A royal charter is a formal document issued by a monarch as a letter 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 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.
Charters have been used in Europe since mediæval times to create cities (i.e., localities with recognised legal rights and privileges). The date that such a charter was granted is considered to be when a city was "founded", regardless of when the locality originally began to be settled.
At one time a royal charter was the only way in which an incorporated body could be formed, but other means (such as the registration process for limited companies) are generally now used instead.
Among the past and present groups formed by royal charter are the British East India Company, 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.
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