Queen Elizabeth II is not just the sovereign ruler of the United Kingdom, she also owns a good part of it—and more. During her 60-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has been the head of state of a total of 32 independent countries; 16 of those have currently have her as sovereign (these are known as the Commonwealth realms*), and the remaining acknowledged her as their monarch until they became independents. This means that the Queen is the legal owner of more than 6,600 million acres of land—that’s one-sixth of the earth’s non-ocean surface—making her the largest landowner on earth. (King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia comes in at a distant second, with only 553 million acres.)
In addition to land, Queen Elizabeth also owns creatures in the waters surrounding the United Kingdom—specifically, she owns all of the sturgeons, whales, and dolphins, which are recognized as “Fishes Royal.” This unusual ownership comes from a statue written in 1324 during the reign of King Edward II, which states “The King shall have … whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm.” Jurist Sir Matthew Hale added the porpoise as a royal fish in the 17th century.
What does this mean? It means that, under the current law, any royal fish that is captured within 3 miles of U.K. shores, or that washes ashore, is technically owned by the Queen and may be claimed by the Crown through an official called the Receiver of the Wreck. It is not illegal to catch or keep a royal fish, but if one is caught it must be offered to the Queen first. It is her decision as to what the fisherman can do with the catch.
Breaking the Royal Fish statue comes with a penalty of up to six months in prison or a fine of £5,000. And although it may sound like just an arcane piece of ruling, the law is still upheld. Just ask Robert Davies, a fisherman who caught a 10-foot sturgeon off the coast of Wales and sold it in Swansea Bay in 2004. He was immediately put under investigation and his catch impounded. Luckily Davies had informed Buckingham Palace of his lucky catch, and had received a fax from the Queen giving him permission to do what he wanted with it.
*The 16 countries of the Commonwealth are: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papaua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalua, and the United Kingdom.↩