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The bird had been a royal one from the Middle Ages, when both swan and cygnet were much-prized table birds, but the crown did grant the privilege of owning a ‘mark’ or ‘game’ of swans to individuals or institutions and these rolls probably date from a period soon after the introduction of the ‘Act for Swans’ in 1482 – an attempt to end earlier abuses.

Enforceable by courts of Swan-mote, privileges became more institutionalised and were subject to proper marking and regulation under the King’s Swan-Master and his regional deputies, who would have kept such rolls to identify the birds’ rightful owners, or licence holders and to assist in any dispute over ownership, or to use at swan-upping, when the Swan-Master oversaw the marking of the new cygnets.

This manuscript was undoubtedly used by a deputy Swan-Master for Norfolk and Suffolk and was probably passed to successors, who would have updated and kept the rolls current. The customary manner of recording swan-marks was to show rows of disembodied bills, but here they are attached to the heads, albeit at right angles (with the owner’s names written above) and the end result is quite charming, even if some of the birds do look unintentionally cross or comic.

And the price? Well, just a few hundred pounds was suggested when Lawrences of Crewkerne offered the rolls last December, and on that occasion the bidding for the swans reached £3100. Just six months on, the swans were well and truly upped. At Christie’s (15/10 per cent buyer’s premium) on June 2, London manuscript specialist Sam Fogg paid a hammer price of £28,000!