Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Charter. This word is from the Latin charta, and is of uncertain origin. The Greek form of the word is chartes, and it appears to have signified writing material made of papyrus. The term was afterwards applied, not only to the materials for writing, but to the writing itself, as to the letter or the leaf of a book. In English law it was supposed to denote any public instrument, deed, or writing, being written evidence of things done between man and man, and standing as a perpetual record. Among the Saxons such instruments were known as genrite or writings. At the present day it is best known as the document by which the express consent of the Crown is given. The term is more particularly applicable to the creation of corporations and other institutions, though it also applies to other exclusive rights granted to individuals or companies. As regards corporations the Crown's consent is presumed in the case of those existing by prescription, such as the City of London and many others which have existed as corporations time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, and therefore are regarded in law as well created. The consent of the Crown when express may be given either by Act of Parliament or by charter, the authority of Parliament, as regards the creation of corporations, having been usually exercised only in recognition of, or in aid of, but sometimes in regulation of the royal prerogative. Thus the Charter of the Royal College of Physicians (10th Henry VIII.) was confirmed by the statute 14 and 15 Henry VIII. c. 5. Again, the Corporation of the Bank of England was created by the Crown under the regulative provisions of an Act passed in the reign of William and Mary, and by an Act passed in the reign of William IV. (5 and 6 William IV. c. 76), it is enacted that upon the petition of the inhabitant householders of any borough in England or Wales, the king may by his charter incorporate such borough according to the provisions of that Act. But the power of Parliament has of late been most frequently invoked for the incorporation of public and other trading companies, though a simpler method of forming such companies is provided by the Limited Liability Acts (q.v.), and the Crown may still, and not unfrequently does, by its own charter or letters patent, erect a corporation. A charter of incorporation may be forfeited through negligence or abuse of its franchises.