The Royal College of Surgeons began life not as a royal college but as an incorporated trade. A group of surgeons and barbers in Edinburgh jointly received a seal of cause from the town council, forming them into a single incorporation, known as the Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers of Edinburgh, on 1st July 1505. All the provisions of the seal of cause were confirmed by a charter granted by James IV under his Privy Seal, dated 13th October 1506.
The original seal of cause required the freemen of the surgeon and barber crafts to pay their weekly and quarterly contributions for the upkeep of their altar in St. Giles. They were permitted to elect a kirkmaster (who was both deacon and treasurer) annually, whom the whole brethren of the said crafts were to obey for that year. Applicants were required to know anatomy and all the veins, so that he may make phlebotomy (blood-letting) in due time. The new Incorporation was to have annually the cadaver of a condemned man with which to experience anatomical dissection at first hand, in return for which they will pray for his soul (“do suffrage for the soule”). Barbers were not to practise as surgeons without being expert and perfectly knowing the things above written. The freemen of the craft were given the monopoly of distilling alcohol (“aquavite”) in the burgh.
Apothecaries were allowed to become freemen of the Incorporation in 1670, but not all of them joined. The barbers seceded from the Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers on 23rd February 1722 to form their own Society of Barbers.
It was not 1778 that the Incorporation of Surgeons was upgraded to the status of a Royal College, while remaining an Incorporation. It ceased to be an Incorporation in 1851 but rejoined the Convenery of Trades in 2005.
The earliest mention of the Surgeons using a coat of arms is in 1588, when it was put on their new mortcloth.
In modern times the Incorporation is one of the two leading royal colleges in the united kingdom, the other being in London. It comprises some 23,000 fellows and members worldwide and has a reputation for excellence that is not surpassed by any other like body on the planet.