Royal Charters

Royal Charters

Royal charters, issued under the Great Seal of England, grant specific privileges to individuals or groups of people. Before c.1750 they were the only method, short of a Private Act of Parliament, for a company of merchants or craftsmen to obtain corporate status. Without a royal charter they could not own a common hall, use a common seal, enter into legal agreements, or go to law.

The earliest surviving charter to a City livery company is that granted to the Weavers’ Company, c.1155-8. All the ancient City livery companies have a royal charter, and some have several; it could be prudent to get a new one when a new king or queen took the throne! This new charter might grant new rights, or simply ‘inspect’ and approve an existing charter (inspeximus charters).

Charters remain current indefinitely, unless the recipient ceases to exist, or a new charter is issued. Some livery companies still operate under charters hundreds of years old. New charters are still granted.

Because of their importance, charters were often highly elaborate, even after the tradition of manuscript illumination had otherwise died out.

The Environmental Cleaners’ Company received its Royal Charter in 2010 and was presented in 2011.