Royal Charter

From Special Collections Research Center Wiki
Revision as of 13:16, 20 October 2009 by Acschi (talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

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.

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.”

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.


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.

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.

The Charter in the SCRC

The contemporary copy of the charter in the Special Collections Research Center was believed to have been sent from England to Lieutenant Governor Sir Edmund Andros of Virginia.

Material in the SCRC

  • Charter Day exhibit
  • 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, see Finding Materials in the SCRC for an introduction to the SCRC Collections Database, card catalogs, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, etc.

Questions? Contact the SCRC at or 221-3090, or visit the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary (hours).

A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
Unfortunately, many of the early original records of the College of William and Mary were destroyed by fire, 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 SCRC's collections and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the SCRC's access tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.