Letters patent

Letters patent (always in the plural) are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch, president, or other head of state, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation. Letters patent can be used for the creation of corporations or government offices, or for the granting of city status or a coat of arms. Letters patent are issued for the appointment of representatives of the Crown, such as governors and governors-general of Commonwealth realms, as well as appointing a Royal Commission. In the United Kingdom they are also issued for the creation of peers of the realm. A particular form of letters patent has evolved into the modern patent (referred to as a utility patent or design patent in United States patent law) granting exclusive rights in an invention (or a design in the case of a design patent). In this case it is essential that the written grant should be in the form of a public document so other inventors can consult it to avoid infringement and also to understand how to "practice" the invention, i.e., put it into practical use. In the Holy Roman Empire, Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary, imperial patent was also the highest form of generally binding legal regulations, e. g. Patent of Toleration, Serfdom Patent etc.

The opposite of letters patent are letters close (Latin: litterae clausae), which are personal in nature and sealed so that only the recipient can read their contents. Letters patent are thus comparable to other kinds of open letter in that their audience is wide. It is not clear how the contents of letters patent became widely published before collection by the addressee, for example whether they were left after sealing by the king for inspection during a certain period by courtiers in a royal palace, who would disseminate the contents back to the gentry in the shires through normal conversation and social intercourse. Today, for example, it is a convention for the British prime minister to announce that they have left a document they wish to enter the public domain "in the library of the House of Commons", where it may be freely perused by all members of parliament.

Letters Patent Australia
Letters patent issued by Queen Victoria in 1900, creating the office of Governor-General of Australia as part of the process of Federation
1768 transfer of the University to Nancy
Letters patent transferring a predecessor of the University of Lorraine to Nancy in 1768


Letters patent are so named from the Latin verb pateo, to lie open, exposed, accessible.[1] The originator's seal was attached pendent from the document, so that it did not have to be broken in order for the document to be read.

Litterae in Latin meant "that which is written" or "writing", in the sense of letters of the alphabet placed together in meaningful sequence on a writing surface, not a specific format of composition as the modern word "letter" suggests. Thus letters patent do not equate to an open letter but rather to any form of document, deed, contract, letter, despatch, edict, decree, epistle etc.[2] made public.

They are called "letters" (plural) from their Latin name litterae patentes, used by medieval and later scribes when the documents were written in Latin. This loanword preserves the collective plural "letters" (litterae) Latin language uses to denote a message as opposed to a single alphabet letter (littera).[3]


Letters patent are a form of open or public proclamation[4] and a vestigial exercise of extra-parliamentary power by a monarch or president. Prior to the establishment of Parliament, the monarch ruled absolutely by the issuing of his personal written orders, open or closed.

They can thus be contrasted with the Act of Parliament, which is in effect a written order by Parliament, approved by the monarch whose signature gives it force. No explicit government approval is contained within letters patent, only the seal or signature of the monarch.

Parliament today tolerates only a very narrow exercise of the royal prerogative by issuance of letters patent, and such documents are issued with prior informal government approval, or indeed are now generated by government itself with the monarch's seal affixed as a mere formality. In their original form they were simply written instructions or orders from the sovereign, whose order was law, which were made public to reinforce their effect.

For the sake of good governance, it is of little use if the sovereign appoints a person to a position of authority but does not at the same time inform those over whom such authority is to be exercised of the validity of the appointment.

According to the United Kingdom Ministry of Justice, there are 92 different types of letters patent.[5] The Patent Rolls are made up of office copies of English (and later United Kingdom) royal letters patent, which run in an almost unbroken series from 1201 to the present day, with most of those to 1625 having been published.

Form of British letters patent creating peers

The form of letters patent for creating peerages has been fixed by the Crown Office (Forms and Proclamations Rules) Order 1992 (SI 1992/1730). Part III of the schedule lays down nine pro forma texts for creating various ranks of the peerage, lords of appeal in ordinary, and baronets.

The following table organises the text from the letters patent by columns for each rank, with common text spanning multiple columns, depicting some of the similarities and differences among the proclamations. Gender-specific differences are highlighted in italics.

Dukes and Duchesses Marquesses and Marchionesses Earls and Countesses Viscounts Barons Life Barons Life Baronesses Baronets Lords of Appeal in Ordinary
"ELIZABETH THE SECOND by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Our other Realms and Territories Queen Head of the Commonwealth Defender of the Faith To all Lords Spiritual and Temporal and all other Our Subjects whatsoever to whom these Presents shall come, Greeting!
Know Ye that We of Our especial grace certain knowledge and mere motion Whereas Our (name of grantee in relevant courtly language) has resigned his Office of a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and the same is now vacant Now Know Ye that We of Our especial grace have in pursuance of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 as amended by subsequent enactments nominated and appointed and by these Presents Do nominate and appoint Our (name of grantee in relevant courtly language) to be a
in pursuance of the Life Peerages Act 1958 and of all other powers in that behalf us enabling[6]
do by these Presents advance create and prefer Our:[7]
  • "trusty and well-beloved (counsellor‡) John Smith (created Baron);
  • "right trusty and well-beloved cousin (and counsellor‡) John Smith (created Viscount)
  • "right trusty and entirely beloved cousin" (and counsellor‡) John Smith (created Earl or Marquess)
  • "right trusty and right entirely beloved cousin" (and counsellor‡) John Smith (created Duke)

if Privy Councillor

to the state degree style dignity title and honour of

do by these Presents erect appoint and create Our (name of grantee in relevant courtly language) to the dignity state and degree of a
And for Us Our heirs and successors do appoint give and grant unto him the said name state degree style dignity title and honour of by the style of
Duke of <PLACE> Marquess of <PLACE> Earl <NAME/NAME OF PLACE/OF PLACE> Viscount <NAME> (of <PLACE>) Baron <NAME> (of <PLACE>) Baroness <NAME> (OF <PLACE>) Baronet BARON
and by these Presents do dignify invest and ennoble him by girding him with a sword and putting a cap of honour and a coronet of gold on his head [or, if the grant is to a woman, "dignify invest and really ennoble her with such name state degree title and honour of Duchess/Marchioness/Countess of <PLACE>"]
and by giving into his hand a rod of gold
to have and to hold To hold
the said name state degree style dignity title and honour of the said name degree style dignity title and honour of the said Office
Duke of Marquess of Earl
unto him and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten and to be begotten. unto him for his life. unto her for her life. unto him and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten and to be begotten. so long as he shall well behave himself therein subject to the provisions in the said Act mentioned
Willing and by these Presents granting for Us Our heirs and successors that he
and his heirs male aforesaid and every of them successively and his heirs male aforesaid
[may have hold and possess a seat place and voice in the Parliaments and Public Assemblies and Councils of Us Our heirs and successors within Our United Kingdom amongst the]
[Dukes] [Marquesses] [Earls] [Viscounts] [Barons]
[And also that he]
[and his heirs male aforesaid successively]
may enjoy and use all the rights privileges with all wages profits privileges rank and precedence whatsoever to the said Office belonging or in anywise appertaining and to hold the said style of Baron unto him the said during his life.
pre-eminences immunities precedences
and advantages to the degree of
a Duke a Marquess an Earl a Viscount a Baron a Baronet
duly and of right belonging which
Dukes Marquesses Earls Viscounts Barons Baronets
of Our United Kingdom [have heretofore used and enjoyed or as they] do at present use and enjoy.
In Witness whereof We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent. WITNESS Ourself at Westminster the nth day of <MONTH> in the xth year of Our Reign"

The words "may have hold and possess" to "his heirs male aforesaid successively" and "have heretofore used and enjoyed or as they" (shown in brackets above) were deleted for Dukes and Duchesses, Marquesses and Marchionesses, Earls and Countesses, Viscounts, and hereditary Barons by the Crown Office (Forms and Proclamations Rules) (Amendment) Order 2000.[8]

Commonwealth realms

In Commonwealth realms, letters patent are issued under the prerogative powers of the head of state, as an executive or royal prerogative. They are a rare, though significant, form of legislation which does not require the consent of parliament. Letters patent may also be used to grant royal assent to legislation.

In the United States

US General Land Office Deed 1845
Letters patent issued by the United States General Land Office

The primary source of letters patent in the United States are intellectual property patents and land patents, though letters patent are issued for a variety of other purposes. They function dually as public records and personal certificates.

In the United States, the forgery of letters patent granted by the President is a crime subject to fine, imprisonment up to ten years or both (18 U.S.C. § 497). Without letters patent, a person is unable to assume an appointed office. Such an issue prompted the Marbury v. Madison suit, where William Marbury and three others petitioned the United States Supreme Court to order James Madison to deliver their letters for appointments made under the previous administration.

Form of United States letters patent

United States letters patent generally do not fit a specific form, except for the eschatocol, or formal ending:

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, the undersigned [public official], in accordance with [relevant law], has in the name of the United States, Caused these letters to be made Patent and the Seal of [relevant agency or government official] to be hereunto affixed.

GIVEN under my hand, in [city] the [date] in the year of our Lord [year] and of the Independence of the United States the [years since July 4, 1776].

By [signature of public official issuing letter]

See also


  1. ^ Cassell's Latin Dictionary, revised by Marchant & Charles, 260th. thousand
  2. ^ Cassell's Latin Dictionary, op.cit., p.321
  3. ^ Cassell's Latin Dictionary, revised by Marchant & Charles, 260th. thousand: "Literae, Plur: that which is written; Cicero: Dare alicui literas (plur) ad aliquem: to give to a messenger a letter for a third person"
  4. ^ E.g. document dated 13 July 1527 issued Teste Rege titled: "A Proclamation for establishing of trade and merchandizing and traffique within the towne and marches of Callice with divers immunities and freedoms concerning the same", which is self-referenced in the document by the phrase "by theis his lettres patentes of proclamacion" Nichols, John Gough. The Chronicle of Calais from the Reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII to the year 1540, London, 1846 p.102
  5. ^ "Letter from Sarah Whiteside to Steve Elibank regarding Freedom of Information Request". whatdotheyknow.com. 28 May 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  6. ^ "The Crown Office (Forms and Proclamations Rules) Order 1992". legislation.gov.uk.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2012.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Crown Office (Forms and Proclamations Rules)(Amendment) Order 2000.

External links

Act of the National Assembly for Wales

In Wales, an Act of the National Assembly for Wales (Welsh: Deddf Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru) (informally, an Act of the Assembly) is primary legislation that can be made by the National Assembly for Wales under part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. The power to make Acts of the Assembly was conferred on the assembly following the 2011 elections as a commencement order had been passed in the assembly by simple majority prior to dissolution. The activation of part 4 legislative powers was as a result of a "yes" vote in the 2011 referendum held in Wales. When the power to make Acts of the Assembly commenced, the assembly lost the ability to make Measures under part 3 of the 2006 Act. Existing Measures will remain as law unless repealed.

Archbishop of Tuam

The Archbishop of Tuam (Irish: Ard-Easpag Tuaim) is an archiepiscopal title which takes its name after the town of Tuam in County Galway, Ireland. The title was used by the Church of Ireland until 1839, and is still in use by the Roman Catholic Church.

Baron Monk Bretton

Baron Monk Bretton, of Conyboro and Hurstpierpoint in the County of Sussex, is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created by letters patent on November 4 1884 for the Liberal politician John George Dodson. He was succeeded by his son, the second Baron. He was notably chairman of the London County Council from 1929 to 1930. As of 2017 the title is held by the latter's son, the third Baron, who succeeded in 1933.

The judge Sir John Dodson was the father of the first Baron.

Bishop of Clogher

The Bishop of Clogher is an episcopal title which takes its name after the village of Clogher in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Following the Reformation, there are now parallel apostolic successions: one of the Church of Ireland and the other of the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop of Meath

The Bishop of Meath is an episcopal title which takes its name after the ancient Kingdom of Meath. In the Roman Catholic Church it remains as a separate title, but in the Church of Ireland it has been united with another bishopric.

British prince

Prince of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a royal title normally granted to sons and grandsons of reigning and past British monarchs. It is also held by the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. The title is granted by the reigning monarch, who is the fount of all honours, through the issuing of letters patent as an expression of the royal will.

Individuals holding the title of prince will usually also be granted the style of Royal Highness. When a British prince is married, his wife, if not already a princess in her own right, gains the title in her husband's princely title. For example, the wife of Prince Michael of Kent is known by the title of Princess Michael of Kent.

British princess

This is a list of those who have held the title Princess of the United Kingdom from the accession of George I in 1714. This article deals with both princesses of the blood royal and women who become princesses upon marriage.

The use of the title of Princess of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is entirely at the will of the sovereign. Individuals holding the title of princess are styled "Her Royal Highness" (HRH). Since George V's Letters Patent of 30 November 1917, the title "Princess" and the use of the style "Royal Highness" has generally been restricted to the following persons:

the legitimate daughters of a British sovereign,

the legitimate male line granddaughters of a British sovereign,

the wife of a British prince.On 31 December 2012, Elizabeth II issued letters patent enabling all children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales to enjoy the princely title and style of Royal Highness, as opposed to only the eldest son.

Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press (CUP) is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by King Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house and the second-largest university press in the world (after Oxford University Press). It also holds letters patent as the Queen's Printer.The press mission is "to further the University's mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence".Cambridge University Press is a department of the University of Cambridge and is both an academic and educational publisher. With a global sales presence, publishing hubs, and offices in more than 40 countries, it publishes over 50,000 titles by authors from over 100 countries. Its publishing includes academic journals, monographs, reference works, textbooks, and English language teaching and learning publications. Cambridge University Press is a charitable enterprise that transfers part of its annual surplus back to the university.

City status in the United Kingdom

City status in the United Kingdom is granted by the monarch of the United Kingdom to a select group of communities: as of 2014, there are 69 cities in the United Kingdom – 51 in England, six in Wales, seven in Scotland and five in Northern Ireland. The holding of city status gives a settlement no special rights. This appellation carries its own prestige and competition for the status is hard-fought.

The status does not apply automatically on the basis of any particular criteria, although in England and Wales it was traditionally given to towns with diocesan cathedrals. This association between having a cathedral and being called a city was established in the early 1540s when King Henry VIII founded dioceses (each having a cathedral in the see city) in six English towns and also granted them city status by issuing letters patent.

City status in Ireland was granted to far fewer communities than in England and Wales, and there are only two pre–19th-century cities in present-day Northern Ireland. In Scotland, city status did not explicitly receive any recognition by the state until the 19th century. At that time, a revival of grants of city status took place, first in England, where the grants were accompanied by the establishment of new cathedrals, and later in Scotland and Ireland. In the 20th century, it was explicitly recognised that the status of city in England and Wales would no longer be bound to the presence of a cathedral, and grants made since have been awarded to communities on a variety of criteria, including population size.

The abolition of some corporate bodies as part of successive local government reforms, beginning with the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840, has deprived some ancient cities of their status. However, letters patent have been issued for most of the affected cities to ensure the continuation or restoration of their status. At present, Rochester and Elgin are the only former cities in the United Kingdom. The name "City" does not, in itself, denote city status; it may be appended to place names for historic association (e.g. White City) or for marketing or disambiguation (e.g. Stratford City). A number of large towns (such as with over 200,000 residents) in the UK are bigger than some small cities, but cannot legitimately call themselves a city without the royal designation.

Grant of arms

A grant of arms or a governmental issuance of arms, are actions by a lawful authority such as an officer of arms or State Herald, conferring on a person and his or her descendants the right to bear a particular coat of arms or armorial bearings. It is one of the ways in which a person may lawfully bear arms in a jurisdiction regulating heraldry, another being by birth, through inheritance.

Historically a grant of arms is distinguished from both a confirmation of arms and a private registration of arms. A grant of arms confers a new right, whereas a confirmation of arms confirms an existing right; and a private registration of arms is a record which does not purport to create or confirm any legal right. However a governmental registration of arms by an official government agency, (e.g., Bureau of Heraldry in South Africa) does create and confirm new legal rights.

The College of Arms issues “letters patent” the Bureau of Heraldry issues “certificates of registration”. For all intents and purposes it’s the same thing. The College of Arms “grants” in the name of the monarch and in South Africa under the Heraldry Act (1962) the certificate is “issued”. In both cases the heraldic representation so issued and recorded affords the applicant sole ownership of the unique design.

A grant of arms or government registration of arms are typically contained in letters patent which provide self-contained proof, upon production of the letters patent, of the right conferred. A modern English grant of arms, for example, from officers of the College of Arms in London, will begin with the words "To all and singular to whom these presents shall come...", thereby showing that it is addressed to anyone in the world to whom it may be presented.

Henry Downes (bishop)

Henry Downes was an eighteenth-century Irish Anglican bishop.He was nominated Bishop of Killala and Achonry on 24 January 1717 and consecrated on 12 May that year. In 1720 he was translated to Elphin, being nominated on 1 May and appointed by letters patent on 12 May 1720. In 1724 he was nominated on 17 March to be the Bishop of Derry and appointed by letters patent on 9 April 1724. Finally on 11 January 1727 he was nominated Bishop of Derry and appointed by letters patent on 8 February 1727. He died in office on 14 January 1735.

Hereditary peer

The hereditary peers form part of the peerage in the United Kingdom. As of 2019 there are 814 hereditary peers. The numbers of peers – of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the UK – whose titles are the highest they hold (i.e. are not subsidiary titles) are: dukes, 24 (plus 7 royal dukes); marquesses, 34; earls, 193; viscounts, 112; barons, 444.

Not all hereditary titles are titles of the peerage. For instance, baronets and baronetesses may pass on their titles, but they are not peers. Conversely, the holder of a non-hereditary title may belong to the peerage, as with life peers. Peerages may be created by means of letters patent, but the granting of new hereditary peerages has largely dwindled; only seven hereditary peers have been created after 1965, four of them members of the British royal family.

From 1963 to 1999, all (non-Irish) peers were entitled to sit in the House of Lords, but since the House of Lords Act 1999 was passed, only 92 are permitted to do so, unless they are also life peers. Peers are called to the House of Lords with a writ of summons.

Letters Patent, 1947

The Letters Patent, 1947 (more formally, the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada) are a legal instrument introduced by King George VI, which came into effect on 1 October 1947 and continue to, along with parts of the Constitution Act, 1867, constitute the Office of the Governor General. These letters served to expand the role and powers of the governor general in exercising the Royal Prerogative and allows the governor general to carry out an increased number of the Sovereign's duties in "exceptional circumstances". While the letters patent allow the governor general to use most of the "powers and authorities" lawfully belonging to the Canadian sovereign, this permission can be revoked, altered, or amended by the sovereign at any time and these powers and authorities thus remain with the monarch and are carried out by the governor general on his or her behalf.

List of Latin phrases (P)

This page lists English translations of notable Latin phrases, such as veni vidi vici and et cetera. Some of the phrases are themselves translations of Greek phrases, as Greek rhetoric and literature reached its peak centuries before the rise of ancient Rome.

This list covers the letter P. See List of Latin phrases for the main list.

List of cities in the United Kingdom

This is a list of official cities in the United Kingdom as of 2015. It lists those places that have been granted city status by letters patent or royal charter. There are currently a total of 69 such cities in the United Kingdom: 51 in England, seven in Scotland, six in Wales, and five in Northern Ireland. Of these, 23 in England, two in Wales, and one in Northern Ireland have Lord Mayors and four in Scotland have Lord Provosts. In some cases, the area holding city status does not coincide with the built up area or conurbation of which it forms part. In Greater London, for example, the City of London and that of Westminster each hold city status separately but no other neighbourhood has been granted city status, nor has Greater London as a whole. In other cases, such as the Cities of Canterbury and Lancaster, the status extends over a number of towns and rural areas outside the main settlement proper.

List of lord mayoralties and lord provostships in the United Kingdom

This is a list of lord mayoralties and lord provostships in the United Kingdom. The dignity of having a lord mayor as civic head is granted to certain districts enjoying city status in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. In Scotland the similar office of lord provost is reserved for the convener of the four largest cities.

Royal assent

Royal assent is the method by which a monarch formally approves an act of the legislature (either directly, or through an official acting on the monarch's behalf). In some jurisdictions, royal assent is equivalent to promulgation, while in others that is a separate step. Under a modern constitutional monarchy royal assent is considered to be little more than a formality; even in those nations which still, in theory, permit the monarch to withhold assent to laws (such as the United Kingdom, Norway, and Liechtenstein), the monarch almost never does so, save in a dire political emergency or upon the advice of their government. While the power to veto a law by withholding royal assent was once exercised often by European monarchs, such an occurrence has been very rare since the eighteenth century.

Royal assent is sometimes associated with elaborate ceremonies. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the sovereign may appear personally in the House of Lords or may appoint Lords Commissioners, who announce that royal assent has been granted at a ceremony held at the Palace of Westminster for this purpose. However, royal assent is usually granted less ceremonially by letters patent. In other nations, such as Australia, the governor-general (as the monarch's representative) merely signs a bill. In Canada, the governor general may give assent either in person at a ceremony held in the Senate or by a written declaration notifying parliament of their agreement to the bill.

Separation of Queensland

The Separation of Queensland was an event in 1859 in which the land that forms the present-day State of Queensland was removed from the Colony of New South Wales and created as a separate Colony of Queensland.

University of Dublin

The University of Dublin (Irish: Ollscoil Átha Cliath), corporately designated the Chancellor, Doctors and Masters of the University of Dublin, is a university located in Dublin, Ireland. It is the degree awarding body for Trinity College Dublin. It was founded in 1592 when Queen Elizabeth I issued a charter for Trinity College as "the mother of a university", thereby making it Ireland's oldest operating university. It was modelled after the collegiate universities of Oxford and of Cambridge, but unlike these other ancient universities, only one college was established; as such, the designations "Trinity College" and "University of Dublin" are usually synonymous for practical purposes.

The University of Dublin is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland. It is a member of the Irish Universities Association, Universities Ireland, and the Coimbra Group.

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