A medieval ritual as a metaphor for British constitutional historical past
Each summer season, barring a plague, an age-old ritual takes locations on the Thames: the Royal Swan Upping. Led by the Royal Swan Marker, “[t]he Royal Swan Uppers, who put on the scarlet uniform of Her Majesty The Queen, journey in conventional rowing skiffs along with Swan Uppers from the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery corporations”. Fact be instructed, the skiffs are largely towed by a ship with an engine, however the entire thing does look fairly grand. I do know, as a result of I went to see it yesterday.
Scarlet uniform: examine. Royal flag: examine. Superior swan flag on the towing boat: additionally examine. Even Galadriel could be proud, I believe. (And, come to think about it, I’m questioning if the Swan Upping has helped encourage Professor Tolkien.)
The explanation I’m writing about it right here, although, is that there’s a fascinating legal-historical and certainly constitutional dimension to the Swan Upping story. As Katy Barnett explains in a most instructive publish over at Authorized Historical past Miscellany the explanation for the fantastic scarlet uniforms’ presence is that her majesty has a particular relationship, one may say, with the mute swans of the Thames:
[t]he historical origins of the monarch’s possession of swans are shrouded in thriller. The primary point out of mute swans being a ‘royal fowl’ comes from Gerald of Wales (‘Giraldus Cambrensis’) within the late 12th century. It’s usually deemed a part of the royal prerogative by customized, then entrenched in case regulation and statute. (Footnote omitted)
The workplace of the Royal Swan Marker goes again (at the very least?) to the 14th century:
In 1361, Thomas de Russham was given accountability by the king for “the supervision and custody of all our swans in addition to within the water of the Thames as elsewhere inside our Kingdom.” Thereafter, the king had an officer who was Grasp of the King’s Recreation of Swans (often known as the Royal Swan-herd, Royal Swannerd, or Royal Swan-master).
Within the Center Ages, the scarlet uniforms weren’t only for present: swan possession was tied up with social hierarchy:
In 1482 and 1483, Edward IV’s Act for Swans was handed to stop illegal maintaining of swans by “Yeomen and Husbandmen, and different individuals of little Fame”. Accordingly, the one individuals who may have swan marks or personal swans have been noble and wealthy individuals
And “solely the monarch may declare unmarked mute swans”. That is what the Royal Swan Upping was:
[p]eople would catch the swans, report the possession of the birds and their offspring, and place markings upon the beaks of the birds. Plainly the marks have been achieved by inscription with a knife or by branding. The swan-master was to meticulously preserve the marks in an ‘upping guide’.
These days, after all, the entire course of is rather more humane, and its level is not to make sure the regular provide of swans for royal Christmas feasts as within the Plantegenets’ and Tudors’ instances. Because the Royal Swan Marker explains,
Swan Upping performs an necessary position within the conservation of the mute swan and entails The Queen’s Swan Warden accumulating knowledge, assessing the well being of younger cygnets and inspecting them for any accidents. Cygnets are extraordinarily susceptible at this early stage of their improvement and Swan Upping affords a possibility to assist each adults and cygnets which may in any other case go untreated.
On this manner, the method actually is emblematic of the British structure: its origins are in medieval royal absolutism, later bolstered and partly taken over by statute, and ultimately re-thought for a extra caring and democratic age, with the scarlet uniforms kind of intact. So it solely is smart that I went to see it, and that I weblog about it!