The Forests of Britain

“Forest” is a territorial designation, the confines of which may or may not be heavily wooded. Forest areas are under ordinary law and a special type of law called (unsurprisingly) Forest Law. Forest Law is designed to protect the venison and vert, which are the deer (and other large game animals) and the greenery they depend upon for survival.

Many areas are special, set aside in a separate category of lands called Forests. “Forest” is a legal term, and does not always refer to a wooded area.
Lands so designated are private property, and everything within it — trees, plants, animals, rocks and waters — are reserved for the exclusive use of the king, old noble families, or some other holder who got it from the king as a grant or gift.

Almost a quarter of Logres is forest, mostly royal but occasionally private. Within them the animals of the chase — red deer, fallow deer, roe
deer, and boar — are protected. No one but the owner of the forest may take these animals; punishment for anyone else is blinding and castration. Even knights and clerics, who are normally protected from common law, are punished the same way for violations. Foresters, verderers, and other officials are intent upon keeping the Law.

Forests provide food, firewood, lumber, dyes, charcoal, and the raw materials used in medicines, basket making, and many other common crafts. The Forest’s owner can use these resources for free. Everyone else, especially people living within them, must buy them at market. Hunting is prohibited without explicit permission, and even picking up wood from the ground requires a license!

Forests have three uses. First, they are the king’s private hunting ground (stocked and provisioned, with bridges and restful glens where tables can be set up). Secondly, they are an important source of food supply for the royal house. Finally, they are a steady source of private income for the king. Forests are also used to raise horses, whose wild herds wander amidst the trees.

“Hunting lodges” is a bit of a misnomer. These are all of the royal residences that are unfortified, even if they are not officially set aside for his pleasure at hunting. These are all substantial enough to house the king and all the retainers who accompany him. Each of these is unique, but includes a palatial residence, lodging for officers and their servants, hall, kitchen, buttery, gardens, and barracks for the guards.

When the king is absent, the local Forester remains, along with a tiny household staff. Of collateral importance, the areas around his hunting
lodges tend to have many bridges, maintained by the local people for the convenience and safety of their king.

Forests of Salisbury

The above map shows that half of the western and eastern holdings fall within the boundaries of several different Forests.
The hundreds and their man-made wealth belong to their respective tenants. The Forests and their natural wealth belong to the king, however, save the Forest of the Trench, which is held by Salisbury.

Each Forest has its own quarterly Forest Court for offenders, whether peasant, cleric, or noble, for no one is innocent in the king’s woods. Thus the
peasants must attend both a Hundred Court and Forest Court when both meet in the same month.

Royal Forestry Officers

The King’s Forestry Officers levy steep fines for cutting trees, lopping branches, collecting berries and acorns — even for collecting loose brush. But the punishment for poaching is far worse. Castration and blinding await those convicted of killing the king’s deer. The below officers are responsible for the Royal Forests – and the counties have similar officers working for them.

Wardens

These officers oversee whole Forests, which are large areas of varying size. Their job is administrative and includes an array of underlings including Foresters who do all the ground work. They are typically knights.

Foresters

These appointed caretakers maintain the forest — noting where types of trees grow, protecting some plants and burning others, and apprehending squatters and poachers for the sheriff. Some Foresters are knights, while Riding Foresters are squires. Walking Foresters are commoners, as are most other support staff.

Forest Liberties

The king’s grip on the forested lands is absolute. No one may do anything to any part of it without his license. The king sometimes grants forest liberties to others, although these grants are exceedingly rare and expensive.

Exits from the Forest

Here are some of the major liberties that are lumped together into a single category: herbage (grazing rights), cheminage (toll for passage), windfall wood, loppings, pannage (feeding pigs), ash collecting, nut collecting, and selective tree cutting. The money that the king collects for all these together is called exits from the forest.

Park

A park is a part of a Forest designated as a private forest for a nobleman. It must be enclosed by a ditch and fence to ensure that none of the king’s deer go into it (although it is permissable for deer to run out). The holder must appoint parkers to keep the fence and ditch in good repair. The holder can hunt there, but usually has no other rights, and is fined if he cuts, collects, burns, or wastes the land. Alternatively, he has those rights and is “exempt from the regard.”

Chase

This is a large, unfenced section of a Forest granted as a liberty to a nobleman. The holder is responsible for enforcing all the usual laws, but receives the benefits of the Forest Liberties too. Included rights allow the holder to hunt anything and anytime he wants—a very generous addition.

Swainmote

Every three years the Forest Court meets in a swainmote. The holder of this liberty collects the profits and perquisites collected during this Forest Court for executing Forest Justice.

Free Warren

Free Warren is the right to hunt everything except the king’s deer. This largely means rabbits, hares, and game birds — all animals used in falconry.

Commons

“Common” here means shared by the community, and is an inclusive term that allows appropriate seasonal grazing in the woods.

Assart

Assart (“to clear”) is a license to clear woods for planting and settlement. Since the lowlands feel crowded, and the heavy plow allows grain to be
grown in assarted lands, King Aurelius Ambrosius first (and Uther after him) declared that all non-Forest lands may be cleared and settled without
paying a fee to their lords for the privilege.

Ancient Law and Custom dictates that the lands on ground so cleared are still called assarts, even though they are in every other way villages and
manors. King Arthur Pendragon draws a line for simplicity, and calls such settlements villages and manors, except when it is fun not to.

The Forests of Britain

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