In 1896 a silk mercer named Tom Jay defined those who held the Royal Warrant as ‘A species of peerage for trade.’ Royal Warrant Holders are to trade what Peers of the Realm are (or were!) to Society.
The most usual meaning of the word ‘warrant’ and the one that most people would recognise immediately is the sort that is issued for someone’s arrest. Anyone who has ever watched a movie involving cops and robbers or who has read a whodunnit, knows that the first thing a suspect asks an inquisitive or assertive police officer is whether or not he has a warrant. According to the Oxford Dictionary, however, ‘A Warrant Holder’, is ‘a tradesman who has written authority to supply goods to the household of the King or Queen or a member of the royal family.’
‘Tradesman’ excludes the professions. A doctor might be the royal physician or the royal surgeon but he could not be a Warrant Holder. The same would apply to the royal barrister or solicitor, the Poet Laureate or the Master of the King’s (or Queen’s) Musick. They might all hold written authorities from the monarch but unless they were engaged in ‘trade’ they could not, technically, be ‘Warrant Holders’.
The ‘authority’ must be written. A verbal authority is insufficient. Even if you supply endless ‘goods’ to the King or Queen or a member of their family, you could not describe yourself as a ‘Warrant Holder’ unless you had some written proof that you were purveyor of the royal marmalade or the royal piece of bread. At the beginning of the last century there was trouble over that. Some tradesmen did claim to be ‘By Appointment’ because they had some verbal understanding with a member of the Royal Family.
The granting of warrants in the United Kingdom is a purely royal prerogative. The Archbishop of Canterbury or the Lord Chief Justice or the Prime Minister might all take it upon themselves to issue ‘Warrants’ to their favoured tradesmen but that would not entitle the recipients to describe themselves as ‘Warrant Holders’.