Poaching in the royal forests was a dangerous game-

Forest law was severe in the 11th and 12th centuries with blinding and castration along with mutilation through chopping off of hands and feet, a possible, if not inevitable punishment of trespass against the venison.

But it wasn’t just fear of temporal punishment- or justice handed out in the name of the King that could face a would be poacher...

f that wasn’t enough- the church could also get involved!


A part of the Doom Painting at Blyth (on the edge of Sherwood Forest)- the devil dragging the dammed into the depths.

















Picture: A part of the Doom Painting at Blyth (on the edge of Sherwood Forest)- the devil dragging the dammed into the depths.


Of course they only concerned with when the poaching encroached onto church land…

In 1253 an announcement was made by the bishops:

We arrayed with our pontificals. With candles burning in our hands, solemnly declare the sentence of cursing in all trespassers and breakers of the liberties of the church’ – After the invocation of the authority of the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles Peter and Paul, all the Apostles, Martyrs, Lord Edward the Confessor, St. Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, all the Confessors, Virgins and the Saints of God: and then proceeded: ‘we accurse and from the privileges of Holy Church we sequester and depart all those that from henceforth wittingly or maliciously deprive or despoil the Holy Church of their right…’
(Illingworth Butler 1946)


Leaving apart the question as to why all the virgins in the world seem to form part of the jury...

It would appear that alongside having suffered mutilation, castration, and general abuse for contravening the forest law- excommunication and eternal damnation would also then face the condemned if he or she had chased the prey onto church lands.

Being as though the lands and woods and arable strips owned by the Archbishop of York, Abbots, Priors and various churches littered the landscape of the forest- often not obviously marked to the would be poacher- this extra level of punishment could prove trickier to avoid than might be thought…



(Andy Gaunt, first published 11/11/2011)


Click here for more ‘Stories from the Forest’…





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The Sherwood Forest
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King John’s Palace:
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Edwinstowe Church Survey

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