The annual census and check of River Thames swans, traditionally done using Thames skiffs, by the Royal Swan Marker. (Thames swans belong to the Queen unless to the two traditional guilds - the Dyers and the Vintners)
1664: The Orders, Laws, and ancient Customs of Swans, by John Witherings, Esquire,
Master and Governor of the Royal Game of Swans and Cygnets throughout England. London, printed in 1664.
Moved to the end of this page
on the Queen's Swan Marker website
Swan Upping on the Vintners' Company website (with a sumptuous brochure for downloading)
Swan Upping on the Dyers' Company website is quite hard to find - click [THE COMPANY] then [SWANS].
Swan Upping on Wikipedia
1812: The Antijacobin Review and true churchman's Magazine [!] -
... the Rev. Mr. Weston observes, that "the king's swans were doubly marked, and had what was called two nicks
or notches. The term, in process of time, not being understood, a double animal was invented, unknown,
to the Egyptians and Greeks, with the name of the swan with two necks;
Hence the origin of the monster, the "swan with two necks".
but this is not the only ludicrous mistake that has arisen out of the subject, since swan-upping, or the taking up of swans, performed annually by the swan companies, with the Lord Mayor of London at their head, for the purpose of marking them, has been changed by an unlucky aspirate into swan-hopping, which is not to the purpose, and perfectly unintelligible.
As to the swan-hopping, one of the places where this was practised extensively in the vicinity of London, was at what is now called Ball's Pond, in the parish of Islington, particularly in the site at present occupied in nursery grounds. In 1611 this place was still called "The Hopping" ...
[ Is this now "Hopping Lane", N1 2NU ? ]
1875: Swan Upping from 'Life on the Upper Thames', Henry Robert Robertson -
Swan Upping on the Thames above Windsor
1877: Swan Upping on the Thames above Windsor. "VR" on the flag is "Victoria Regina" - Queen Victoria -
Swan Upping on the Thames above Windsor
1900: Swan Upping -
Swan Upping, 1900
1915-1919: Swan Upping at Cookham, Stanley Spencer -
Swan Upping at Cookham,Stanley Spencer
The picture, which was started in 1915 and finished in 1919 after Stanley's time in the war, shows three swans being taken out of a skiff, not otherwise marked for Swan Upping, a woman taking a mattress (correct name for that sort of punt cushion) out of a punt, and two men turning what appears to be a blue short punt supported on trestles.
Swan Upping, 1940s
Swan Upping from the Vintners' Brochure
The Orders, Laws, and ancient Customs of Swans.
By John Witherings, Esquire, Master and Governor of the Royal Game of Swans and Cygnets throughout England.
London, printed in 1664. Quarto, containing six Pages.
To the Worshipful John Witherings, Esquire, Chief Master and Governor of the Royal Game of Swans and Cygnets
throughout the Kingdom of England.
Your Deputy, Master Loggins, hearing that I had some ancient Notes of the Customs and Orders concerning Swans, desired me, that you might have a Sight of them; which I have sent you, together with certain Precedents, or Forms of Commissions for Keeping Swan-herds Courts, and Copies of ancient Patents, which I received of a very honest Gentleman, Master Edward Clerke, of Lincoln's Inn, Esquire, Father to Sir Edward Clerke, one of the Masters of the Chancery. These he delivered me, about eighteen years since; at which Time Sir Lawrence Tanfeeld, late Lord Chief Baron, and myself had a Deputation, from Sir William Andrews, of that Walk, which Master Loggins now hath from you. Master Clerke was before me; but, as I remember, be told me he had his Deputation from my Lord of Buckhurst, and not from Sir James Mervin: Howsoever, the Titles are truly by me transcribed, as I received them written with his own Hand.
There are Orders also printed, and yet somewhat differing from these; which Orders were made at one particular Court, long ago: And, at a Court holden at Burford, in the County of Oxon, about fifteen Tears since, by the said Sir Lawrence Tanfeeld and others, some new Orders were made, which, Sir Lawrence Tanfeeld said, were warrantable by the Commission, and lawful to be made, where and when they were fit and necessary for the Preservation of Swans ; yet so, that those particular Orders may be altered, upon Occasion; but the ancient Customs, contained under the Name of Orders, may not.
There hath been so little Care taken, for Preserving and Publishing these ancient Customs, that they are not of all Gamesters known; and your Deputies commonly send their Servants among us, who, as they are more or less covetous, so do they impose more or less upon us; and, when we, that are the ancient Gamesters, oppose them, we have some Contention:
You shall, therefore, Sir, do well, if, comparing these with your other Notes, you find them to serve generally for England, as well as for our River of Thames, That you give to all your Deputies, and to all Commissioners, Copies, that so all Gamesters may know the certain Customs, which are to be kept: And so I bid you heartily Farewell.
Your loving Friend, John D'oyly
From Alborne in Wiltshire, this 26th of January, 1631
The Laws, Orders, and Customs of Swans, taken out of a Book, which
the Lord of Buckhurst delivered to Edward Clerke, of Lincoln's-Inn, Esq;
to peruse, Ann. Elis. 26. On the Backside of which Book, it was thus
intitled: Taken out of an ancient Book, remaining with Master Hambden, sometime Master of the Swans.
FIRST, If any Person doth possess any Game of Swans, that may not dispend five Marks a Year of Freehold (except the Son of the King) the Swans of every such Person are forfeited to the King, 22 Edward IV.
2. If any Person possess any Game of Swans, and hath not paid his Fine for the same, his Game of Swans is to be seized for the King, till his Fine be paid; which Fine is Six Shillings and eight Pence; and no Man is to pay it more than once, during his Life.
3. But, if any Person, having no Mark allowed him, have one or more Swans given him, or have any Land-bird sign-marked, he may keep them in the common River till the next Upping-time without Fine, paying the Commons and other Charges for the Upping.
4. If any Person, having Swans, either within Franchises, or without, be attainted, his Swans are forfeited to the King only, and not to any other Persons whatsoever.
5. Also all Swans, that are clear of Bill, without Mark or Sign-mark, are the King's only, whether they be pinioned, or flying Swans.
6. Also all stray Swans, which no Man can challenge by his Mark, those are the King's only; and they are to be seized for the King, and marked on the Leg, but are not to be carried away the first Year.
7. In all common Streams, and private Waters, when Cygnets are taken up, the Owner of the Cob must chuse the first Cygnet, and the Pen the next, and so in Order; but, if there be three, then the Owner of the Grass, where they breed, must have the third for the Spoil of his Grass, and pay to the King Twelve Pence for the same Land-bird, saving in such Places, where, of ancient Custom, they pay less or more.
8. If an Airy be led with one Swan only, the Half of those Cygnets shall be seized for the King, till Proof be made, whose the Swan was, that is away; but are not to be carried away that Year.
9. The Master of the Game, or his Deputy, shall yearly come, at the usual Days of Marking Swans in that Stream, on Pain of losing his Fees during his Absence; and he shall keep a Roll, or Standard-book, containing all the usual Marks of that Stream. He shall also keep a Register-book of the Number of every Man's Swans, and the Place where they are upped; and shall likewise bring the Book of the last Year ; for which every Gamester is to give him, yearly, Four Pence.
10. Also the Master of the Game, or his Deputy, is to have a Penny for Upping every white Swan,
and Two Pence for every Cygnet; and shall have his Dinner and Supper, and Hay or Grass for his Horse,
discharged by the Gamesters every Upping-day, except in such Streams, where, by ancient Custom,
other Composition is used.
11. If any Man desire the Master of the Game to enter any Note in his Book, other than the Notes due to be written, as aforesaid, or to take any Note out of his Book under his Hand, he is to pay Four Pence.
12. If any marked Swan be unpinioned, and thereby do fly, the Owner of that Swan is to pay Four Pence; and, if any Man take any flying Swan, or Cygnet, he must bring the same to the Master of the Game, or his Deputy, and take for his Pains Eight Pence, on Pain of Forty Shillings.
13. It is ordained, that no Person shall lay Leaps, set any Nets, or Drags within the common Streams or Rivers, upon the Day-time, from the Feast of the Invention of the Cross unto the Feast of Lammas, upon Pain, so often as they be found so offending, to forfeit Twenty Shillings.
14. If any Swan be found double-marked, embezzled, or by Unskilfulness put out of the right Mark, the Master of the Game is to chuse five Gamesters (such as are indifferent) to judge who hath Right to that Swan; and he, to whom the Swan shall be adjudged, shall pay Four Pence for Registering the said embezzled or wrong Mark: But, if these Five, or the greater Number of them, do not adjudge the said Swan to one of the Gamesters, then the Swan is due to the King.
15. The usual Days for Upping of Swans are not to be altered without Consent of the greater Number of Gamesters of that Stream, and that by Proclamation made in all Markettowns near the said Stream.
16. No Person shall go on Marking, without the Master of the Game, or his Deputy, be present, upon Pain to forfeit Forty Shillings: But, if, by Sicknese, or other Occasion, he be absent at the usual Upping-day«, the Company may go on, so that some sworn Gamester keep the Register-book, and receive all the Dues, and deliver them to him, at his Coming.
17. If any Person do embezzle, [e]rase, or alter the Mark of any Swan, to the Loss or Hindering of any Man's Game, he shall suffer one Year's Imprisonment, and be fined Three Pounds six shillings and eight Pence, and for ever be disabled to be a Gamester.
18. And, to the End that, in Upping-time, no Swan be embezzled, it is ordained, that no Man draw Blood of any Swan, till the Master of the Game, or his Deputy, have viewed the said Swan, and declared whose the Swan is.
19. No Swan, other than clear-billed, is to be marked for the King on the Beak, but only on the leg; for two Marks on the Beak are unlawful.
20. The Master of the Game may presently sell, or carry away, all Swans that are clear billed, embezzled,
as aforesaid, and all Swans forfeited for Want of Freehold, or by Attaint of the Owner.
21. And yet neither the Master of the Game, nor any other Gamester, may take away any Swan, which is in Brood with any other Man's, or which is coupled, and hath a Walk, without the other's Consent for breaking the Brood.
22. It is ordained, that Commons, that is to say, Dinner and Supper, is to be paid daily by every Banker or Commoner, whether he be present, or absent; but, if he be absent, the Master of the Game is to lay it out for him (as likewise all other Dues) till the next Meeting, or Upping; but the said Commons shall not exceed above Twelve Pence a Man, and, if the Company will spend more, they are to pay the Overplus by the Poll.
23. To the End that Diet may be had at a reasonable Rate, and likewise Lodging, the Place of taking both is to be chosen by the greater Number of the Commoners.
24. If any Person be found carrying a Swanhook, within forty Lugs of any Stream, saving on the Upping-days, and not accompanied with two Swan-herds, he shall forfeit One Pound ten Shillings and four Pence. But, upon the Upping-days, every Gamester, that carrieth not a Hook (except such Gentlemen as, for Pleasure, go to see their own Game) shall forfeit Eight Pence a Day; the one Half to be for the Master of the Game, the other Half for the Company.
25. No Person shall take up any Swan or Cygnet, marked or unmarked, unless it be done in the Presence of two other Swan-herds, and that by Allowance of the Master of the Game, or his Deputy; for which Allowance he is to pay Four Pence, upon Pain to forfeit Forty Shillings.
26. If any Swanherd depart before he have made even with the Master of the Game for all Dues, he is to forfeit Twelve Pence; for which, as for all Dues, the Master of the Game, or his Deputy, may distrain the Game, and, at ths next Upping, may pay himself by Distraining and Sale of the Game, rendering to the Party the Overplus.
27. If there be any Person or Persons,that have Swans, that do airy upon any of their Rivers, or several Waters, and afterward come to the common Water or River, they shall pay a Land-bird to the King, and be obedient to all Swan-laws; for divers such Persons do use Collusion to defraud the King of his Right.
28. If any Person shall rake away the Egg or Eggs of any Swan, every such Offender shall be imprisoned a Year and a Day, and shall pay Thirteen Shillings and four Pence for every Egg so taken away; whereof Half to the King, and Half to the Owner of the Swan, 11 H. VII.
29. If any Person do drive away any Swan breeding, ,or providing to breed, be it on his own Ground, or on any other Man's, he shall be fined Thirteen Shillings and four Pence, and shall suffer one Year's Imprisonment, 11 H. VII.
30. If any Dog shall drive any Swan away from her Nest, the Owner of such Dog shall forfeit Thirty Shillings
and four Pence; but, if any Dog shall kill any old Swan, the Owner of such Dog shall forfeit to the King
Forty Shillings, whether he be there, or not.
31. If any Person shall hunt any Ducks, or any other Chace in the Water, with any Dog or Dogs, in Fence-time (that is, from the Feast of Easter till Lammas Eve) he shall pay, for every Offence, Six Shillings and eight Pence.
32. It is ordained, That, if any Person doth set any Snares, or any Manner of Nets, Lime, or Engines, to take Bitterns, or Swans, from the Feast of Easter, to the Sunday after Lammas-day; he or they to forfeit to the King's Majesty, for every Time so Setting, Six Shillings and eight Pence.
33. If there be any Weirs upon the Rivers, not having Grates before them, whereby the Swans and Cygnets may be defended from Drowning, the Owner of such Weir shall forfeit to the King Thirteen Shillings and four Pence.
34. All Fishermen are to assist the Master of the Game, or his Deputy, in the Execution of their Office, on the Upping-days, with their Boats at the upper End of their several Waters, upon Pain of Twenty Shillings for every Default; for which Service the Master of the Game shall cause the accustomed Fees to be paid to the said Fishermen.
35. Lastly, If there be any other Misdemeanor or Offence committed, or done by any Owner of any Game, Swan-herd, or other Person whatsoever, contrary to any Law, ancient Custom, or Usage heretofore used and allowed, and not before herein particularly mentioned or expressed, you shall present the same Offence, that Reformation may be had, and the Offenders punished, according to the Quantity and Quality of the several Offences.
These Orders, according to Master D'oyly's Directions, I have examined, and compared with some other Orders,
which are now in Print, and have been observed and used in some Parts of this Kingdom;
but I find anciently used these Laws, Customs, and Orders, in most Parts of this Kingdom,
and not much differing from those Orders now printed, in Matter of Substance, but only in Form,
As also I find a Commission, used for the Preservation of the Royal Game of Swans and Cygnets,
directed to Noblemen, Knights, and Gentlemen, for the Inquiring of Abuses committed contrary
to these laudable Orders and Customs, and the Offences to punish, according to their several Qualities;
and have caused these Orders to be printed, that thereby better Knowledge may be taken of them
by every Deputy-master of the Game.
John Witherings.