Why Do Swans Belong To The Monarch?


There are numerous curious traditions related to the monarchy of the UK. One of the well-known is that every one swans are the property of the King. Killing a swan, some declare, is excessive treason which might see you thrown within the Tower.

Nevertheless, this isn’t strictly appropriate; it’s only unmarked mute swans which are the property of the Crown, and also you received’t you find yourself within the Tower for killing one. In actual fact, the precise fact is much extra fascinating.

What’s an unmarked swan?

For a whole lot of years, swans have been seen as a prized meals, usually served because the centrepiece at feasts and banquets, skinned and redressed, with a lump of burning coal in its beak. They have been notably well-liked with noblemen and royalty. In 1247, for instance, Henry III ordered 40 swans for the Christmas celebrations at Winchester.

Not like chickens, geese, and geese, although, swans might by no means be absolutely domesticated. Historic information present that they have been semi-domesticated in England by no less than the twelfth century, in all probability by pinioning, however that they nonetheless retained many traits of absolutely wild animals akin to a excessive diploma of territoriality and solely flocking out of breeding season.

This meant that swans couldn’t be stored within the typical method of home animals, so until you owned a big personal lake or moat, they needed to reside on open water, free to swim wherever they fancied. And as soon as they transfer onto widespread land, chances are you’ll lose possession of them.

It isn’t recognized when it turned customary for swans to be thought of Royal Fowl, that’s property of the Crown, however information documenting the principles of possession return to the center of the twelfth century, with the primary written file of royal swan possession courting again to 1186. In 1246 it’s recognized that the Sergeant of Kennington was seizing cygnets on behalf of the King, and by 1361 the Crown had employed a Grasp of the King’s Recreation of Swans, also referred to as the Royal Swan-herd, Royal Swannerd, or Royal Swan-master.

Killing or injuring swans, stealing eggs, searching close to them with canines, driving them out of your land, and even slicing the grass close to a swan have been all thought of offences and by 1463 a Swan-Mote was put in place by the monarch, with commissioners and justices appointed to listen to the circumstances.

By the start of the fifteenth century nonetheless, rich folks have been awarded the precise to purchase, promote, and eat swans, by buying a ‘swan mark’ from the King. As proof of possession a mark, one of many oldest property marks in England, was carved into the swan’s beak.

Over the centuries, a whole lot of various swan marks advanced, with books, akin to The Cantley Swan Roll. printed to maintain monitor of them. At first, the marks consisted of straightforward strains and shapes however finally swords, crossbows, heraldic symbols, and eventually letters have been used.

Complicated guidelines surrounding possession have been additionally drawn up and every year households of swans have been rounded as much as decide who the cygnets, which have been extremely wanted for his or her meat, belonged to.

If the cygnets had mother and father that belonged to 2 totally different house owners, the brood was shared amongst them with the proprietor of the male swan, the cob, choosing the primary fowl. If there was an odd variety of cygnets, the proprietor of the cob, was given the additional cygnet. Alternatively, house owners might pay to accumulate disputed birds, or if there have been 3 cygnets, the individual whose land the nest was constructed on could also be entitled to say one in all them.

Swan Marks
Assortment of swan-marks displayed in alphabetical order, starting with the royal swan mark earlier than Henry VIII – from the Harley Assortment within the British Library

Any swans and cygnets that have been left unmarked remained the property of the Crown. Among the marked birds have been launched to keep up the breeding shares, whereas the remainder have been taken away to be fattened up on grain.

The customized was solely a peculiarity to England and Wales. In Scotland no such system developed, and the swan was by no means thought of a royal fowl.

As home poultry turned extra extensively obtainable, swan meat fell out of favour, and the birds misplaced their worth. The house owners let their licences lapse, and not marked their birds, with only a few retaining their proper to personal swans. Within the nineteenth century the apply lastly stopped when Queen Alexandra, spouse of King Edward VII, determined it brought on the swans pointless struggling.

Right now, simply 3 our bodies have stored their proper to personal swans. Two livery firms, the Vintners and the Dyers, and the Ilchester household, which owns the swans breeding at a colony in Abbotsbury in Dorset. The Abbotsbury swannery has been in existence since no less than the center of the 14th century, whereas the livery firms acquired their rights within the fifteenth century.

Formally, the King does personal all unmarked swans purchase he solely train his proper over elements of the River Thames and its tributaries.

What’s swan upping?

Yearly, a census of the swan inhabitants of a stretch of the River Thames from Sunbury Lock in Surrey to Adlington Bridge in Oxfordshire takes place over 5 days in July. Though it’s largely a ceremonial occasion, it additionally performs an vital half within the welfare and conservation of swans.

A flotilla of 6 Thames rowing skiffs – conventional wood clinker-built boats – rowed by scarlet-clad Swan Uppers, representing the Crown and the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery firms, makes its manner up the river. The boats are adorned with flags and pennants, and are headed by The King’s Swan Marker who wears a cap adorned with a single swan feather.

Once they spot a household of swans and cygnets they shout “All Up” earlier than positioning their boats across the brood, till they will safely carry them out of the water. They then take them ashore the place they’re fastidiously examined by The King’s Swan Warden

They’re checked for illness or indicators of damage which will have been attributable to fishing sort out, canine assaults, or air pollution, and the cygnets are weighed and measured. Any minor accidents are handled on the riverbank, whereas extra badly injured birds are taken to a close-by wildlife rescue organisation that’s supported by the 2 livery firms.

Swan Upping

Lastly, the possession of the cygnets is set. These days, the swans are not marked within the conventional method, however The Swan Markers of the livery firms place figuring out rings on the cygnets’ legs. All birds belonging to the Crown are left unringed. The cygnets are then returned to the river and reunited with their mother and father.

Youngsters from native major faculties are invited to the occasion the place they study in regards to the biology of swans, the rowing boats and different gear used through the ceremony, and the historical past of Swan Upping.

In addition they partake in a Query and Reply session with the Swan Markers and naturally have the chance to view the cygnets shut up, usually the spotlight of the day.

The annual census has offered invaluable insights in regards to the swans on the Thames. From the Sixties to the Eighties numbers fell dramatically from a excessive of 1,300 people to only 7 breeding pairs recorded in 1985. After lead weights have been banned within the late Eighties, and a collection of delicate winters the inhabitants started to extend once more. In 2022, 155 cygnets have been recorded, down 21 on the earlier yr, though this was probably because of avian flu and the drop will not be of great concern.

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