IS SWAN OFF THE MENU BECAUSE SWANS BELONG TO THE QUEEN? Monica Kim links to this series of wonderful responses in the Guardian to the question os why swans aren’t on menus. Most of the respondents think the answer is that swans are not thought of as food because the crown owns English swans and has owned them since the 1100’s.
This being England, however, the royal ownership is subject to a maze of qualifications. The following summarizes my understanding. Apparently the Queen owns only the mute swans on the Thames. The Dyers’ and Vintner’s guilds have limited ownership rights. Only the royal family is allowed to eat swan with the exception that the fellows of St. John’s College in Oxford are allowed to eat swan on June 25. Apparently it is no longer treason to eat swan illegally. Every third week in July, there is a Swan Upping ceremony, which is described in this wikipedia entry. The Queen’s, Vintners’ and the Dyers’ Swan Uppers row up the river in skiffs. “Swans caught by the Queen’s Swan Uppers under the direction of the Swan Marker” are marked in one way and, swans caught by the Dyers’ and Vintners’ Swan Uppers are marked in a different way.
Monica Kim in her modern farming article provides this link to the text of Edward IV’s Act Concerning Swans in 1482. The text is in medieval French with a translation into medieval English.