35. THE ASSIZE OF THE FOREST (1184)[1]

This is the assize of the lord king Henry, son of Matilda, with regard to his forest and venison[2] in England, [proclaimed] at Woodstock by the counsel and assent of the archbishops, bishops, and barons — earls and nobles — of England.

1. In the first place, he has forbidden that any one shall commit any sort of offence touching his venison and his forests, and he wills that no one shall take confidence from the fact that hitherto those who have committed offences touching his venison and his forests have been declared in mercy [only] as concerned their chattels. For henceforth, if any one commits any [such] offence against him and is convicted of it, he wills that full justice shall be had of that man as was had in the time of King Henry, his grandfather.

2. Item, he has commanded that no one shall have bows, arrows, dogs, or hounds in his forests, unless [such person] has the warrant of the king or of some other man who can [lawfully] be his warrantor.

3. Item, he forbids all persons to give or sell anything to the destruction or waste of their woods, which are within the forest of King Henry;[3] while fully conceding that, without waste, they may take from their woods whatever may be necessary for them, and this by view of the king's forester.

4. Item, he has commanded that all those who have woods within the bounds of the king's forest may put proper foresters in their woods; for which foresters those to whom the woods belong are to be sureties, or they are to provide such proper sureties as can pay compensation, should the foresters commit any offence touching what pertains to the lord king. And those who, outside the bounds of the [forest] visitation, have woods in which the venison enjoys the peace of the lord king are to have no forester unless they will swear [to respect] the king's assize, the peace of his venison, and whatever custodian is put in charge of his woods.[4]

5. Item, the lord king has commanded that his foresters shall exercise care over the forest of knights and others who have woods within the bounds of the king's forest, [to see] that the woods are not destroyed. For if on this account the woods are destroyed, let it be well known to those whose woods are destroyed that compensation will be exacted from those men themselves or from their lands, and from none other.

6. Item, the lord king has commanded that all his foresters shall swear to the best of their ability to enforce the assize that he has established for his forests, and that they will not disturb knights or other good men in [the enjoyment of] what the king has granted them with regard to their woods.

7. Item, the king has commanded that, in each county where he has venison, twelve knights shall be appointed to guard his vert[5] and venison together with the forest; and four knights shall be appointed to have charge of agistment[6] in his woods, and to receive and keep his pannage. And the king forbids that any one shall provide agistment for his own woods within the bounds of the forest before agistment is provided for the king's woods. And [provision for] the lord king's agistment begins fifteen days before Michaelmas and lasts until fifteen days after Michaelmas.

8. And the lord king has commanded that, when a forester has the lord king's own woods in his charge, if those woods are destroyed and he can by no means show good cause for the destruction of the woods, vengeance shall be taken on the forester's own body and not otherwise.

9. Item, the king forbids all clergymen to commit any offences touching his venison or his forests. He strictly orders his foresters that, if they find such men committing offences, they shall not hesitate to lay hands on those men in order to hold them and put them under attachment;[7] he himself will give full warranty.

10. Item, the king has ordered that his assarts,[8] both new and old, are to be inspected; likewise his purprestures[9] and wastes of forests, and that each [class of offences] is to be recorded by itself.

11. Item, the king has commanded that, on summons of his master forester, archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, knights, freeholders, and all men, as they wish to be protected and not to be declared in the king's mercy, shall come to try the pleas of the lord king touching his forests, and to attend to his other business in the county [court].

12. At Woodstock the king has also commanded that, if any man commits a first offence touching the forest, good pledges shall be accepted from him, and so likewise if he commits a second offense. But if he does wrong a third time, for the third offence no further pledges shall be accepted from him, nor anything other than the body of the misdoer.

13. Item, the king has commanded that every man who is [at least] twelve years of age, and who dwells within the peace of the venison,[10 ]shall swear that peace; and clergy holding lay fees [shall do the same].

14. Item, he has commanded that the lawing of mastiffs[11] shall be carried out wherever his wild beasts enjoy his peace and have been accustomed to enjoy it.

15. Item, he has commanded that no tanner or bleacher of hides shall dwell in his forests outside a borough.

16. Item, the king has commanded that henceforth no one, either within or without a forest, shall engage in any kind of chase at night for the taking of wild beasts wherever his wild beasts live or enjoy his peace or have been accustomed to enjoy it, on pain of imprisonment for one year and of redeeming themselves by fine at at his pleasure; and that no one, under the same penalty, shall raise against his wild beasts any obstruction, either living or dead, between his forest and the woods or other regions disafforested by him or his ancestors.

(Latin) Ibid., pp. 186 f.


[1] On all phases of this assize see the chapters in Petit-Dutaillis and Lefebvre, pp. 149 f., and G. J. Turner's introduction to his Select Pleas of the Forest (Selden Society). No really good text of the document has come down to us.

[2]Venatio, meaning either game or hunting rights.

[3] The forest was a game preserve which might include all kinds of land, either inhabited or uninhabited. Within it might lie extensive woods that were the property of lay and clerical nobles. Such persons, under royal supervision, were entitled to any reasonable use of their own woods.

[4] Cf. articles 7, 13.

[5] Green wood, or growing timber.

[6] The putting of animals, especially swine, into the woods to feed. For pannage, see above, p. 43, n. 19.

[7] Restraint either of the person or of his property, to assure his appearance in court.

[8] Clearings made for cultivation or some other purpose.

[9] Unauthorized uses of the royal land.

[10] The region adjoining the forest, technically known as the purlieu, where hunting was restricted; see Petit-Dutaillis and Lefebvre, pp. 233 f.

[11] Mutilation of the dogs' feet so that they could not chase game; cf. no. 45, art. 6.