The Royal Retailers: British Royal Warrant Holders

The Royal Coat of Arms embroidered by Hand & Lock, a Royal Warrant Holder

Fancy sharing suppliers with the Queen? From flagmakers to florists, the Royal Warrant Holders are an eclectic group. We find out more about this centuries-old tradition

Words: Emme Ledgerwood

Once a year, florist Rosemary Hughes gathers together a heady recipe of daffodils, freesias, stocks and herbs. She creates a dozen exquisite nosegays for the most important client on her books, Her Majesty The Queen. These small, perfumed bunches of yellow, violet and white are the traditional nosegays carried by royalty and clergy at the pre-Easter Maundy service where the Queen presents ‘Maundy money’ to retired pensioners from across the country, chosen for service to their communities.

Queen Elizabeth II attends the Maundy Service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

“It’s a tradition that goes back over 800 years,” says Hughes, who holds a Royal Warrant as Supplier of Nosegays. “You make every effort for The Queen as it’s a big honour. It’s an accolade you never dream of getting when you start out as a Saturday girl in a florist’s shop.”

As a warrant holder, Hughes belongs to an eclectic group that represents a huge cross-section of trade and industry, ranging from traditional craftspeople to global and multinational firms operating at the cutting edge of technology. 

Only individuals or companies that have supplied goods or services for at least five years to HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales can apply for a warrant through the Royal Warrant Holders Association (RWHA), which advises applicants on the process. 

Those five years are crucial to the establishment of a good working relationship and are also an effective way for the Royal Household to observe whether the company demonstrates its ability to deliver to the exacting standards required. Since 2012 all Royal Warrant holders have also been obligated to complete an environmental and sustainability audit, a requirement first introduced by the Prince of Wales. 

Once granted, the holder of a Royal Warrant is entitled to display the relevant Royal Coat of Arms and the legend ‘By Appointment’ on their products, premises, stationery, vehicles or advertising.

It’s a tradition that dates back to the 15th century. William Caxton, inventor of the printing press, was one of the first recipients, becoming the King’s Printer to Edward IV in 1476. Everything from crowns to cutlery has appeared on the sovereigns’ shopping lists over the centuries, but some of the orders have changed over time. Unlike Henry VIII, the present Queen doesn’t have a supplier of “Swannes and Cranes, price the piece two shillings”, nor we imagine does she give her Purveyor of Fish “£10 a year for ‘entertainment’ plus £22.11s.8d. for losses and necessaries”, as did Elizabeth I.

Fortnum & Mason’s store entrance in Piccadilly, London Credit: Travel pix Collection/Alamy

The 18th century saw warrants issued to royal rat-catchers, mole-takers and bug-takers. Later, Queen Victoria revived the tradition, with over 2,000 businesses receiving the accolade during her reign, including Twinings tea merchants and royal grocer Fortnum & Mason, who still hold the seal of approval today.

Other companies have had the privilege of displaying the legend for even longer, such as Firmin, the button and insignia maker, or wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd, who both began supplying the Royal Households during the reign of George III. 

Others are London institutions, such as Lock & Co Hatters in St James’ Street or the fragrance house Floris. Recent recipients include pet food manufacturer Lily’s Kitchen – suppliers to Prince Charles’s dogs Beth and Bluebell – and Hand & Lock, embroiderers of the elaborate uniforms of Her Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms.

The Goring is the only hotel to have been granted a Royal Warrant. Credit: David Cotsworth/Doug Harding Photography/Visit England

The majority of warrant holders are small- to medium-sized businesses, and many are family-run or owner-managed, whose relationship with the Royal Households often starts through word-of-mouth recommendations. Whatever their background, they are obliged to operate according to the Lord Chamberlain’s Rules and maintain absolute discretion about their royal customers. Warrants are reviewed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office a year before they are due to expire.

Read the full feature in the September/October 2020 issue of BRITAIN.