5 Strange Traditions of the British Monarchy

  • Swan-upping in 1951
Swan-upping in 1951
Photo credit: Fox Photos / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Britain is a nation of many strange old traditions, from cheese rolling and wife carrying to mayor weighing and possibly the world’s most brutal ball game. Then there’s the British royal family, an almost endless source of quirky behavior and bizarre rituals. Some of these are well known, at least among Brits, such as the use of the majestic plural, better known as the “royal we” (Queen Elizabeth II often used “we” to refer to herself), and the monarch’s custom of having two birthdays. Other odd traditions of the British royals are less well known, despite having existed for centuries. Here are some of the strangest, involving everything from swans to ravens to parliamentary hostages. 

Photo credit: Fox Photos / Stringer via Getty Images

Swans Are Ceremonially Counted on the River Thames

Since medieval times, the British monarch has had certain rights when it comes to the country’s swans. “The king has the right to claim any swan swimming in open waters, unmarked, if he so wishes,” explained David Barber, who served as Queen Elizabeth II’s swan marker (an actual position in the royal household that dates back to the 12th century). To this day, an annual census of the swans takes place on a stretch of the River Thames. The five-day journey upriver, known as “swan upping,” features a fleet of traditional rowing skiffs, led by the swan marker. The royals once considered swans a delicacy, but swan upping is now focused on conservation and education rather than any culinary considerations. 

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