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A brief history of the RAS

The Charter of the Royal Astronomical Society

The original Royal Charter of the RAS was granted on 7 March 1831 by King William IV. It authorised the (then) Astronomical Society of London to become the Royal Astronomical Society, and set out the society's governing principles and regulations (see the brief history of the society). It currently hangs on display in the ground floor of Burlington House.

A Supplemental Charter was granted in 1915 by George V, which opened the Fellowship to women. A further Supplemental Charter was granted in 2005 by Elizabeth II, which repealed some anachronistic clauses and allowed the society to modify its own charter (though this has not yet been required).

Transcripts of all three Charters appear below. The RAS is also governed by a number of bye-laws.

 


Royal Charter 1831

 

Royal CharterThe 1831 Royal Charter of the RAS1. WILLIAM THE FOURTH, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, to all to whom these presents shall come, greeting.

 

2. WHEREAS SIR JAMES SOUTH, of the Observatory, Kensington, in the County of Middlesex, Knight, has, by his Petition, humbly represented unto Us, that he, together with others of Our loyal subjects, did, in the year 1820, form themselves into a Society, of which We have since been pleased to become the Royal Patron, for the encouragement and promotion of Astronomy, and have subscribed and collected considerable sums of money for such purposes; and have also collected, and become possessed of, a valuable library and various astronomical instruments, as well as other property to a considerable amount; and have been actively employed in, and are still further desirous of, extending the use and advantage of the same for the benefit of Science, by the publication of various works, and by promoting a general spirit of inquiry on Astronomical subjects; and that it would materially effectuate the designs of the Petitioner and the other Fellows of the said Society, if they were incorporated; the Petitioner therefore, on behalf of himself and the other Fellows of the Society, most humbly prayed that, for the better enabling them to carry into effect the objects aforesaid, We would be graciously pleased to grant a Royal Charter for incorporating into a Society the several persons who have already become Fellows, or who may at any time hereafter become Fellows thereof:

 

3. NOW KNOW YE, that We, being desirous of encouraging a design so laudible, have of Our especial grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion, willed, granted, and ordained, and do by these presents, for Us, Our heirs and successors, will, grant, and ordain, that the said SIR JAMES SOUTH, Knight, and such others of Our loving subjects as have formed themselves into, and are now Fellows of the said Society, or who shall at any time thereafter become Fellows thereof, according to such Bye-laws as shall hereafter be framed or enacted, shall by virtue of these presents, be one body politic and corporate,by the name and style of THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY: by which name and style they shall have perpetual succession and a common seal; with full power to alter, vary, break, and renew the same at their discretion; and by the same name and style to sue and be sued, to implead and be impleaded, to answer and be answered unto, in every court of Us, Our heirs and successors:

 

4. And be forever able and capable in the law to purchase, receive, hold,possess, and enjoy, to them and their successors, any goods and chattels whatsoever; and also be able and capable in the law (notwithstanding the Statutes and Mortmain), to take, purchase, possess, hold, and enjoy, to them and their successors, a hall or college, and any messuages, lands, tenements, or hereditaments whatsoever, the yearly value of which (including the said hall or college) shall not exceed in the whole the sum of Two Thousand Pounds, computing the same respectively at the rack rent, which might have been had or gotten for the same respectively, at the time of purchase or acquisition thereof; and to act and do in all things relating to the said body politic and corporate, as fully and effectually to all intents, effects, constructions, and purposes whatsoever, as any other of our liege subjects, or any other body politic or corporate, in Our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (not being under any disability), might or could act, or do in their respective concerns. And We do hereby grant Our especial licence and authority unto all and every person or persons, bodies politic and corporate (otherwise competent), to grant, sell, alien, and convey in mortmain, unto and to the use of the said Society, and their successors, any messuages, lands, tenements, or hereditaments, not exceeding such annual value as aforesaid.

 

5. AND OUR WILL and Pleasure is, and We further grant and declare, that there shall be a General Meeting of the Fellows of said body politic and corporate, to be held from time to time, as hereinafter mentioned; and that there shall always be a Council to direct and manage the concerns of said body politic and corporate.

 

6. AND WE DO hereby also will, grant, and declare, that the Council shall consist of a President, four Vice-Presidents, one Treasurer, not more than three Secretaries, and not more than twelve nor less than eight, other Fellows, to be elected out of the Fellows of said body politic and corporate; and that the first members of the Council shall be elected within six calendar months after the date of this Our Charter; and that the said SIR JAMES SOUTH shall be the first President of the said body politic and corporate, and shall continue such until the election as aforesaid.

 

7. AND WE DO hereby further will, grant, and declare, that it shall be lawful for the Fellows of the said body politic and corporate, hereby established, to hold General Meetings once in the year, and oftener, for the purposes hereinafter mentioned, viz. - That the General Meeting shal choose the President, Vice-Presidents, Treasurer, Secretaries, and other Members of Council; that the General Meeting shall make and establish such Bye-laws as they shall deem to be useful and necessary for the regulation of the said body politic and corporate, for fixing the days on which the ordinary meetings of the Society shall be held; for determining the mode in which Fellows and Associates shall be elected, admitted, or expelled; for the management of the estates, goods, and affars of the said body politic and corporate; and for fixing and determining the manner of electing the President, Vice-Presidents, Treasurer, Secretaries, and other Members of Council, and the period of their continuance in office (but it is Our Will and Pleasure, that no Fellow who has filled the office of President for two successive years, shall be again eligible to the same situation until the expiration of one year from the termination of his office); and such Bye-laws, from time to time, shall or may alter, vary, or revoke; and shall or may make such new and other Bye-laws, as they shall think useful and expedient.

 

8. But Our Will and Pleasure is, that no such General Meeting as aforesaid shall, without the consent of the Council of the said Society or body politic, have the power of altering or repealing any existing Bye-law, or of making any new one, unless the Fellow or Fellows of said Society, or body politic, who shall be desirous of altering or repealing any such existing Bye-law, or of making any new one, shall have given to the Council of the said Society, or body politic, one month's previous notice of such his or their intention.

 

9. AND WE FURTHER will, grant, and declare, that the Council shall (but not inconsistently with, or contrary to, the provisions of this Our Charter, or any existing Bye-law, or the Laws and Statutes of this Our Realm) have the sole management of the income and funds of the said body politic and corporate; and also the entire management and superintendence of all the other affairs and concerns thereof; and shall or may do all such acts and deeds as shall appear to them necessary or essential to be done for the purpose of carrying into effect the objects and views of the said body politic and corporate.

 

10. AND WE FURTHER will, grant, and declare, that the whole property of said body politic and corporate shall be vested, and We do hereby vest the same, solely and absolutely, in the Fellows thereof; and that they shall have full power and authority to sell, alienate, charge, or otherwise dispose of the same, as they shall think proper, but that no sale, mortgage, encumbrance, or other disposition of any messuages, lands, tenements, or hereditaments, belonging to the said body politic or corporate, shall be made except with the approbation and concurrence of a General Meeting.

 

11. AND WE LASTLY DECLARE it to be Our Royal Will and Pleasure that no Resolution of Bye-law shall, on any account or pretence whatsoever, be made by the said body politic and corporate, in opposition to the general scope, true intent, and meaning of this Our Charter, or the Laws and Statutes of this Realm: and that, if any such Resolution or Bye-law shall be made, the same shall be absolutely null and void, to all intents, effects, constructions, and purposes whatsoever.

 

IN WITNESS whereof We have caused these Our letters to be made patent.

 

WITNESS OURSELF, at Westminster, this Seventh day of March in the first year of Our Reign.

 

By writ of Privy Seal.
SCOTT.




Supplemental Charter 1915

 

GEORGE THE FIFTH, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India. To all to whom these Presents shall come Greeting.

 

WHEREAS our Royal predecessor King William the Fourth by letters patent by writ of Privy Seal, bearing date at Westminster the seventh day of March in the first year of His said late Majesty's reign, did will, grant, and ordain that Sir James South, Knight, and such others, as therein mentioned, as had formed themselves into and were then Fellows of the Society for the encouragement and promotion of Astronomy therein mentioned, or should at any time thereafter become Fellows thereof, according to such Bye-laws as should thereafter be framed or enacted, should be one body politic and corporte by the name and style of "THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY" with perpetual accession, and with the powers, liberties, and privileges, and subject to the provisions, in the said Royal Charter set forth:

 

AND our Royal predecessor did thereby also grant and declare that there should be a General Meeting of the Fellows of the said body politic and corporate to be held from time to time as therein mentioned, and that there should always be a Council to direct and manage the concerns of the said body politic and corporate, and that the General Meeting should make and establish such Bye-laws as they should deem to be useful and necessary for the regulation of the said body politic and corporate and (inter alia) for determining the mode in which Fellows and Associates should be elected, admitted, or expelled, and such Bye-laws from time to time should or might alter, vary, or revoke, and should or might make such new and other Bye-laws as they should think useful and expedient:

 

AND WHEREAS it has been represented to us by the Council of the said Society (acting in pursuance of a resolution in that behalf passed at a General Meeting of the Fellows thereof, and of a further resolution in that behalf passed at a meeting of the said Council) that it would increase the usefulness of the said Society if women could be elected Fellows and Associates thereof, and that it is apprehended by the said Society that women may not now be eligible to be elected Fellows and Associates thereof:

 

AND WHEREAS the said Society have by their petition humbly besought Us to grant them Our Royal Charter for carrying into effect the above-mentioned objects in manner hereinafter appearing:

 

AND KNOW YE, that We, taking the premises into Our Royal consideration do of Our special grace, for Ourself, Our Heirs, and Successors, by way of addition to the said hereinbefore recited Charter, grant and declare that persons may be elected and admitted to be Fellows and Associates of the said Society, and expelled therefrom, without distinction of sex, and that every such election, admission, and expulsion, and every consequent alteration, variation, and revocation of or addition to the Bye-laws of the said Society (so that the same be duly made in manner provided in that behalf by the said hereinbefore recited Charter and be not in opposition to the general scope, true intent, and meaning of the said hereinbefore recited Charter, as amended or suppemented by this present Charter, nor in opposition to the Laws and Statutes of this realm) shall have the same effect as if made in pursuance of the said hereinbefore recited Charter.

 

IN WITNESS whereof We have caused these Our letters to be made Patent.

 

WITNESS OURSELF at Westminster this fifth day of June, 1915, in sixth Year of Our Reign.

 

BY WARRENT under the King's Sign Manual.

 

MUIR MACKENZIE




Supplemental Charter 2005

 

ELIZABETH the Second by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Our other Realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith:

 

TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME, GREETING! 

 

WHEREAS His Majesty King William the Fourth by Royal Charter (hereinafter referred to as ‘the original Charter’) dated the seventh day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty one constituted a body politic and corporate by the name of ‘The Royal Astronomical Society’  (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Society’) with perpetual succession and a Common Seal: 

 

WHEREAS His Majesty King George the Fifth by Supplemental Charter (hereinafter referred to as ‘the 1915 Supplemental Charter’) dated the fifth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and fifteen granted and declared by addition to the original Charter that persons may be elected and admitted to be Fellows and Associates of the Society and expelled therefrom without distinction of sex: 

 

And WHEREAS the Society has by a humble Petition prayed that We should be graciously pleased to grant to it a Supplemental Charter: 

 

NOW THEREFORE KNOW YE that We having taken the said Petition into Our Royal Consideration by virtue of Our Prerogative Royal and of Our especial grace, certain knowledge and mere motion have granted and declared and by these Presents do for Us, Our Heirs and Successors grant and declare as follows: 

 

1.  The original Charter shall be read as if “(notwithstanding the Statutes of Mortmain),”, “the yearly value of which (including the said hall or college, shall not exceed in the whole the sum of Two Thousand Pounds, computing the same respectively at the rack rent which might have been had or gotten for the same respectively, at the time of the purchase or acquisition thereof”, “in mortmain” and “,not exceeding such annual value as aforesaid” had been deleted and shall henceforward continue and operate as though it had been originally granted and made accordingly. 

 

2. The Council of the Society may by a resolution in that behalf passed at any meeting of such Council by not less than two-thirds of the members of such Council present and voting (being an absolute majority of the whole number of the members of such Council entitled to vote at meetings thereof) and confirmed at a general meeting of members of the Society held not less than one month nor more than four months afterwards by a resolution passed by not less than two-thirds of the members voting thereat revoke, amend or add to the original Charter, the 1915 Supplemental Charter or this Our Supplemental Charter and any such revocation, amendment or addition shall when allowed by Us, Our Heirs or Successors in Council become effectual so that the original Charter, the 1915 Supplemental Charter and this our Supplemental Charter as the case may be shall thenceforward continue and operate as though it had been originally granted and made accordingly.  Provided that no such revocation, amendment or addition shall be made which shall cause the Society to cease to be a charity in law.  This provision shall apply to the original Charter, the 1915 Supplemental Charter and this Our Supplemental Charter as revoked, amended or added to in manner aforesaid.   

 

IN WITNESS whereof  We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent. 

 

WITNESS Ourself at Westminster the fifteenth day of July in the fifty-fourth year of Our Reign.

 

By Warrant under The Queen’s Sign Manual