The Queen’s Swans and How to Spot The Difference

The Queen’s Swans and How to Spot The Difference

A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown comes to auction in the summer. The two-volume manuscript included in our August 23 sale of Books and Maps was used from the 16th to the19th century by landowners in Norfolk and Suffolk.

21 June 2022

A favourite delicacy for the banqueting table, the swan has been deemed a royal bird from the Middle Ages. All swans flying free on open and common waters were regarded as the property of the crown and only the monarch could grant the privilege of owning a 'game' of swans to individuals or institutions. All such birds had to be marked and pinioned to assist in any dispute over ownership, or for swan upping, the annual overseeing of the marking of the new cygnets. A Swan-Master was appointed both to care for the royal swans and to oversee and regulate swan-keeping throughout England. He was assisted by deputies with responsibility for a specific and manageable region. 


Swan engravings manuascript in August 2022 Books sale


The manuscript included in our forthcoming sale references the ‘Hundred of Wisbech’ in Norfolk and Suffolk. The first volume dated 1566 contains over 600 marks, followed by 19 pages of manuscript notes concerning the ‘Laws and Ordinances regarding swan’. The names start with the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, on to the Bishop of Ely and the Dean of York and finish with wealthy landowners. 


Swan engravings manuscript in August 2022 Books sale - pages


The second volume is dated 1834 and includes notes on swan marks followed by 84 pages of swan marks and an index of owners. A similar manuscript was sold by Christies in 1999. This one, from the estate of Wisbech dealer Peter Croft, is guided at £8,000-16,000.



Our auction of Books & Maps takes place on Tuesday 23 August. Further entries are invited for sale until Friday 15 July. For more information and to discuss a consignment, please contact - 

Frank Barnett | 01279 817778 


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