Eccentric English Laws
All of these extracts have been taken directly from the old, dusty English Statute collection.
The British royals have long sought to retain a monopoly on swans, considering them to be so beautiful that they should belong only to the aristocracy.
And so in 1482, Edwards IV approved AN ACT FOR SWANS, which set out that only the king or wealthy landowners could own swans with ownership confirmed by carving a family emblem on the bird's upper beak. The legislation held that any swan held by a commoner, could be seized by a member of the aristocracy "whereof the King shall have one have, and he that shall seize, the other half".
A bureaucracy and a court were set up to enforce the law and regulate disputes over swan ownership.
Even as of 2008, England continues to maintain an albeit now largely ceremonial position, that of "Master of the Swans" The appointee proudly adds the words "Master of the Swans" to his title whenever he makes his public appearances on the polo grounds of England. Here's the text of the 1482 law:
"Where as well our said Sovereign Lord the King, as other Lords, Knights, Esquires and other noble men of this noble realm of England, have been heretofore greatly stored of ... swans in divers parts of this Realm.... Until of late, ... divers keepers of swans ... have stolen cygnets and put upon them their own mark by which unlawful means the substance of the swans be in the hands and possession of yeomen and husbandmen and other persons of little reputation.
"Wherefore it is ordained, established and enacted by our said Sovereign Lord the King ... that no person, of what estate, degree or condition he be ..., shall have or possess any such (swans) of his own or any other to this use shall have or possess any such (swans) except he have land ... of the estate of freehold to the yearly value of five marks above all yearly charges. And if it happened any person or persons not having any possession of lands ... to the said yearly value, ... to have or possess any such (swans)..., and it shall be lawful to any of the King's subjects, having lands ... to the said value, to seize the said swans as forfeit; whereof the King shall have one half and he that shall seize, the other half."