35. THE ASSIZE OF THE FOREST (1184)
This is the assize of the lord king Henry, son of Matilda, with regard
to his forest and venison 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
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; while fully conceding that, without waste, they may take
from their woods whatever may be necessary for them, and this by view of the
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.
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 and
venison together with the forest; and four knights shall be appointed to have
charge of agistment 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; he himself
will give full warranty.
10. Item, the king has ordered that his assarts, both new
and old, are to be inspected; likewise his purprestures 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
14. Item, he has commanded that the lawing of mastiffs
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
(Latin) Ibid., pp. 186 f.
 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.
Venatio, meaning either game or hunting rights.
 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.
 Cf. articles 7, 13.
 Green wood, or growing timber.
 The putting of animals, especially swine, into the woods to
feed. For pannage, see above, p. 43, n. 19.
 Restraint either of the person or of his property, to
assure his appearance in court.
 Clearings made for cultivation or some other purpose.
 Unauthorized uses of the royal land.
 The region adjoining the forest, technically known as the
purlieu, where hunting was restricted; see Petit-Dutaillis and Lefebvre, pp.
 Mutilation of the dogs' feet so that they could not chase
game; cf. no. 45, art. 6.