest charter to the Saddlers Company gave them authority over the saddlers trade; it was not until 1395 that they received a charter of incorporation. The Merchant Taylors were similarly incorporated by a subsequent charter in 1408. Royal charters gave the first regulation of medicine in Great Britain and Ireland. The Barbers Company of London in 1462, received the earliest recorded charters concerning medicine or surgery, charging them with the superintendence, scrutiny, correction and governance of surgery. A further charter in 1540 to the London Guild – renamed the Company of Barber-Surgeons – specified separate classes of surgeons, barber-surgeons, and barbers. The London Company of Surgeons separated from the barbers in 1745, eventually leading to the establishment of the Royal College of Surgeons by royal charter in 1800. The Royal College of Physicians of London was established by royal charter in 1518 and charged with regulating the practice of medicine in the City of London and within seven miles of the city. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Barbers Guild (the ''Gild of St Mary Magdalen'') in Dublin is said to have received a charter in 1446, although this was not recorded in the rolls of chancery and was lost in the 18th century. A later charter united the barbers with the (previously unincorporated) surgeons in 1577. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland was established by royal charter in 1667 and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, which evolved from the Barbers' Guild in Dublin, in 1784. The Royal Society was established in 1660 as Britain's first learned society and received its first royal charter in 1662. It was reincorporated by a second royal charter in 1663, which was then amended by a third royal charter in 1669. These were all in Latin, but a supplemental charter in 2012 gave an English translation to take precedence over the Latin text. The Royal Society of Edinburgh was established by royal charter in 1783 and the Royal Irish Academy was established in 1785 and received its royal charter in 1786. New professional bodies were formed in Britain in the early 19th century representing new professions that arose after the industrial revolution and the rise of ''laissez-faire'' capitalism. These new bodies sought recognition by gaining royal charters, laying out their constitutions and defining the profession in question, often based on occupational activity or particular expertise. To their various corporate objectives, these bodies added the concept of working in the public interest that was not found in earlier professional bodies. This established a pattern for British professional bodies, and the 'public interest' has become a key test for a body seeking a royal charter.
AustraliaRoyal charters have been used in Australia to incorporate non-profit organisations. However, since at least 2004 this has not been a recommended mechanism.
BelgiumThe 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, such as the ''Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique'' (National Fund for Scientific Research) in 1928 and the ''Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten'' in 1938. Since State reform in Belgium#1988-1989: The third state reform, 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.
CanadaIn Canada, there are a number of organisations that have received royal charters. However, the term is often applied incorrectly to organisations, such as the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, that have been granted the use of a royal title rather than a royal charter.
Companies and societiesCompanies, 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. A 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 Society of Canada, founded by Act of Parliament and granted a royal charter in 1883. * The Royal Life Saving Society of Canada, founded 1891 and received royal patronage and style 1904. A royal charter was granted in 1924 by King George V. British royal chartered corporations operating in Canada: * The East India Company; granted a royal charter in 1600 by Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth I (tea sales in North America) * The ; founded by a royal charter issued in 1670 by Charles II of England, King Charles II (administration of parts of current Quebec, Northern Ontario and North West Territories, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and 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 Victoria of the United Kingdom, 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 Scout Association, 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 communitiesCities 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, Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's; claimed as England's first oversea colony by royal charter issued in 1583 by Elizabeth I of England, Queen Elizabeth I * Nova Scotia; founded by a Royal Charter issued in 1621 by King James I of England, James I * Saint John, New Brunswick, Saint John; founded by a royal charter issued in 1785 by King George III of the United Kingdom, George III * Vancouver * Winnipeg * Montreal
IndiaThe Institution of Engineers (India), Institution of Engineers was incorporated by royal charter in 1935.
IrelandA number of Irish institutions were established by or received royal charters prior to Irish independence. These are no longer under the jurisdiction of the British Privy Council and their charters can thus only be altered by a Charter or Act of the (Irish Parliament).
South AfricaThe University of South Africa received a Royal Charter in 1877. The Royal Society of South Africa received a Royal Charter in 1908.
United KingdomRoyal charters continue to be used in the United Kingdom to incorporate charities and British professional bodies, professional bodies, to raise Non-metropolitan districts, districts to Borough status in the United Kingdom, borough status, and to grant university status and degree awarding powers to colleges previously incorporated by royal charter. Most new grants of royal charters are reserved for eminent professional bodies, learned societies or charities "which can demonstrate pre-eminence, stability and permanence in their particular field". The body in question has to demonstrate not just pre-eminence and financial stability but also that bringing it under public regulation in this manner is in the public interest. In 2016, the decision to grant a royal charter to the (British) Association for Project Management (APM) was challenged in the court by the (American) Project Management Institute (PMI), who feared it would give a competitive advantage to APM and claimed the criteria had not been correctly applied; the courts ruled that while the possibility of suffering a competitive disadvantage did give PMI standing to challenge the decision, the Privy Council was permitted to take the public interest (in having a chartered body promoting the profession of project management) into account as outweighing any failure to meet the criteria in full. A list of UK chartered professional associations is at . Individual Chartered (professional), chartered designations, such as chartered accountant or chartered engineer, are granted by some chartered professional bodies to individual members that meet certain criteria. The Privy Council's policy is that all chartered designations should be broadly similar, and most require Master's level qualifications (or similar experience). 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, thus its use would be misleading. "Charter" and "chartered" continue to be "sensitive words" in company names, requiring evidence of a royal charter or (for "chartered") permission from a professional body operating under royal charter. The use of "chartered" in a collective trade mark similarly requires the association applying for the mark to have a royal charter as otherwise "the mark would mislead the public into believing that the association and its members have chartered status". Unlike other royal charters, a charter to raise a district to borough status is issued using statutory powers under the Local Government Act 1972 rather than by the royal prerogative. The Companies House, company registration number of a corporation with a royal charter is prefixed by "RC" for companies registered in England and Wales, "SR" for companies registered in Scotland, and "NR" for companies registered in Northern Ireland. However, many chartered corporations from outside England have an RC prefix from when this was used universally. The BBC operates under a royal charter which lasts for a period of ten years, after which it is renewed.
United StatesRoyal charters have not been issued in the US since independence. Those that existed prior to that have the same force as other charters of incorporation issued by state or colonial legislatures. Following ''Dartmouth College v. Woodward'', they are "in the nature of a contract between the state, the corporation representing the founder, and the objects of the charity". Case law indicates that they cannot be changed by legislative action in a way that impairs the original intent of the founder, even if the corporation consents.
See also* Congressional charter, equivalent document in the United States