Forest Law

A Forest was a geographic area subject to forest law:

         Forest law protected beasts of the chase for the king- primarily Deer. (Venison)

     It also protect the trees and heaths of their habitat. (Vert).

     It was therefore against the law to hunt the venison, or to remove or damage the vert

     To do so required the King’s permission.

     The Forest Law was introduced to England by the Normans.

     The area within a forest was subject to forest law, regardless of who owned the land.


The first surviving legal texts relating to the forest laws come from 1100.

This is at the very start of the reign of Henry I

Offences include:

         Clearing of land

         Cutting of wood



         Carrying of bows and spears in the forest

          Loosing of livestock

There were also rules regarding:

     The hambling of dogs

         Discovery of hide or flesh

(Hambling of dogs meant the removal of claws to prevent the dog from hunting). 

Law Enforcement:

Every forest in England was overseen by a Keeper.
This person was appointed directly by the king.

In Sherwood Forest the Keepersip of the Forest was hereditary.

The De Caux and through marriage the D'Everingham families were hereditary keepers of the Forests of Nottinghamshire until 1286.

Following this the keepership was granted at the kings pleasure, and was usually given along with Stewardship of Nottingham Castle.

 The keepers of the forest were responsible for policing the forest: they hired Foresters and agisters to act as a police force.

Foresters had the power to arrest people for infringments on the forest law. They patrolled the forest on horseback and on foot.

Agisters were tax collectors who adminstered rents and checked quotas relating to the grazing of animals (agistment) in the woods of the forest.

When someone had broken the law, a system of courts was required to punish the assailant.

Courts of the Forest:

There were a number of courts in the forest these included

Small fines court - The Attachment Court responsible for the day to day running of the forest.
Major less frequent court – Forest Eyres for exacting justice on larger and more serious breaches.

Attachment court:

The attachment court was where judgment was passed on small cases of trespass on the vert and fines were issued.

In Sherwood Forest there were four such courts:

Linby ,
and Edwinstowe

They met every 40 days at these locations, and were sometimes called the 40 day courts.

The Attachment court officials were known as Verderers.

This was a Privileged role- held for life at the kings pleasure.

         Had to be landowners within the forest to qualify for the position.

         There were usually 4 per forest, but in Sherwood there were 6.

The roll of the 1292-93 attachment court shows example fines:

green oak was usually valued at 6d     

a dry oak at 4d

a sapling from 1d to 3d

and stubb, or dry trunk of a pollard tree at 2d.

Forest Eyre:

The Forest Eyres were attended by itinerant justices, and were often named after the justices themselves,

eg. 1187 forest Eyre was known as the Eyre of Geoffrey Fitzpeter.

The Eyre dealt with extracting fines and levies from larger breaches of the forest law.

          eg. In 1267 the Abbot of Rufford was charged
          with felling 483 oaks, for building purposes since the
          last Eyre.

 Court of Special Inquisition:

Alongside the regular cycle of the court system was a more flexible court known as the court of Special Inquisition.

When hide of flesh was discovered there was an inquest in four neighbouring parishes to decide who was to blame.

This might lead to strangers getting the blame! 

The forest Assizes of 1184 (Henry II) and 1198 (Richard I) prescribe:

Blinding and castration as a punishment for those who take deer or boar in the forest.

They also state that this was the practice in the time of Henry I (1100-1135).


Mutilation and hanging were banned in the forest clauses of Magna Carta in 1215.

After this the forest acted more as a source of income for the crown.