The Charter of the Forest 1217 C.E. (Paper) the legal foundation of the commons
The charter was designed to complement Magna Carta, which had been signed in 1215 by Henry’s predecessor and father, King John, in which he promised his subjects that England would be governed, and his barons dealt with, according to the customs of feudal law. Almost immediately, Magna Carta was nullified by Pope Innocent III, who agreed with John that the agreement had been extorted by force. The barons rebelled (see Barons’ War), and in October 1216 John died and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Henry. A council of barons loyal to John, and led by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, was created to rule on Henry’s behalf. To end the rebellion, it decided to reissue Magna Carta. This document had never satisfactorily dealt with the issue of forest law, which was a cause of widespread resentment.
Legislation concerning royal forests had been introduced in the late 11th century after the Norman Conquest in order to prohibit the common or agricultural use of all land deemed to be royal hunting grounds and made all game in such land the property of the Crown. Much of the land affected was not even wooded and included heath, wetland, and arable and pasture land, as well as villages and towns. By the early 13th century almost one third of England was subject to the king’s forest law, which operated outside common law. Infringement of forest law was punishable by penalties including mutilation and death. The restrictions on the use of forest land affected both barons and commoners, the latter unable to use land they had previously relied upon for their livelihoods. In response to the grievances to which forest law gave rise, an additional document—the Charter of the Forest—was created to accompany Magna Carta.
The Charter of the Forest, signed on November 6, 1217, with papal approval, delineated the areas designated as royal forest, provided a right of common access to the remaining royal forests, and replaced the harsher penalties with fines, an important source of revenue for the Crown. It thus provided some economic protection for both barons and commoners, the latter also gaining genuine rights and protections against the abuses of aristocracy for the first time. Another consequence of the charter was a significant increase in the policy of disafforestation, by which both land and privileges within royal forests were sold off by the Crown for great profit, a process that continued apace until the end of the 13th century. In the same year as the Charter of the Forest was signed, Magna Carta was reissued to take into account its provisions, and in 1225 both the Charter of the Forest and Magna Carta were reissued in Henry III’s own name. By the late 17th century enforcement of the laws of the remaining royal forests in order to raise revenue had effectively ceased.
An English translation of the Charter of the Forest:
The following translation of the Charter of the Forests as issued in 1217 is that which appears in Harry Rothwell (ed.), English Historical Documents, Vol. 3, 1189-1327 (London, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1975), No. 24, at pp. 337-40.
Henry, by the grace of God, king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy, Aquitaine, and count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his bailiffs and faithful subjects, greeting. Know that out of reverence for God and for the salvation of our soul and the souls of our ancestors and successors, for the exaltation of holy church and the reform of our realm, we have granted and by this present charter confirmed for us and our heirs for ever, on the advice of our venerable father, the lord Gualo, cardinal priest of St Martin and legate of the apostolic see, of the lord Walter archbishop of York, William bishop of London and the other bishops of England and of William Marshal earl of Pembroke, ruler of us and of our kingdom, and our other faithful earls and barons of England, these liberties written below to be held in our kingdom of England for ever.
 In the first place, all the forests which king Henry our grandfather made forest shall be viewed by good and law-worthy men, and if he made forest any wood that was not his demesne to the injury of him whose wood it was, it shall be disafforested. And if he made his own wood forest, it shall remain forest, saving common of pasture and other things in that forest to those who were accustomed to have them previously.
 Men who live outside the forest need not henceforth come before our justices of the forest upon a general summons, unless they are impleaded or are sureties for any person or persons who are attached for forest offences.
 All woods made forest by king Richard our uncle, or by king John our father, up to the time of our first coronation shall be immediately disafforested unless it be our demesne wood.
 Archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, knights and freeholders who have woods within forests shall have them as they had them at the time of the first coronation of the aforesaid king Henry our grandfather, so that they shall be quit forever in respect of all purprestures, wastes and assarts made in those woods between that time and the beginning of the second year of our coronation. And those who in future make waste, purpresture or assart in them without licence from us shall answer for wastes, purprestures and assarts.
 Our regarders shall go through the forests making the regard as it used to be made at the time of the first coronation of the aforesaid king Henry our grandfather, and not otherwise.
 The inquest or view of the expeditating of dogs in the forest shall henceforth be made when the regard ought to be made, namely every third year, and then made by the view and testimony of law-worthy men and not otherwise. And he whose dog is then found not expeditated shall give as amercement three shillings, and in future no ox shall be seized for failure to expeditate. The manner, moreover, of expeditating by the assize shall generally be that three claws of the forefoot are to be cut off, but not the ball. Nor shall dogs henceforth be expeditated except in places where it was customary to expeditate them at the time of the first coronation of king Henry our grandfather.
 No forester or beadle shall henceforth make scotale or levy sheaves of corn, or oats or other grain or lambs or piglets or make any other levy. And by the view and oath of twelve regarders when they make the regard as many foresters are to be set to keep the forests as shall seem to them reasonably sufficient for keeping them.
 No swanimote shall henceforth be held in our kingdom except three times a year, namely a fortnight before the feast of St Michael, when the agisters meet to agist our demesne woods, and about the feast of St Martin, when our agisters ought to receive our pannage-dues; and at these two swanimotes foresters, verderers and agisters shall appear but no one else shall be compelled to do so; and the third swanimote shall be held a fortnight before the feast of St John the Baptist for the fawning of our beasts, and for holding this swanimote foresters and verderers shall come but no others shall be compelled to do so. And in addition every forty days throughout the year the verderers and foresters shall meet to view attachments of the forest both of the vert and of the venison on the presentment of those foresters and with the attached present. The aforesaid swanimotes however shall only be held in counties in which they were wont to be held.
 Every free man shall agist his wood in the forest as he wishes and have his pannage. We grant also that every free man can conduct his pigs through our demesne wood freely and without impediment to agist them in his own woods or anywhere else he wishes. And if the pigs of any free man shall spend one night in our forest he shall not on that account be so prosecuted that he loses anything of his own.
 No one shall henceforth lose life or limb because of our venison, but if anyone has been arrested and convicted of taking venison he shall be fined heavily if he has the means; and if he has not the means, he shall lie in our prison for a year and a day; and if after a year and a day he can find pledges he may leave prison; but if not, he shall abjure the realm of England.
 Any archbishop, bishop, earl or baron whatever who passes through our forest shall be allowed to take one or two beasts under the supervision of the forester, if he is to hand; but if not, let him have the horn blown, lest he seem to be doing it furtively.
 Every free man may henceforth without being prosecuted make in his wood or in land he has in the forest a mill, a preserve, a pond, a marl-pit, a ditch, or arable outside the covert in arable land, on condition that it does not harm any neighbour.
 Every free man shall have the eyries of hawks, sparrowhawks, falcons, eagles and herons in his woods, and likewise honey found in his woods.
 No forester henceforth who is not a forester-in-fee rendering us a farm for his bailiwick may exact any chiminage’ in his bailiwick; but a forester-in-fee rendering us a farm for his bailiwick may exact chiminage, namely for a cart for half a year 2d and for the other half year 2d, and for a horse with a load for half a year 1/2d and for the other half year 1/2d, and only from those who come from outside his bailiwick as merchants with his permission into his bailiwick to buy wood, timber, bark, or charcoal and take them elsewhere to sell where they wish; and from no other cart or load shall any chiminage be exacted, and chiminage shall only be exacted in places where it used to be exacted of old and ought to have been exacted. Those, on the other hand, who carry wood, bark, or charcoal on their backs for sale, although they get their living by it, shall not in future pay chiminage. In respect of the woods of others no chiminage shall be given to our foresters beyond [that given] in respect of our own2 woods.3
 All who from the time of king Henry our grandfather up to our first coronation have been outlawed for a forest offence only shall be released from their outlawry without legal proceedings and shall find reliable pledges that they will not do wrong to us in the future in respect of our forest.
 No castellan or other person may hold forest pleas either of the vert or the venison but each forester-in-fee shall attach forest pleas of both the vert and the venison and present them to the verderers of the districts and when they have been enrolled and closed under the seals of the verderers they shall be presented to the head forester when he arrives in those parts to hold forest pleas and be determined before him.
 These liberties concerning the forests we have granted to everybody, saving to archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, knights, and other persons, ecclesiastical and secular, Templars and Hospitallers, the liberties and free customs, in forests and outside, in warrens and other things, which they had previously. All these aforesaid customs and liberties which we have granted to be observed in our kingdom as far as it pertains to us towards our men, all of our kingdom, clerks as well as laymen, shall observe as far as it pertains to them towards their men. Because we have not yet a seal we have had the present charter sealed with the seals of our venerable father the lord Gualo cardinal priest of St Martin, legate of the apostolic see, and William Marshal earl of Pembroke, ruler of us and of our kingdom. Witness the aforenamed and many others. Given by the hands of the aforesaid lord, the legate, and of William Marshal at St Paul’s, London, on the sixth day of November in the second year of our reign.
 i.e. of payments at the Exchequer
 purprestures: required by the context, an accidental omission, supplied from the Forest Charter of 1225
 A toll levied on transport in the forest.
 literally, demesne
 An obscure Latin sentence, not found in the 1225 or later reissues of the Forest Charter. This would seem to be its meaning.