6 unusual facts about British monarchy as King Charles begins reign: passport-free travel, two birthdays, many swans

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  • Following the death of the UK’s longest-serving sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, King Charles’ reign was formally proclaimed on Saturday
  • He won’t need a passport to visit foreign countries, owns all the mute swans in England and could celebrate his birthday twice a year
Agence France-Presse |
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British monarchs can have two birthdays, one for the day they were born and another for a party with better weather. Photo: TNS

The United Kingdom’s new king will travel without a passport and drive without a licence, own all the mute swans in England and may continue a tradition of celebrating his birthday twice a year.

Here is a list of unusual facts about Britain’s monarchs.

1. No passport needed for British monarchs

King Charles III will travel overseas without a passport because, unlike other members of the royal family, he will not need one – every passport is now issued in his name.

The preamble in every passport document will now state: “His Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of His Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

For the same reason, the king will be the only person in Britain who can drive without a licence.

British passports are issued in the name of the country’s monarch. Photo: Shutterstock/Paul Maguire

2. A second birthday for a better celebration

Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, had two birthdays – her actual birthday on April 21, which was held in private, and an official public celebration on the second Tuesday in June, when the summery weather tends to be better for outdoor parades.

As Charles’ birthday is at the start of winter on November 14, it is likely he will also have an “official birthday” in a warmer month.

The public celebration, Trooping the Colour, dates back more than 250 years and involves more than 1,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians in a display of military precision.

The Royal Air Force concludes proceedings with a fly-past while members of the royal family watch from the balcony of Buckingham Palace in central London.

5-minute listening: The record-breaker herself, Queen Elizabeth

3. They cannot vote or stand for election

The British monarch does not vote and cannot stand for election. As head of state, he or she must remain strictly neutral in political affairs.

They are involved in the formal opening of parliamentary sessions, approve legislation from parliament and hold weekly meetings with the prime minister.

4. Swans and dolphins are subjects of the monarchy, too

The British monarch does not just reign over people. Since the 12th century, unmarked mute swans in open waters across England and Wales are considered the property of the monarch.

Every year, royal rights are exercised on stretches of the River Thames, where the swans are counted in a tradition that has now become a conservation measure.

The royal prerogative also applies to sturgeon, dolphins and whales in British waters.

Officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census known as “Swan Upping”, along the River Thames in London. Photo: Reuters

5. Honorary post to write poems for the royals

Every 10 years, Britain appoints a poet laureate who composes verses for the monarch.

The honorary post includes a butt of sherry, equivalent to 720 bottles. The tradition goes back to the 17th century.

Carol Ann Duffy became the first woman nominated as poet laureate when she was appointed in 2009. She composed poems for Prince William’s wedding in 2011, the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 2013 and the marriage of Prince Harry in 2018.

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6. Why some companies can use royal arms on their goods

Issued to those who regularly supply the monarch with goods and services, the warrant is a great honour and a boost for sales.

Companies awarded the warrant are authorised to use the royal arms on their goods.

Burberry, Cadbury, Jaguar Cars, Land Rover, Samsung and Waitrose supermarkets are among the companies with a royal warrant.

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