So much for the dictionary definition. In real life in Britain the Royal Warrant has evolved to a point at which it is far more complicated than a mere dictionary could explain. By the beginning of the 21st century the conventions of ancient history had become codified and governed by well-established rules. By and large these were laid down and interpreted by a Royal Household Tradesmen’s Warrants Committee headed by the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Luce, and including the Comptroller of his Office, Sir Malcolm Ross, and the Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Michael Peat.
As Head of the Royal Household it is part of the Lord Chamberlain’s task to advise the four grantors – the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales – as to whether the conditions of ‘supply and service’ have been met and who therefore should receive their Warrants.
The Royal Warrant Holders’ Association is, in effect, the other side of the coin. Since its original foundation early in the 19th century the Association has been a fascinating and very British combination of trades association and social club. Almost all who hold the Warrant belong to the Association and can rely on the Association’s advice and assistance in time of trouble. The Association also acts as a policeman on behalf of the monarchy, making sure that its name and its Coats of Arms are never taken in vain.
The Association’s office at Buckingham Place in London employs a Secretary and a small salaried staff overseen by a Council of non-executive, unpaid members. This consists of a President – a Warrant Holder himself who serves for one year in that office – as well as representatives of the four constituent associations in other parts of the United Kingdom and all the surviving Presidents.
The Warrant itself is an impressive document filled out in immaculate copperplate writing and signed by the Lord Chamberlain. The Warrant is ‘By Command’ of the Grantor and it announces simply that the grantee has been ‘appointed into the place and quality’ of Butcher, Baker, Candlestick-Maker or whatever the relevant trade might be. The Warrants are given to individuals rather than companies and as such are a source of great personal pride.
However it is the grantees’ companies that are allowed to display the Royal Coat of Arms in the outward and visible form which is familiar to the public at large. The Royal Arms might be displayed on company premises, delivery vans, writing paper and elsewhere, but the Arms must never be flaunted and their use has always to be governed by dignity and good taste.