At one time a Royal Charter was the only way in which an incorporated body could be formed, but other means such as the registration of a limited company are now available. Among the historic bodies formed by Royal Charter were the British East India Company and the American colonies.
A Royal Charter is the manner in which a British town is raised to the rank of city. Most recently Inverness, Brighton & Hove and Wolverhampton were given their charters to celebrate the millennium, and Preston, Stirling, Newport, Lisburn and Newry to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2002.
Some of the older British universities operate under Royal Charters, which give them the power to grant degrees. The most recent generation of universities were granted this power by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 instead. Some other universities operate under Acts of Parliament.
The BBC operates under a Royal Charter which lasts for a limited period of ten years, after which it is renewed.
Most Royal Charters are now granted to professional institutions and to charities. A Charter is not necessary for them to operate, but one is often sought as a recognition of "pre-eminence, stability and permanence".