An important piece of history, completely unknown to me.

How embarrassing for a soi-disant educated chimp!

A really educated man, Noam Chomsky,  points to it in a recent speech  on the Great Charter. I knew nothing about the Charter of the Forest, and it is a revelation. Read the wikipedia entry:


The Charter provided a right of common access to (royal) private lands that would wait until the Union of England and Scotland in 1707 to be equaled within the realm. It also rolled back the area encompassed by the designation “forest” to that of Henry II’s time, essentially freeing up lands that had become more and more restricted as King Richard and King John designated greater and greater areas of land to become royal forest. Since “forest” in this context didn’t necessarily mean treed areas, but could include fields, moor or even farms and villages, it became an increasing hardship on the common people to try to farm, forage, and otherwise use the land they lived on. The Charter specifically states that “Henceforth every freeman, in his wood or on his land that he has in the forest, may with impunity make a mill, fish-preserve, pond, marl-pit, ditch, or arable in cultivated land outside coverts, provided that no injury is thereby given to any neighbour.”

It repealed the death penalty for stealing venison, though transgressors were still subject to fines or imprisonment for the offense; it also abolished mutilation as a lesser punishment. Special Verderers’ Courts were set up within the forests to enforce the laws of the Charter. By Tudor times, most of the laws served mainly to protect the timber in royal forests. However, some clauses in the Laws of Forests remained in force until the 1970s, and the special courts still exist today in the New Forest and the Forest of Dean. In this respect, the Charter was the statute that remained longest in force in England (from 1217 to 1971), being finally superseded by the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act 1971.

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