History

By Royal Appointment

The award of a Royal warrant is a hugely prestigious achievement. Elizabeth Walton explains the significance.
By Elizabeth Walton
Any right thinking person with a preference for Laphroaig’s distinctive, rich flavour finds themself in the very best company. His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, granted Laphroaig his Royal Warrant in 1994 and D. Johnston & Co. famously became the only single malt whisky distillery allowed to use the legend ‘By Appointment’.The warrants may only be granted by The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen Mother and Prince Charles. Within strict guidelines set down by the Lord Chamberlain, who is head of the Royal Household, the holders may adorn their products with the appropriate Royal Coats of Arms. Under no circumstances, and possibly on pain of prolonged incarceration in the Tower, may a warrant holder fly a Royal Standard. It all sounds quaint and arcane but around 925 companies currently hold one or more warrants - prized as the ultimate accolade and much sought after.Britain is defined by tradition and the Royal Warrants of Appointment date from the middle ages when the City of London was the size of a postage stamp. Commerce was controlled by the powerful trade and craft guilds, and in 1155 Henry II marked his patronage of the Weavers’ Company with a Royal Charter. Thus he had inaugurated a tradition that was destined to run for centuries.During the reign of Henry VIII, Thomas Hewytt was appointed to “Serve the Court with Swannes and Cranes and all kinds of Wildfoule.” In 1684 goods and services to King Charles II’s Household included a Watchmaker in Reversion, an Operator for the Teeth and a Goffe-Club Maker. The 1789 edition of the Royal Kalendar, a yearly almanack, records the names of the royal pin maker, mole taker and rat catcher. In 1820 a Mr William Giblet was supplying meat to the gourmet table of George IV. Records show that as a dying man, one day in April 1830, the King polished off “two pidgeons and three beef steaks, drank three parts of a bottle of Mozelle, a glass of champagne, two glasses of port and a glass of brandy.” This was breakfast - he swigged down laudanum
as a chaser and, astonishingly, survived for
two more months.Enterprise was second nature to the Victorians, and on May 25th 1840 a gathering of ‘Her Majesty’s Tradesmen’ held a celebration at the Freemason’s Tavern to mark their newly married sovereign’s birthday. Forging themselves into The Royal Tradesman’s Association they decided to operate “not for the purpose of gain but for enforcing the laws of protection of Persons and Firms holding Royal Warrants of Appointment.” In 1907 the Association received its Royal Charter and aside from assiduously ensuring that the quality and reliability of the goods and services offered are upheld, the Association also looked towards the future. To celebrate the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday, and their own 150th anniversary, the association members created The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust which offers financial encouragement to candidates able to prove a commitment to a craft or skill. A young Yorkshire plasterer, Alan Graystock, already with a cornucopia of awards was the classic high achiever. “I want to be the best,” he declared and the Trust propelled him towards his goal with an award to learn the art of scagliola from leading expert, David Hayles. This is the time-honoured tradition of learning a craft from a master that would have been very familiar back in Henry II’s day.Great care is taken to preserve the dignity of the Royal Warrant and prevent commercialisation. To qualify for a warrant a firm must supply or provide a service to a department of the Royal Household for more than five years. Each of the relevant four members of the Royal Family can only grant one warrant to any business but that business may hold warrants from more than one grantor. A handful of companies, Harrods is one, holds all four and warrants are issued only to ‘tradesmen’ - professionals and government departments do not qualify. When faced with this stricture, the old adage which says no gentleman engages in trade becomes something of a conundrum.A glance at the list of companies patronized by each Royal Family member gives a clear insight into that grantor’s interests. Prince Philip is a very keen rifle shot and since 1963 top London gun and rifle makers, Holland & Holland, have been honoured to display the Prince’s Coat of Arms. “We are extremely proud that our unique quality and reputation for excellence is recognized at the highest level,” enthuses chairman Roger Mitchell. In fact the company has enjoyed a succession of royal appointments including that of the most famous of the royal shots, Edward VII.Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, is much admired for her appreciation of the finer things in life. Veuve-Cliquot-Ponsardin of Reims is Her Purveyor of Champagne, while six jewellers bear Her Majesty’s Royal Warrant of Appointment - including Cartier Ltd. Not for nothing is Her Majesty affectionately dubbed the Pearly Queen. Her Majesty enjoys her jewels “just to sparkle” any time there is a “big dressing” - as the Royal Family term any grand occasion. The tiara that was made up for her by Cartier in 1953, the year of her daughter’s accession to the throne, still remains a favourite today. The diamonds were originally presented to Edward VII in 1901 by de Beers.At perhaps a more humble level, She favours The Corner Fruit Shop, Thurso, near Her Highland retreat, the Castle of Mey in Caithness. This shop rejoices in Her recognition as Fruiterer and Greengrocer. Does it supply the lemons to swirl in Tanqueray Gordon & Company’s gin, another example of Her patronage? But, then again, lemons may not be called for. Bacardi-Martini Beverages Ltd, suppliers of Martini Vermouth, also features on her list along with the Ipswich company, Hubbard Refrigeration Ltd., who supply automatic ice making machines. The number of HM The Queen’s warrant holders seems to go and on forever. Everyone mentioned upon the list reflects a monarch’s very singular way of life. For example, there’s the Sword Cutler, the Supplier of Gold and Silver Laces as well as Insignia and Embroidery. And then there’s Gieves and Hawkes, the Livery and Military Tailors. However, the virtue of the British monarchy is its capacity to adapt and the 21st century has infiltrated Buckingham Palace. The evidence is there on the list - Unitech Complete Computing is now officially recognized as Software Developers to the Household of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.It is difficult to imagine Her Majesty tapping away at a laptop but, as Lord of the Isles, Prince Charles has every reason, perhaps even a duty, to be associated with a distillery on Islay. Moreover, Laphroaig’s production measures up to all the Prince’s ecologically sound standards and the distillery has become associated with both His retail operation based at Highgrove and The Prince’s Trust. However, putting onerous royal duties aside, does His Royal Highness need an excuse to drink Laphroaig? Mind you, does anyone?