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
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).