Swan Upping

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The Queen's Swan Uppers (right), on the Thames at Abingdon
The skiffs surround the swans so that they can be more easily caught.

Swan upping is an annual ceremony in England in which mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, ringed, and then released.

By prerogative right, the British Crown enjoys ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water. Rights over swans may, however, be granted to a subject by the Crown (accordingly they may also be claimed by prescription.)[1] The ownership of swans in a given body of water was commonly granted to landowners up to the 16th century. The only bodies still to exercise such rights are two livery companies of the City of London. Thus the ownership of swans in the Thames is shared equally among the Crown, the Vintners' Company and the Dyers' Company.

Swan upping is the traditional means by which the swans on the Thames are apportioned among the three proprietors. Its main practical purposes today are to conduct a census of swans and check their health. It occurs annually during the third week of July. Over five days, the Queen's, Vintners' and the Dyers' respective swan uppers row up the river in skiffs. Swans caught by the Queen's swan uppers under the direction of the Swan Marker are left unmarked, except for a ring linked to the database of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Those caught by the Dyers and Vintners are identified as theirs by means of a further ring on the other leg. Originally, rather than being ringed, the swans would be marked on the bill, a practice reflected in the pub name The Swan with Two Necks, a corruption of "The Swan with Two Nicks".

On 20 July 2009, Queen Elizabeth II, as "Seigneur of the Swans," attended the Swan Upping ceremony for the first time in her reign. This was the first time that the monarch had personally watched the ceremony in centuries.

In 2012, because of flooding of the river from adverse weather, the ceremony was cancelled between Sunbury-on-Thames and Windsor, "for the first time in its 900-year history".[2]

See also


  1. ^ The Case of Swans (1592) 7 Co. Rep. 15b
  2. ^ "Windsor Swan Upping ceremony cancelled due to flooding". BBC News. 
  • Norman Frederic Ticehurst, The Mute Swan in England: Its History, and the Ancient Custom of Swan Keeping (1957).

External links

Media related to Swan Upping at Wikimedia Commons

  • The Royal Windsor website
  • The official British Monarchy website - Swan Upping
  • Vintners' Company website
  • Swan Upping at Cookham
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