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Freedom in the forest


Not a very good pic, I'm sorry to say. I was running by, trying to catch a little sunlight and fresh air before I went inside to work this morning when I saw the rose blooming. And one thought led to another and I thought about our shared right to use the forest. This right goes back to Magna Carta, but as I recently learned, Magna Carta didn't settle the issue so it continued to smolder.

The word forest meant something different to Plantagenet kings than it does to us. Robin Hood’s greenwood with its pure, free air was forest, but so were towns, villages and farms if the king decided to call them so.

When kings did this, they created a royal monopoly over resources. If your home and land was in the king’s ‘forest’, you could be heavily fined for clearing your land and planting vegetables. If you killed a deer for dinner, you could be blinded. Whole communities were prosecuted if the offender was not found. Not surprisingly the people hated forest justice.

As Danny Danziger and John Gillingham remarked in their book, 1215, The Year of Magna Carta, "The iniquities of the royal forest system united rich and poor alike in opposition to the Crown". The result was the widespread support for the rebellion that led to the Great Charter of Liberties.

At Runnymede, the reformers demanded that all the ‘forests’ taken by Henry II be given back and the evil customs of forests be ended, but John returned only a little land. So after he died, the council governing on behalf of John's young son issued the Forest Charter of 1217.

The Charter returned all the land taken by Henry II, Richard I and John to the people, who regained the right to use those lands. No man was to lose life or limb for taking the king’s venison. More importantly, the principle of sharing resources was reestablished.

It's a good principle for today. I don't mean it should be the only principle to govern economic life, but it's beautiful in a public park. Air so pure and free!

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