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By Royal Appointment: Supplying the Royal Family

In this new blog series, Royal Central will be looking at some of the famous names that supply their goods and services to the Royal Family and their Households.

Which brand of tea does The Queen prefer? Who produces the Duke of Edinburgh’s glasses? What’s the story behind Prince Charles’s favourite brand of whisky? Every Sunday for the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling some of the well-known and not-so-well-known companies honoured with a prestigious royal customer.

As an introduction, we look at these coveted royal warrants of appointment, who grants them, the conditions of issue and what they mean to a company.

The Royal Warrant, in one form or another, has been a fixture of British trade since the Middle Ages. Often the Sovereign would recognise the work and services of reliable tradesmen and would grant Royal charters to various trade and crafts guilds. Later, these would become livery companies and many still exist today with members of the royal family playing a key role in their operation.

Some of the earliest trades to the royal courts often raise a smile now, with their quaint names the basis for some of today’s modern professions. 1684 saw a Haberdasher of Hats, a Watchmaker in Reversion, an Operator for the Teeth and a Gaffe-Club Maker offering their services to the Palace, which saw Charles II coming to the end of his reign.

King George III had appointed a number of tradesmen to help in the running of the Royal Household by 1789 from a Pin Maker and a Card Maker to a Rat Catcher to help with the ever-present pest problem.

Today, three members of the royal family can grant warrants – The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales. Before her death in 2002, the Queen Mother had also granted a number of warrants, all of which expired in 2007 – five years after her death.

In order to qualify for one, a company needs to meet a set of criteria. They are granted to suppliers who have provided goods or services to one of the households for a minimum of five successive years.

The Royal Warrant Association, formed in 1840 – initially as celebration in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday, is the body that ensures that the Royal warrant is not used by those not entitled and is correctly applied by those who are. Companies wishing to receive a Warrant send their application to the respective Royal Household through the Association. The Household’s principal buyer then makes its recommendation for inclusion.

The Royal Household Warrants Committee, which is chaired by the Lord Chamberlain, will then decide on whether to accept the recommendation. If so, it is sent to the grantor, who personally signs it.

The three grantors are very personally involved with any decision to grant a warrant. The Queen has granted 686 Royal Warrants so far, Prince Philip, 38, and Prince Charles, 159. They are all permitted to reverse the Committee’s decision if they do not agree and are equally entitled to remove warrants.

Such was the case in 1999, when the Royal Warrant for Gallagher tobacco company was revoked after a 122-year history. The company, which produced brands such as Benson and Hedges, lost its royal seal of approval as a result of declining demand in the royal households. A year later, the iconic luxury London department store, Harrods, had its royal warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh withdrawn – again, due to a significant decline in the trading relationship.

Warrants are now granted for an initial five-year period, after which they are reviewed. Some firms have a record of Royal warrants reaching back over more than 100 years. Warrant-holding firms do not provide their goods or services free to the Royal households, and all transactions are conducted on a strictly commercial basis.

They are only awarded to tradesmen, such as carpenters, engravers, cabinet makers, dry-cleaners, even chimney sweeps.  Professional services, for instance, bankers, brokers or agents, solicitors, employment agencies and “places of refreshment or entertainment” (such as pubs and theatres), do not qualify.

At the moment, there are around 800 Royal warrant holders, holding over 1,100 warrants between them as some have more than one. The rules state that each grantor can give only one warrant to any individual business, but a business may hold warrants from more than one member of the Royal Family.

Some of these holders have held the privilege for over 100 years and, although they are clearly held in high accord by the royal family, they still charge for their services and the Palace maintain that “all transactions are conducted on a strictly commercial basis.”

Whilst warrant holders are not allowed to discuss who at the royal household consumes what, the simple ability to use the legend ‘By Appointment’ and display the Royal coat of arms on the organisation’s products and (such as packaging, stationery and advertisements) and premises can increase business exponentially.

Have you got a question about a certain supplier you’d like answering? Perhaps you’ve always wondered where the Royal Household gets their washing up liquid from or who supplies the wine for State Banquets? If so, get in touch and, wherever possible, we’ll try to profile them.

About author

James is Royal Central's Director of Broadcasting and Communications. He's a recognised royal commentator and correspondent and has experience with numerous TV and radio networks including the BBC, ITV, Sky, CNN and MSNBC among others.