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The third week in July is set aside for the annual swan count along the Thames.

The third week in July is set aside for the annual swan count along the Thames.

“All swans – unmarked – in open water – belong to the [British] Crown, and have since the Twelfth Century,” says David Barber, Queen Elizabeth’s official swan marker for 16 years. Although, legally, the Queen retains ownership over all unmarked swans in the United Kingdom, the royal British monarch only exercises her rights over a 79-mile stretch of the Thames River. Barber’s job, with the help of a crew in boats, is to annually count the number of unmarked swans in the Thames. This tradition, called “swan-upping,” takes place over a 5-day period the third week in July.

Swan Upping Long Ago - the best way to tag a bird was to sit on it

Swan Upping Long Ago – the best way to tag a bird was to sit on it

 

The ritual [of swan upping] was first documented in the 12th Century, when the bird was a popular dish at medieval feasts. The monarchy laid claim to the birds, which were a valuable food commodity, and doled out ownership charters in exchange for favors. Up to the mid-1800s, swan marking was akin to cow branding: A unique mark, carved into the beak of a newborn cygnet, designated ownership by a specific, chartered family or organization.

Henry VIII reportedly enjoyed swan at his dinner table. Today, swan eating doesn’t go down so well with many Britons, who live in a country that Dr. Perrins describes as “bird oriented.” In 2005, the Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Maxwell Davies, made headlines when he found a dead swan on his property and made a terrine of it. Mark McGowan, an activist artist, upset Britons when he ate swan in a performance protest against the queen in 2007.

A Swan Upping Boat on the River Thames in England

A Swan Upping Boat on the River Thames in England today

This week, Mr. Barber’s crew counted and weighed roughly 120 newborn swans. When they come upon a brood, the rowers yell “All up!” and surround the birds with their skiffs. After deftly bringing the swans aboard, the uppers temporarily tie them up.

“The best way is to sit on the bird,” said Robert Dean, a boat builder and three-year veteran of the royal crew, who stood on the Eton dock Monday morning with a bundle of swan ties holstered in his belt. Once the newborn swans are weighed and tagged with identification rings, they are entered into the log and released into the river.

For the swans, it is a painless affair — and it has helped save their lives. In the 1980s, swan upping records helped alert Dr. Perrins to a sharp decline in the swan population on the Thames caused by lead poisoning from fishing weights. After a successful campaign to ban the implements, the number of mute swans returned to normal — about 35,000 across the country today, Dr. Perrins said.

The identification rings used by the swan uppers also assist local rescuers, who use them to return injured birds to their broods after treatment. Swan Lifeline, a local agency that treats about 1,100 sick swans each year, cures common injuries from fishhooks and dog attacks, as well more exotic wounds, as when swans fly through greenhouses accidentally. Working closely with Swan Lifeline, Mr. Barber coordinates the removal of as many as 100 swans before the Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames.” (1)

Queen+Elizabeth+II+Attends+Annual+Swan+Upping+_XgDImnk-EXl

For the first time in her 57-year reign, Queen Elizabeth attended the launch party on July 20.

In the following youtube video, the Queen’s swan marker David Barber explains and demonstrates the practice of swan-upping.

(1) “In Her Majesty’s Service, Loyal Minion Courts,” The Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2009.

 

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In this March 2007 photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II greets American photographer Annie Leibowitz at a reception prior to their photo shoot. Notice that the Queen has her black Launer purse on her arm.

In this March 2007 photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II greets American photographer Annie Leibovitz at a reception prior to their photo shoot. Notice that the Queen has her black Launer purse on her arm.

Prior to her May 2007 visit to the United States, Queen Elizabeth II sat for a series of official photographs by famous celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Ms. Leibovitz is well known for her sometimes controversial celebrity photographs including one of a naked John Lennon hugging a fully clothed Yoko Ono.

December 8, 1980 photograph of John Lennon with wife Yoko Ono taken by Annie Leibowitz. Five hours after this photo shoot, Lennon was shot dead.

December 8, 1980 photograph of John Lennon with wife Yoko Ono taken by Annie Leibowitz.

Leibovitz has said the original concept for the now legendary John Lennon and Yoko Ono Rolling Stone cover was for both to appear nude, designed to mark the release of their album “Double Fantasy.” As legend has it, Lennon was game, shedding his clothes quickly, but Ono felt uncomfortable even taking off her top. Leibovitz recalled for Rolling Stone:

“I was kinda disappointed, and I said, ‘Just leave everything on.’ We took one Polaroid, and the three of us knew it was profound right away.”

It was December 8, 1980. Five hours later, Lennon was dead – shot and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of his Manhattan apartment.

Now back to what I was saying about the Queen:

Leibowitz took the official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II in March 2007. One of the photos, shown below, shows a very serene Queen sitting in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace dressed in a pale gold evening dress, fur stole, and diamond tiara. The wide shot captures the Queen gazing towards a large open window and reveals some of the room’s furnishings and a reflection of a chandelier in a mirror. The room is dark except for the soft light flooding through the open window. All is calm.

Queen Elizabeth II photographed by Annie Leibowitz, March 2007

Queen Elizabeth II, photographed by Annie Leibowitz, March 2007

The session was going smoothly until Leibovitz asked the Queen to take off her tiara (crown) to look “less dressy” for the next photo. The Queen flew into a huff and replied:

“Less dressy? What do you think this is?”

Queen Elizabeth II, photographed by Annie Leibowitz, March 2007. The Queen is not amused after having been asked by Leibowitz to take off her crown, which is actually a tiara.

The Queen was definitely not amused and the tiara stayed on the royal head.

The incident was caught on tape and included in a  BBC documentary “A Year with the Queen.” The BBC kept the footage and included it in a  promotional trailer for the film. The trailer shows the Queen telling an aide, “I’m not changing anything. I’ve had enough dressing like this, thank you very much” and storming out of the room.  The BBC later apologized and admitted that the sequence of events shown on the trailer had been misrepresented, as the Queen was in fact walking to the sitting in the second scene, not exiting. This led to a BBC scandal and a shake-up of ethics training. The event is known as “Tiaragate” and “Crowngate.” According to sources, the Queen was still furious about the incident months later.

Here’s the NBC-TV report:

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the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II

the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II

Here is a typical weekday morning for Queen Elizabeth II while in residence at  Buckingham Palace  in London:

7:30  The maid enters her bedroom with a tray of  morning tea: 2 silver pots of Earl Grey, milk, and a few biscuits. The cup and saucer are bone china. The linen napkin bears the royal cypher “EIIR” (Elizabeth II Regent). The maid sets down the tray on a bedside table and crosses the room to open the bedroom curtains. She then turns on the radio which is tuned to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. The Queen listens to the day’s news as she sips her tea. Outside her window the traffic on Constitution Hill is building and people are strolling through Green Park. The maid draws a bath.

While the Queen is bathing, the maid lays out the first of perhaps many outfits the Queen will wear that day, depending upon the royal schedule. Once the Queen is dressed, the Queen’s hairdresser styles her hair.

8:30  The Queen joins her husband Prince Philip for breakfast which is served in the first floor dining room that overlooks the Palace garden. Prince Philip has had a shower and coffee. During their breakfast together, the Prince may place little morsels of food on the bird feeder outside the window. A tailcoated footman brings the breakfast – wholewheat toast with marmalade and more tea and coffee. The Queen reads her papers: The Daily Telegraph and The Racing Post.

9:00  The Piper to the Sovereign – referred to as the “Queen’s Piper” – steps into the Palace garden. He is wearing a  kilt of Royal Stewart tartan and two eagle feathers in his headwear.  The Queen and Prince Philip listen as he tunes his bagpipes. For the next fifteen minutes, the Queen’s Piper plays a selection of bagpipe tunes below the dining room window.

9:30  The Queen is seated at her Chippendale desk in her office to begin reviewing her correspondence. A footman comes in with her corgis, who have just had their morning walk in the garden. She works all morning. After lunch, she may take the dogs for a walk herself.

This 1994 People magazine photograph shows Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral, her Scottish Highland hideaway every August. Whether at Balmoral, Windsor Castle, or Buckingham Palace, the Queen's weekdays start with a fifteen-minute bagpipe serenade. When at Balmoral, the pipers wear the Balmoral tartan.

Above, a 1994 People magazine photograph shows Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral, her Scottish Highland hideaway she retreats to every August. Whether at Balmoral, Windsor Castle, or Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s weekdays start with a fifteen-minute bagpipe serenade at 9 a.m. When at Balmoral, though, the pipers wear the Balmoral tartan.

For more on Queen Elizabeth II, look in the left column “Categories-People-Queen Elizabeth II.” I’ve written many posts on the Queen; I hope you enjoy them!

 

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Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

He wasn’t the first person to scale the garden wall of Buckingham Palace. The year before, three German tourists had done it. While there had been others who’d breached Palace security, Michael Fagan was to become one of the most infamous.

1982 Buckingham Palace Intruder Michael Fagan

1982 Buckingham Palace Intruder Michael Fagan

It was 7:15 a.m. on July 9, 1982. Michael Fagan, 31, had been up all night, drinking whisky, and wandering London’s dark streets, brooding. He had just been released from the psychiatric ward at Brixton Prison. The judge had sent him there after he slashed his wrists with a broken bottle during his court hearing on charges that he stabbed his teenage stepson in the neck with a screwdriver. (1)

Fagan was discouraged. He was broke and faced a mountain of debt. His wife was unfaithful. There were problems with his kids and even his mum. The voices in his head told him to go and tell the Queen how unhappy he was and she would help. The voices told him he could do it. These were the same voices that before had talked him into climbing the towers of the bridges across the Thames River and to strip off his clothes and dive into the Grand Union Canal.

A guard at Buckingham Palace

A guard at Buckingham Palace

It was 7:15 on the morning of July 9, 1982 when Fagan, unshaven and dressed in jeans and a dirty t-shirt, gathered up his courage, climbed over the black iron fence of Buckingham Palace, and dropped down on the grounds of the royal residence. No guards noticed. He found an open window and crawled in. But the Queen wasn’t in that room, it held only an old stamp collection (King George V’s $20 million stamp collection). Fagan was not a thief. He wanted only to find the Queen. An alarm was tripped twice, but the policeman at the palace sub-station thought it was malfunctioning and turned it off both times.

Fagan then went back out into the courtyard and spied a 55 foot drainpipe that lead to the second floor. “I climbed it in seconds,” he proudly told interviewers later. “I was a Prince of the Earth.” He pulled back some wire meant to keep pigeons away and crawled in a window. He found himself in the office of Vice Admiral Sir Peter Ashmore, the man responsible for the Queen’s security. He took off his sandals and socks and proceeded to explore the Palace barefoot with dirty hands.

Princess Elizabeth, age 9 or 10, comforts her corgi Dookie, 1936

Princess Elizabeth, age 9 or 10, comforts her corgi Dookie, 1936

This wasn’t the first time Fagan had broken into the Palace. Only the month before, he’d had a practice run. He’d entered through an unlocked window on the roof and wandered about for a half hour. He viewed the royal portraits and rested on the thrones before entering the Postroom, where he drank half a bottle of California white wine before leaving.

On this, his second, visit to the Palace, Fagan was on a mission. He had to find the Queen. He wandered the corridors in search of her, and, on the way, cutting his hand on a glass ashtray. When he spied some dog dishes on the floor, he knew the Queen was near. She was never far from her precious dogs (See previous post, “Queen Elizabeth’s Corgis and Dorgis.”) He passed a housemaid who said, “Good morning,” then entered the Queen’s bedroom.

The Queen awoke to find a strange man sitting on the edge of her bed, cradling a broken ashtray and dripping blood on her bed linens. She kept calm and picked up the phone, asking the operator to summon the police. The operator did call the police but they didn’t come. She pushed the button for a chambermaid yet no one appeared. The armed guard regularly stationed at the Queen’s bedroom door was not at his post; he had taken her dogs out for a walk. Meanwhile, Fagan talked away, still sitting on her bed. He wanted to talk about love but the Queen didn’t. He thought it a coincidence that both he and the Queen had four children. Fagan wanted a cigarette. Again, the Queen called the palace switchboard yet no one responded.

After the Queen had spent ten minutes with the mentally disturbed, bleeding intruder, a chambermaid entered the Queen’s quarters and exclaimed, “Bloody hell, ma’am! What’s he doing in there?” The chambermaid then ran out and woke up a footman who then seized the intruder. The police arrived twelve minutes after the Queen’s first call.

When the public learned of this incident, they were outraged at the lapse of security around their Queen. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally apologized to the Queen and measures were immediately taken to strengthen palace security.

Nevertheless, a 1999 report by the Royal Protection Squad stated that, in the six years previous, at least 6,000 mentally-ill persons had visited British royal residences or written to the royal family. Most of the mentally-disturbed people are harmless, the report stated, but the police guarding royalty are still trained to handle the few intruders who do indeed pose a danger. 

A man protests at Buckingham Palace, insisting upon his right to appear in public naked

A man protests at Buckingham Palace, insisting upon his right to appear in public naked

Over the years, the Royals have attracted unwanted attention from, among others, a group of lesbian anti-nuclear demonstrators who scaled the walls with ladders, and an American paraglider who landed on the roof as a stunt.

 

(1) Erickson, Carolly. Lilibet: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth II. (New York: St. Martin’s, 2004)

 

For more on Queen Elizabeth II, look in the left column under “Categories – People – Queen Elizabeth II.” I’ve written many posts on the Queen; I hope you enjoy them!

For more on Insane Asylums, scroll to the very bottom of “Categories – The Insane Asylum.”

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Queen Elizabeth's Launer handbag (4/1/09 Buckingham Palace with Obamas)

Queen Elizabeth's Launer handbag (4/1/09 Buckingham Palace with Obamas)

Since I’ve been blogging about Queen Elizabeth in general and her purse-carrying habit in particular, I’ve looked at a lot of of images of the Queen carrying purses. She seems to prefer small, unfussy black leather handbags, though she has carried a white purse before, I know. At first, the black leather handbags looked as if they could be just one bag. Closer inspection revealed slight differences in straps, patinas, and shapes. In all the bags I scrutinized, though, one theme was a constant. The clasp on the different bags was always the same. The clasp was distinctive  – covered with a gold rope emblem. The clasp looked like a string you tie on your finger to remember something. Was it a logo, perhaps? I sensed a designer lurking about.

 I was slow to catch on. Of course. The Queen doesn’t buy her purses off the rack at Macy’s; she has a royal pursemaker. That’s why the purses looked so similar. They were made by the same company.

Queen Elizabeth in Jamestown (5/4/2007) with handbag

Queen Elizabeth in Jamestown (5/4/2007) with handbag

A little further digging for the name of the designer turned up a lot of information. Evidently, not only does Her Royal Highness have a royal pursemaker to make her purses – Launer’s of London – but also a royal milliner to make her hats and a royal dressmaker to make her dresses. Currently, three British royals, The Queen, her husband Prince Philip ( AKA the Duke of Edinburgh) and their son Prince Charles (AKA the Prince of Wales) may grant “Royal Warrants of Appointment” to tradespeople who supply goods or services to a royal court or certain royal personages. The warrant allows the supplier to advertise the fact that they supply to the royal family. The Royal Warrant does not mean that these specially-honored companies must then give the Royals their goods and services for free. Rather, suppliers both continue to charge their royal customers as well as reap incredible bonuses in the marketplace courtesy of the royal endorsement.

Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth's coat-of-arms

Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth's coat-of-arms

Launer's "Royale" handbag

Launer's "Royale" handbag

Launer of London holds the Royal Warrant for supplying the Queen with her leather goods and purses. On the “About Us” page on the Launer company website, the Queen’s coat-of-arms is displayed boldly at the top left and right of the page. Under the company’s history, we read that:

photo of Queen Elizabeth II on the Launer company website

photo of Queen Elizabeth II on the Launer company website

In 1991, Her Majesty the Queen visited the factory on 4th March, spending virtually the whole afternoon with all the employees and seeing all the various stages of making both handbags and personal leather goods. This was a great honour for the company, and in the following year Launer was also given the right to add leather goods to the warrant.

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The Obamas being received at Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth II

The Obamas being received at Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth II

The Huffington Post is taking a survey on the purpose of Queen Elizabeth’s bag. Don’t forget to vote. Here is a close-up of Queen Elizabeth receiving Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace on April 1. Inquiring minds want to know:

Why does the Queen carry her purse around her own home?

For more on the Queen’s handbag habit, read another post on this blog, “What’s in Queen Elizabeth’s Purse?”

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Michelle Obama with Queen Elizabeth

Michelle Obama with Queen Elizabeth

I’ve been blogging about the Obamas and their state visit to London and Buckingham Palace. There has been much discussion on and offline as to whether or not Michelle Obama was out of line when she touched the Queen. Royal protocol dictates that no one touches the Queen.

In my recent post, “Michelle Obama Hugs Queen Elizabeth,” I gave the first report of the touchy-feely action in royal quarters – that Michelle initiated the contact by placing her hand on the Queen’s back. Now, though, according to Vanity Fair Online, it may have been Queen Elizabeth who started the touching by slipping her right hand around Michelle’s waist. (The New York Times confirmed this on April 3.)

‘A mutual and spontaneous display of affection and appreciation,’ was how a Buckingham Palace spokesman hastened to describe it.

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