Royal Charter

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The original copy of the charter establishing the College of William and Mary in Virginia was apparently lost about the time of the American Revolution. The contemporary manuscript copy in the Special Collections Research Center is thought to have belonged to Sir Edmund Andros, the royal governor of the colony of Virginia at the time of the founding of William and Mary.

The most complete story of the Royal Charter of the College of William and Mary is found in Frank B. Evans’ monograph on the subject published by the Botetourt Bibliographical Society in 1978. Professor Evans taught in the Department of English at the College.

Professor Evans began his article with the statement: “The story of the royal Charter granted in 1693 to found the College of William and Mary would be simpler, but less interesting, were it not for the story of a document which is lost.”

The annual celebration of Charter Day at the College of William and Mary was primarily a twentieth century development that was initiated by President John Stewart Bryan in 1937.


Issuing of the Charter

The Charter passed through 4 formal stages before being issued as a public decree. These stages, each represented by a document, were as follows:

1. It was written in English by the office of the Treasury and all of its stipulations were detailed in this original request called The Warrant. The Warrant called for the Attorney General to incorporate all the provisions of the Charter into a document that would pass under the Great Seal of England.

2. Under the direction of the Attorney General it was then translated into Latin and written in an italic hand on 5 large sheets. The King then signed at the top of each of those sheets. This document is known as the King’s Bill.

3. The next document which is also in Latin in an italic script is called the Writ of the Privy Seal. At the top the joint sovereigns direct the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal to make the document patent.

4. The fourth document is the Enrollment. This copy is made onto the Patent Rolls. It is done in Latin, but in the traditional chancery hand. This is not, in fact, the final copy of the Charter, but the official copy of the record with the government. The five different versions of the Charter that we know exist today all appear to be copied from the Writ of the Privy Seal, whether they are in English or in Latin.


Disappearance

The only mention of the disappearance of the original charter is an extract from the Proceedings of the Faculty for March 28, 1791. This extract was written by a professor of history at William and Mary, Robert J. Morrison, who taught at the College from 1858 to 1861. The original minutes no longer exist. The extract, which is held in manuscript form at the Library of Virginia, reads as follows:

"The Society being informed by M. Bellini that the original charter of this College which is lost, was some years past seen by him in the possession of a certain Karjavina, a native of Muscovy, who declared that it was his intention to deposit the same among the archives of St. Petersburg in Russia. Resolved etc."

The Contemporary Copy of the Charter in the Special Collections Research Center

The original copy of the charter establishing the College of William and Mary in Virginia was apparently lost about the time of the American Revolution. The contemporary manuscript copy in the Special Collections Research Center is thought to have belonged to Sir Edmund Andros, the royal governor of the colony of Virginia at the time of the founding of William and Mary.

This copy, which was acquired in 1977, is the oldest copy of the charter in the University Archives. An image of the first page of this copy and the complete transcription is available at the Special Collections Research Center's Charter exhibit. The charter has also appeared in printed form including a Williamsburg edition of 1736.

In a 1978 study of the charter, Prof. Frank B. Evans speculated that perhaps Ralph Wormeley, Secretary of the colony of Virginia, made this translation from Latin into English for Governor Andros.

The Charter, and Statutes, of the College of William and Mary, in Virginia, 1736

While not the first printing of the original College of William and Mary charter, the 1736 edition by William Parks of Williamsburg is the best known. The copy in the Special Collections Research Center is bound in red morocco and gold tooled in Scottish herringbone by an unknown Scottish bookbinder in Parks' shop, it is one of three known copies. Parks, Williamsburg's first public printer, hoped to gain favor with the College faculty by printing, as one of his earlier works, this charter of the College of William and Mary. In Latin and English, it spells out the early College's mission; to train young men for the Anglican ministry, to educate youth in good letters and manners, and to propagate the Christian gospel among the Indians. It was a gift of Charles H. Taylor in 1932.


Charter Day

The granting of the charter by King William III and Queen Mary II is celebrated during the College of William and Mary's annual Charter Day festivities. The annual celebration of Charter Day at the College of William and Mary was primarily a twentieth century development that was initiated by President John Stewart Bryan in 1937.

Material in the Special Collections Research Center

  • Charter exhibit, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
  • The story of the royal charter of the College of William and Mary, Frank B. Evans, Williamsburg, Va. : Botetourt Bibliographical Society, College of William and Mary, 1978. Swem Stacks and Archives Books: Z732 .V8 B6 no.4
  • "Charter" and "Charter Day" files, University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.

Need help?

To search for further material, visit the Special Collections Research Center's Search Tool List for an overview of the Special Collections Database, W&M Digital Archive, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, card catalogs, and other tools available to help you find material of interest in the Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center.

Questions? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at spcoll@wm.edu or 757-221-3090, or visit the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary.

A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of the College of William and Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information available here is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in the Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.