By Anne Locker

From Royal patronage to serving Presidents, and from Honorary Fellowship to engagement with engineering and technology, the history of the IET and the engineering profession is intertwined with that of the Royal Family. As we celebrate the coronation of King Charles III, here some highlights of that history from the IET’s Archive collections.

A version of this blog appeared on the IET’s website in May 2023.

Royal Charter

In 1921, the Institution of Electrical Engineers (later the IET) was awarded its first Charter. It was granted by George V on 15 August 1921, and the King also agreed to act as the Institution’s first royal patron. Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II also acted as patrons.

Printed page of a Charter with red printed seals and black text
First page of the IEE’s Royal Charter, 1921

Royal Presidents

The Institution of Electronics and Radio Engineers, which merged with the IEE in 1988, had two serving Presidents who were members of the royal family. Earl Mountbatten of Burma had trained as a radio engineer in the Royal Navy and was a strong supporter of the early IERE, helping it to lobby for its own Royal Charter in 1961. He served as President in 1947-8 and 1961-2 and was made an Honorary Fellow of both the IERE and IEE. In 1976, HRH the Duke of Kent was elected as President, and was also elected an Honorary Fellow of both institutions. King Charles and the Princess Royal are also Honorary Fellows of the IET.

The Prince of Wales sitting at a desk and smiling as he holds a pen to sign a book. The book is being held by a woman who is looking down at the page.
The Prince of Wales signing the IEE Honorary Fellows album

Engineering engagement

Members of the royal family have taken an active interest in the development of engineering and technology in the UK. In 1926, HRH the Duchess of York (Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, opened the first International Conference of Women in Science, Industry and Commerce in London. She continued her interest in women and engineering, and was shown how to change a fuse by the Electrical Association for Women in 1943 (featured image).

HRH the Princess Royal has served as patron of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) for over twenty years, and as President of the Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI), the Duke of Edinburgh was instrumental in founding the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Duchess of York in a white outfit and hat, standing behind a desk on the conference platform surrounded by other speakers
The Duchess of York at the International Conference of Women in Science, Industry and Commerce, organised by the Women’s Engineering Society

For more information on royal connections in the Archives, search our online catalogue.