Hunting was a very important social activity for the Crown and aristocrats, and for the gentry and landowners who sought to emulate them in the medieval period.

In Medieval Sherwood Forest who had the right to hunt, and what for was very very important.

Many of the higher clergy had exemptions from forest law- and the right to hunt in the Forest.

The Forest laws enshrined who had the right to hunt the 'Beasts of the Chase' -namely the king with a few rare exceptions.

This right was jealously guarded by the crown.

Alongside the 'beast of the chase', there was another classification of animals subject to hunting- the 'beasts of the warren'.

The right to 'Free Warren' was principally the right to hunt hare and fox in particular places and at particular times, often granted by the king as reward or favour.

The list of animals that qualified as 'Beasts of the Warren' included wild cats and squirrel…

The right to hunt these animals was considered a signal of status amongst landowners and aristocrats.

Many Lords sought to establish these rights over their land.

In medieval Nottinghamshire in the 12th century the only listed person having a right to Free Warren was the Bishop of Lincoln (Crook 2001).

He was extremely powerful in the valley of the River Trent being the builder and custodian of Newark castle, the impressive fortress built to guard the crossing of the Great North Road over the River Trent.

During the 12th century the Forest extended all the way to Newark in the East, (see boundaries page)and the Great North Road ran through the Forest of Clay and up across the district of Hatfield to the north.

The Bishop of Lincoln was granted the Kings warren over all the land he owned north and east of Newark, stretching into Lincolnshire, by Henry I.

This entitled him not only to rights of chase, but also to all the fines and fees that would otherwise have gone to the crown- as it had in the time of Henry's  father William I and brother William II

This amounted to a £10 fine for hunting in the warren illegally.

-(no wonder the Bishops of Lincoln could afford such lovely church!)

The forest stretched over the whole of the county north and west of the Trent in the 12th century.

In the 13th century- especially following Magna Charta in 1215, and the subsequent Forest Charter of 1217- the forest was removed from much of this area (see boundaries page for more details).

Following this retreat- the number of Charters of Free Warren granted by the King to landowners in the newly disaforested area increased dramatically.

This was first documented in 2001 by David Crook- formerly of the National Archives and former editor of the Transactions of the Thoroton Society.

In his paper he recorded these charters and demonstrated their relationship to the removal of forest law from the area.

There were no Charters of Free warren granted within the area of Sherwood Forest that remained under forest law.

The following statistics are from his paper Crook, D. 2001. The Development of Private Hunting Rights in Nottinghamshire, c1100-1258. Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 105.

The newly reduced boundary of Sherwood Forest was confirmed in 1227. From this period there was a massive sudden increase in the number of Charters of Free Warren granted in Nottinghamshire:

In the period 1225-1257 33 lords secured charters in at least 69 places around the county.

At least 50 of these were in areas disaforested in 1227.

Alongside those named above- it also seems that the Knights Hospitaller of the order of St John of Jerusalem, enjoyed the right to free warren over their lands of Kirkby Hardwick- and that they may have acquired this right from the Knights Templar (see Kirkby Hardwick and the warrior monks story for more details).

In conclusion it seems then, that landowners and lords wished to gain the status associated with a Charter granted by the king to the right to hunt Beasts of the Warren on their land.

Within the forest it was still illegal to hunt the Beasts of the Chase, but in the newly disaforested areas available in the 13th century many lords sought to emulate the the King and prove their status by gaining this Charter of Free Warren.

As pointed out by David Crook- this also gives us another level of evidence as to where the Forest jurisdiction had lain in the 12th century.



(Andy Gaunt, first published 17/11/2011)


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