The Royal Charter of the College of William & Mary at Swem Library

Duration: 
February 4, 2011 to February 5, 2011

Charter Day weekend at William & Mary will include a special display of the university’s oldest copies of the Royal Charter in the Earl Gregg Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center. This is a rare chance for the William & Mary community and the public to see two contemporary handwritten copies of the Royal Charter, often referred to as the Andros and Harvard copies, as they are rarely on exhibit. Early 18th century printings of the charter will also be on display.

The Andros copy is believed to have been given to Sir Edmund Andros, the governor general of the colony of Virginia from 1692 to 1698. It is known that William and Mary president the Rev. James Blair brought both English and Latin versions of the twelve page charter with him from the Court of William and Mary at Kensington Palace. In a 1978 study of the charter, Prof. Frank B. Evans speculated that perhaps Ralph Wormeley, Secretary of the colony of Virginia, made this translation from Latin into English for Governor Andros. It was purchased in 1977 and the image of its first page will be recognized by many as a reproduction of it is frequently used on Charter Day programs, publications, websites, and in past exhibits.

The first contemporary copy of the charter acquired by William & Mary was actually found in a trunk in an attic at Harvard University and given to William & Mary in 1931. Originally, this Harvard copy was a splendid copy of the charter, however, it was badly water damaged at some point in the past before it was given to William & Mary and is in need of conservation.

The English and Latin versions of the twelve page charter establishing the College of William and Mary in Virginia brought to these shores by Rev. Blair was apparently lost about the time of the American Revolution. Prof. Evans began his study by saying “The story of the royal Charter granted in 1693 to found the College of William and Mary would be simpler, but less interesting, were it not for the story of a document which is lost.”