With gratitude to Heloise Morle for her contributions to this post.
In a modern world of celebrity and influencer endorsements, there is arguably one endorsement that still trumps others: the Royal Warrant.
The granting of an English monarch’s royal seals of approval dates back to 1155 – when King Henry II granted the Weavers’ Company (makers of clothes and castle hangings) a royal charter. The endorsement was formalised in 1476 when Edward IV granted the first royal warrant to printer, William Caxton; and subsequent monarchs have continued to award warrants to their favoured suppliers.
To prevent fraudulent claims of royal patronage, the Royal Warrant Holders Association was established in 1840. Today, having a royal warrant is no longer a guarantee that the holder is an exclusive supplier to the crown, merely that they are a preferred supplier.
The prestige that comes with providing goods and services to the sovereign has boosted business for centuries. A warrant is seen as a guarantee that a supplier has the highest standards of service, quality and excellence, the products are quite literally ‘Fit for a King’ no less.
However, following the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II, questions have been asked as to what happens to the warrants she granted during her lifetime?
What is a royal warrant?
A royal warrant grants permission to display the Royal Arms on a product, packaging, stationery, adverts, premises and vehicles, in line with The Lord Chamberlain’s Rules. The Royal Arms must be accompanied by the legend “By appointment to”, followed by the name of the grantor:
The Royal Arms are not a trade mark and cannot be used as part of a supplier’s own branding. Interestingly, warrant holders are not even permitted to disclose exactly which products or services they provide to the crown.
Who can grant a royal warrant?
Only the reigning monarch can determine who can grant royal warrants. Following the death of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh in 2021, and then the Queen’s death this September, King Charles III is currently the only grantor. Undoubtedly his Royal Arms will be updated in due course and the 182 businesses holding warrants he has granted will need to update their use of it accordingly.
Who can be granted a royal warrant?
Either individuals or companies who have supplied goods or services to the royal household can apply for a royal warrant, provided they meet the following criteria:
- Goods or services must have been regularly provided to the royal family for at least five years.
- All goods and services must have been supplied on a commercial basis (i.e. not for free).
- The supplier must have a demonstrable “workable environmental policy” (a requirement of new King Charles III).
There is no requirement for grantees to be British-owned or UK based, but businesses within certain sectors are not eligible for the warrant, such as those in the media, government, ‘professions’ or “places of refreshment or entertainment” (such as pubs, bars and theatres).
Whilst a fee was chargeable during the 18th century, since the early 19th century it has been deemed important that the warrant didn’t require a fee to prevent corruption.
If granted, a royal warrant lasts for up to five years and is subject to renewal.
Can a royal warrant be lost?
Yes. Around 20-40 grantors lose their royal warrants every year, for three main reasons:
- Non-renewal, for example if a grantee no longer meets the eligibility criteria.
- Cancellation, for example, if the quality of the grantee’s offering is deemed insufficient to justify the warrant continuing or if a grantee’s conduct brings themselves or the Royal Family into disrepute.
- Famously, clothing company Rigby & Peller, hit the headlines in 2018 when it lost its 58 year old royal warrant after a Director published a book revealing details of her work with the royal family
- Upmarket London store, Harrods, also lost its royal stamp of approval – after an absence of royal patronage over a five year period.
- Death, the death of a grantor will typically result in the immediate cancellation of a warrant, but grantees are usually permitted to use the Royal Arms for a period (often between two and five years). Similarly, warrants are usually personal, so if an individual warrant holder, dies (or leaves the company) a renewal must be applied for.
What happened when the Queen died?
As noted above, the 620 royal warrants granted by Queen Elizabeth II became void immediately upon the death of the Her Majesty on 8 September 2022. However, warrant holders have a grace period of two years during which they may continue to use the Royal Arms on their products, packaging, website etc.
After this time the insignia will either need to be removed or, in the event that a new grantor grants a replacement warrant, updated.
Warrant holders and applicants should look out for guidance to be issued by the Royal Warrant Holders Association. For example:
- Will warrants granted by Queen Elizabeth II or The Duke of Edinburgh be renewed?
- The new form of Royal Arms and legend for King Charles III.
- Whether HRH Camilla, the Queen Consort or HRH Prince William, the new Prince of Wales, will have permission to grant their own royal warrants?
Squire Patton Boggs has a team focused on advertising and marketing law issues, contact partner and Global Chair of our Advertising, Marketing and Brands group, Carlton Daniel, for more information.