Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Wolf Hunters of Sherwood Forest

If you have an area of land designated for the protection of Deer for the Kings pleasure to hunt and to eat, then the last thing you want is to share it with other hungry predators.

Perhaps the most feared predator in the forest was the wolf.

There were wolves living wild and hunting in Medieval Sherwood Forest, and we know this because the records tell us of ‘wolf hunters’ employed to chase them.

The inquististiones post mortem (inquests after death) for Nottinghamshire for the year 1339 list amongst their number a Walter le Wolfhunte:

‘Walter le Wulfhunte held in his demesne as of fee on the day that he died a messuage* and a bovate* of land with appurtenances in Mammesfeldwodehouse in the county of Nottingham of the king in chief, by service of chasing wolves outside of the King’s forest of Shirewood, if any they found.’
(Blagg 1939)

This is a wonderful insight into the lesser known positions within forest administration - a man in the king’s manor of Mansfield Woodhouse being directly employed by the king to chase wolves.

It also tells us something of the landscape of the forest- one still wild enough to harbour wolves.

But most wonderful is the insight it gives us into the people of the forest. What kind of man was Walter the Woolfhunter? A grizzled ‘Davy Crockett’ style man of the woods, hardened and fearless running off into the night, whilst others run the other way?

Grizzled and fearless as he may have been… wolves were probably not a daily occurrence. On his days off from wolf hunting Walter was also liable to be called to the kings service as a forest official:

The same 'Walter de Wulfuntte de Mammesfeldewodehouse' appears in an earlier record. Here he is serving as a regarder (a forest official dealing in the boundaries of land) at the 1287 forest Eyre to testify in cases of assarts (clearing of woodland for arable) against people living in the forest of Sherwood.

The medieval text is in Latin, Walter appears alongside a group of selected men to testify as to what they know, and they include:

Regardum de Brokestowe factum et presentatum per regadatores subscriptos videlicet per- ( the regard for Broxtowe presented and signed by the regarders…)

Jordanum de Sutton (Jordan of Sutton), galfridum de strelli (Geoffrey of Strelley), Henfricum de Mammesfeld clericum (Henry of Mansfield a cleric), adam le palmer de nottynghammia (Adam Palmer* of Nottingham), thomas de ridewalle (Thomas of Ridewall), robertum de lyndeby (Robert of Lyndby), radulphum clericum de Mammesfeld (Ralph a Cleric of Mansfield) , Willelmum de bredon de eadem (William of Breedon of the same place- (from Mansfield)), Hugonem de sneynton de Sutton(Hugh of Sneinton from Sutton), hugonem filium walteri (Hugh the son of Walter), walterum le wlfuntte de Mammesfelewodehouse, (Walter the Wolfhunter of Mansfield Woodhouse) et matthew Attewlee de eadem (Matthew Attewell from the same place (Mansfield Woodhouse)), regaratores iuratos. Qui dicunt super sacramentum suum:-

(From the Sherwood Forest Book (Boulton 1964)).

The post of Wolfhunter lived far beyond Walter its most famous occupant:

A 'Sir Robert Plumpton held one bovate of land in Mansfield Woodhouse, called "Wolf-hunt land," by service of winding a horn, and chasing or frightening the wolves in the forest of Sherwood' in 1432 in the reign of Henry VI. (Robert White, Worksop, The Dukery, and Sherwood Forest, (1875)).

These wolfhunters must have been formidable characters, fearless and strong who carried out their roles within he forest administration- mostly annonymous to us due to their usual absence from the records. 

These few chance survivals in the documentary record offer us a rare and wonderful opportunity to see into the lives and livings of some of the characters of Medieval Sherwood Forest.

*messuage: house or dwelling.  
*bovate: amount of land tillable by one ox in a ploughing season
*palmer: interestinlgy the surname palmer is believed to be from pilgrimage. A person would bring a palm back home as proof of having visited the holy land.

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