Case of the Swans

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The Case of Swans
Coat of Arms of England (1558-1603).svg
CourtExchequer of Pleas
DecidedTrinity Term, 1592
Citation(s)[1572] EngR 403
7 Co Rep 15
77 ER 435

The Case of Swans (1592) Trinity Term, 34 Elizabeth I, is a landmark decision in English law.


Dame Joan Young (née Joan Wadham, sister and a co-heiress of her brother Nicholas Wadham) and Thomas Saunger received a writ from the Exchequer, directing the Sheriff of Dorset to round up 400 loose swans from the rivers of the county. Swans were Royal fowl, however, and a wild swan was considered the property of the monarch.[1][2]

The right to these swans in Dorset had since time immemorial been held by the local abbot, who lost the right along with the abbey to Henry VIII at the dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry then granted the estate to Giles Strangways, Dame Joan's deceased first husband, whose heir gave them a right to the swans for one year. The new Queen, Elizabeth I, now sought possession of the swans.


The question was whether the swans were Strangways’s to grant or remained the Queen’s. Sir Edward Coke, as Solicitor General, represented the Queen.

The Court held that the swans that are ferae naturae, or wild animals, cannot be given by transfer or taken by prescription. [3]


  1. ^ Sir Edward Coke, The reports of Sir Edward Coke in thirteen parts.J. Butterworth and Son, 1826 page 83
  2. ^ Joseph Chitty, A treatise on the game laws and on fisheries. W Clarke 1812 page 834
  3. ^ Sir Edward Coke, The Selected Writings and Speeches of Sir Edward Coke, ed. Steve Sheppard (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Vol. 1. 3/31/2017.