The swans are a swimming because most of us haven’t been allowed to tuck into one since 1482 when a law was passed saying that only some landowners could keep and eat swans. They all had to be marked by nicks in their beaks. The Queen and the Worshipful Company of Dyers and also Vintners own mute swans – if they’re unmarked and in open water in England and Wales. So if you caught and ate an unmarked swan until 1994 you were technically committing treason. Since then they have been protected by the 1981 act which protects wildlife from the predation of the culinary adventurous.
In 1189, Richard I, gave the worshipful companies joint ownership along with the Crown of unclaimed swans – though given my understanding of Richard I, I would guess that there was a hefty fee for the privilege. According to legend he brought the swans home with him from Cyprus following the third crusade. Other sources mention the Romans – who get everywhere. However if we want to see documentary evidence of the mute swan in royal hands then we have to wait for the reign of Edward I who mentions them in his wardrobe accounts. There’s a cook book dating from the reign of Richard II which detail how to cook one.
The one thing that is clear is that mute swans were much prized and apparently prone to being stolen from their rightful owners in medieval times – there’s even a mention of a swanherd or ‘swonhirde’ if you prefer spelling 1282 style. And quite frankly I’m going to stop on that delightful thought.