During the period of the Kingdom of Holland (1806-1810), King Louis Napoleon (brother of Napoleon Bonaparte) promulgated a decree, on 4 May 1808, founding the Royal Institute of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts ('Koninklijk Instituut van Wetenschappen, Letterkunde en Schoone Kunsten'). The chief aim was 'to perfect the Sciences and Arts, to notify such progress to Foreigners and to introduce inventions or progress achieved elsewhere in (the) country.' The Institute provided the government with solicited and unsolicited advice. It also implemented government decrees.
The Royal Institute endured after the downfall of the French, and King William I confirmed its establishment by Royal Decree in 1816. Thereafter, it became known as the Royal Netherlands Institute of Science, Letters and Arts. The Academy derives its legal status from the 1996 Higher Education and Research Act [Wet op het hoger onderwijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek]. According to the Act, its tasks are as follows:
“The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences operates in the field of scientific research. It promotes the exchange of ideas and information amongst its members and between its members and others engaged in scientific endeavour and scientific organisations; advises the government, either on request or at its own initiative, on matters in the field of scientific endeavour; and promotes scientific endeavour by carrying out activities in that field, or causing such activities to be carried out.”