Charter of the Forest - UK

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"The charter was designed to complement Magna Carta, which had been signed in 1215 by Henry’s predecessor and father, King John, in which he promised his subjects that England would be governed, and his barons dealt with, according to the customs of feudal law. Almost immediately, Magna Carta was nullified by Pope Innocent III, who agreed with John that the agreement had been extorted by force. The barons rebelled (see Barons’ War), and in October 1216 John died and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Henry. A council of barons loyal to John, and led by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, was created to rule on Henry’s behalf. To end the rebellion, it decided to reissue Magna Carta. This document had never satisfactorily dealt with the issue of forest law, which was a cause of widespread resentment. Legislation concerning royal forests had been introduced in the late 11th century after the Norman Conquest in order to prohibit the common or agricultural use of all land deemed to be royal hunting grounds and made all game in such land the property of the Crown. Much of the land affected was not even wooded and included heath, wetland, and arable and pasture land, as well as villages and towns. By the early 13th century almost one third of England was subject to the king’s forest law, which operated outside common law. Infringement of forest law was punishable by penalties including mutilation and death. The restrictions on the use of forest land affected both barons and commoners, the latter unable to use land they had previously relied upon for their livelihoods. In response to the grievances to which forest law gave rise, an additional document—the Charter of the Forest—was created to accompany Magna Carta. The Charter of the Forest, signed on November 6, 1217, with papal approval, delineated the areas designated as royal forest, provided a right of common access to the remaining royal forests, and replaced the harsher penalties with fines, an important source of revenue for the Crown. It thus provided some economic protection for both barons and commoners, the latter also gaining genuine rights and protections against the abuses of aristocracy for the first time. Another consequence of the charter was a significant increase in the policy of disafforestation, by which both land and privileges within royal forests were sold off by the Crown for great profit, a process that continued apace until the end of the 13th century. In the same year as the Charter of the Forest was signed, Magna Carta was reissued to take into account its provisions, and in 1225 both the Charter of the Forest and Magna Carta were reissued in Henry III’s own name. By the late 17th century enforcement of the laws of the remaining royal forests in order to raise revenue had effectively ceased." (

More Information

  1. Forest Commons