Coronation of Charles III: The Prince of Wales Will Become the King of the Whales
If you ever spend significant time in England, or are visiting for the coronation, you might notice that bringing up the subject of swans will almost inevitably inspire one of the following two responses: “Swans will break your arm, you know,” or “Did you know the Queen [or King] owns them?”
It’s true. When Charles, Prince of Wales, is crowned King Charles III this Saturday, he will inherit–among many millions of dollars worth of cash, property, jewels, and other assorted royal stuff– such all of the country’s unmarked swans. And its dolphins, whales, porpoises, and sturgeon, too.
In the 1300s, the monarchy took a “symbolic” reign over whales and dolphins to protect them from poachers, making it a crime against the king to hurt, kill, or eat them. They were recognized as “fishes royal” in 1324, according to an article from TIME detailing the vastness of Queen Elizabeth’s fortune.
“This statute is still valid today, and sturgeons, porpoises, whales, and dolphins are recognized as ‘fishes royal’: when they are captured within 3 miles of U.K. shores or wash ashore, they may be claimed on behalf of the Crown,” TIME wrote. Anyone who catches a sturgeon and wants to take it to the market generally asks the crown for the honor of accepting the catch, as a “gesture of loyalty.”
Swans were also part of that 1324 decree, though it seems there was more concern for the royal family’s Christmas dinner than for the wellbeing of the animals themselves, as author Bill Bryson details in an Audible special called “The Secret History of Christmas.” As it turns out, they’re just good eating, and previous generations of royals allowed wealthy families to purchase rights to own or hunt them.
“Today, it’s rare for swan to be served, but for hundreds of years in England, eating swans was a mark of status,” according to Atlas Obscura. “No one could own or eat one without paying the monarchy for the privilege, and an elaborate system of marks developed to track swan rights.” Those swan marks were carved into the birds’ beaks, similar to how ranchers brand livestock to prove ownership. Swan marking has since been abandoned due to concerns over animal cruelty. Charles will be crowned king at Westminster Abbey in London on Saturday, May 6. The United Kingdom will observe a bank holiday on Monday, celebrating the new monarch with a long weekend. The dolphins, whales, and swans have yet to report how they’ll mark the affair.