Sign of the swan

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NOSTALGIA -

DON­ALD STAN­LEY in­ves­ti­gates why Buck­ing­hamshire’s em­blem is the swan

THE ori­gins of the swan as the em­blem of Buck­ing­hamshire are lost in a con­fu­sion of me­dieval ro­mance, a joke, and the sov­er­eign’s ap­petite, Don­ald Stan­ley at­tempts to un­ravel its mys­ter­ies.

Swans were bred for An­glo-Saxon kings whose line ended with the Nor­man Con­quest.

To­day the Vint­ners’ and Dy­ers’ Com­pa­nies share with the sov­er­eign own­er­ship of swans which is cel­e­brated each July when Swan Up­pers of the two City Liv­ery Com­pa­nies dressed in their scar­let uni­forms row the Thames to catch and ring the feet of swans and cygnets.

In 2009 the Queen as ‘Seigneur of the Swans’ at­tended the cer­e­mony which is, in ef­fect, an an­nual cen­sus.

To en­cour­age the in­ter­est of chil­dren in wildlife, schools are in­vited to meet the Swan Up­pers on their jour­ney.

Other pos­si­ble ori­gins of the swan as the county em­blem are a joke and an an­cient myth.

Henry II ap­pointed Henry of Es­sex as Sher­iff of Buck­ing­ham.

One of his an­ces­tors had been known as Sweyn, a name close enough to ‘swan’ to have given rise to a pun, a com­mon prac­tice in those times.

Thomas, youngest son of Ed­ward III, mar­ried Eleanor De Bo­hun whose fam­ily claimed de­scent from the myth­i­cal French Knight of the Swan each of whose chil­dren was born a swan with a sil­ver chain around its neck.

Their crest was a chained swan ‘ducally gorged’, that is to say with a du­cal coronet en­cir­cling its neck.

Her fam­ily also in­her­ited a swan em­blem which had passed through the Mandeville fam­ily from Henry of Es­sex.

In 1377 Thomas was cre­ated the first Duke of Buck­ing­ham thus pro­vid­ing an­other link be­tween the county and the swan em­blem.

This, the first Duke­dom of Buck­ing­ham, be­came ex­tinct in 1521 when Henry VIII ex­e­cuted the third Duke for trea­son.

It was not un­til 1623 when James I gave Ge­orge Villiers the ti­tle First Duke of Buck­ing­ham that the Duke­dom was recre­ated.

From the re­ports of her­alds whose duty it was to check the use of arms it seems that be­tween th­ese two dates ‘the town and bor­ough of Buck­ing­ham’ ap­pro­pri­ated the swan for its arms and seal, adopt­ing the sable and gules colours, that is black and red, from the liv­ery of one of the hold­ers of the first cre­ation of the Duke­dom.

To­day the swan and the black and red colours ap­pear on badges of towns of the county and as the colours of its sports clubs.

Swan nap­ping: Swans watch a tired rower on the

Thames in Au­gust 1947

Flags up: The bright in­signia of the City Liv­ery com­pa­nies

Making his mark: The Sov­er­eign’s swan marker, David Bar­ber

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