When we re-enact a Tudor feast at the Old Hall we present a Swan to the top table. It signifies a Royal presence and deep historic connection between Swans and Royal patronage. It all goes back to what was and still is essentially a census called Swan Upping.
Swan upping is a ceremony dating back to the 12th century traditionally carried out on the River Thames. On the third week of every July swans were rounded up, counted and marked according to ownership as well as being checked for health. Originally all mute swans in open water were deemed property of the crown, being a valuable food source; from the 15th century the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers were also granted ownership. These were both industries that required clear access to the Thames and large quantities of water.
Nowadays the swans are ringed, earlier times saw them being marked with a nick on the beak. No mark meant Royal ownership; one was the company of Dyers, two marks for the company of Vintners.
During the ceremony the Queens Swan marker wears a Scarlett uniform and heads six skiffs, rowed by the Royal Swan Uppers and the uppers of the Dyers and the Vintners.
When a brood of signets is spotted the cry of "All Up!" signals the Uppers to get into position. On passing Windsor Castle the rowers stand to attention with oars raised and salute the Monarch who is known as "Seigneur of the Swans".
Public houses with the name "The swan with two necks" are a corruption of "Two nicks". Don't ask if there is Swan on the menu though.
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