Most royal burghs were either created by the Crown, or upgraded from another status, such as burgh of barony. As discrete classes of burgh emerged, the royal burghs—originally distinctive because they were on royal lands—acquired a monopoly of foreign trade.
An important document for each burgh was its burgh charter, creating the burgh or confirming the rights of the burgh as laid down (perhaps verbally) by a previous monarch. Each royal burgh (with the exception of four 'inactive burghs') was represented in the Parliament of Scotland and could appoint bailies with wide powers in civil and criminal justice. By 1707 there were 70 royal burghs.
The Royal Burghs Act 1833 reformed the election of the town councils that governed royal burghs. Those qualified to vote in parliamentary elections under the Reform Act 1832 were now entitled to elect burgh councillors.