6 Royal Privileges You Need to Know Before Your Trip to London

Rental payments of one daffodil, a levy of one barrel of rum and more of the curious prerogatives afforded the Royal Family

OK, so you’re heading to the United Kingdom, and you already know about some of the basics, like the fact that our “chips” are your fries, that what we call the "Tube” or "Underground" is what you might call the metro or the subway and that we drive on the left side of the road (please remember this when you reach a crosswalk, friends).

But in case you have the chance to rub regal elbows while in London, we’ve researched the many peculiar rules and unusual traditions afforded to British Royalty. Both historic and contemporary, some of the below are no longer enforced, but we say it’s better to be safe than sorry, so keep these royal prerogatives in the back of your mind before a trip to the UK. Who knows? They just might help with small talk while you’re touring Buckingham Palace.

Queen Elizabeth
A curious rule states that there is only one man in the world who isn't obligated to take his hat off in the prescence of the queen. The rest of us? Our hats go in our hands. (©Commonwealth Secretariat/Flickr, Creative Commons)

1) Doffing One’s Hat

There’s only one non-royal person who doesn’t have to take his hat off to the queen. He is Lord Kingsale. His lordship is indeed the Premier Baron of Ireland and has the privilege both of wearing his hat in the royal presence and of having a cover laid for him at the royal table at coronations and other state occasions. This unique right is known as the “special privilege,” which constitutes that of not being subservient to the sovereign.

daffodil flower
The Isles of Scilly pays Prince Charles an annual rent sum of one daffodil. (©Tony Alter/Flickr, Creative Commons)

2) Unusual Rent Payments

Many outstanding rules involve many outstanding duties due.

The isle of Sark, one of the Channel Islands, pays the queen a rent of only £1.79 per annum, while up in Scotland The Dukes of Athol hold their estate at Blair Athol on the basis that they give a white rose to the sovereign each time they visit. But things are truly cheap and easy for the rent payers of Isles of Scilly. In payment for all their land, islands and rocks within the isles, their Wildlife Trust is obliged to pay Prince Charles annually the mere sum of one daffodil.

Beached whale
Historically, the tail of all beached whales on the British coast belong to the queen to provide her with whale bones for new corsets. (©Michael Fiest/ Flickr, Creative Commons)

3) A Fishy Prerogative

The Royal Prerogative (officially called the Prerogativa Regis) states the head of any dead whale or sturgeon found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the king (if there is one) and the tail belongs to the queen. It dates back to Edward II. The aim was to "furnish the queen's wardrobe with whalebone" and fashion those new royal corsets. In 1970 the queen was persuaded to give up her right to captured whales. In point of fact, all whales, dolphins and porpoises are considered royal fish.

Don't touch swans—or swans eggs—in Britain. (©Garrett Coakley/Flickr, Creative Commons)

4) Rules of the Swans

Strict Medieval punishments were meted out to whomever did this "bird royal" harm, including imprisonment for a year and a day for stealing a swan's egg. If anyone was caught killing one, the swan was hung by the beak with its feet just touching the floor, and the criminal had to pour out sufficient wheat to submerge its head until the beak disappeared from sight: In it's day, this would have cost the criminal a small fortune. Nowadays killing or injuring a swan carries a £5,000 fine or six months in jail. Stealing a swan’s egg is also still an offense and carries the same maximum penalty.

Tower of London, England
Six ravens remain at the Tower of London at all times. Their departure? According to superstition it would trigger the end of the monarchy and the fall of Britain. (©chrisdorney/Shutterstock)

5) At the Tower of London

Under a decree by King Charles II of the 17th century, six ravens must be kept at all times in the Tower of London. It’s a superstition, and the birds act as insurance, because if they leave, both the Tower and the Kingdom will supposedly fall. Also every Royal Navy ship that moored alongside the Tower Pier was required to deliver a barrel of rum to the “Constable” of this Tower. On coming upstream, these ships had to unload some of the cargo to gain the protection of the Tower’s guns. Historically such bounty included oysters, mussels, cockles, rushes and wine.

Swans and cygnets
Each summer baby swans are rounded up for an Upping. The swans owned by the Dyers and Vintners are marked and the Crown's swans are left unmarked. (©George Rex/Flickr, Creative Commons)

6) Swan Upping

Across five days in July many swans nests in the River Thames and belong officially to both the Crown and the Vintners' Companies of the City of London. Each summer watermen round up the cygnets and cut distinguishing marks on their bills. Historically the most common form of identifying the ownership of the swan was to cut marks into the upper mandible. Originally the Vintners made one nick and the Dyers made two. Nowadays the two companies use their own rings and the Crown's swans are left unmarked.