forest laws

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Under the Norman kings, the royal forest grew steadily, probably reaching its greatest extent under Henry II when around 30 per cent of the country was set aside for royal sport. The object of the forest laws was the protection of ‘the beasts of the forest’ (red, roe, and fallow deer, and wild boar) and the trees and undergrowth which afforded them shelter. The definitive form to forest law occurred during Henry II's reign, most notably in the Assize of the Forest (also known as the Assize of Woodstock) in 1184. None could carry bows and arrows in the royal forest, and dogs had to have their toes clipped to prevent them pursuing game. Savage penalties for any infringements were often imposed. Discontent with the laws ensured that the forest became a major political issue in John's reign. It culminated in the Charter of the Forest (1217), but only in the 14th cent., when large areas were disafforested, did the political issue subside.

Subjects: British History.

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