Friday, 4 December 2015

This is More Important than the Magna Carta

West gate of the Castle
Lincoln Castle reopened in April 2015 following the completion of the £22 million renovation and improvement of the castle. One of the most important features of the work is a new building where Magna Carta will be preserved in ideal conditions and may be viewed by the public.

The improvements to the castle were timed to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. Magna Carta will not be the only charter on view: Lincoln is the only place where Magna Carta can be viewed alongside The Charter of the Forest, although there is also a copy of The Charter at Durham.

The Charter of the Forest was sealed by the young King Henry III on 6th November 1217. This charter dealt with the rights of the common man, whereas Magna Carta covered issues affecting the barons. “Forest” in this context included not only wooded areas but, more commonly, royal hunting grounds and fields. From Henry II's time these areas had grown and people were regularly outlawed for breaking forest law. The Royal Forests were an important source of wood for fuel and charcoal making, turf for fuel and for the grazing of animals.

The Charter set out a requirement for the King to give up the Royal Forests and to free up the lands that Henry II and King John had made Royal Forests, uniquely giving back to the common man freedom to use those areas.
Charter of the Forest

A clause in The Charter specifically stated that "Henceforth every freeman, in his wood or on his land that he has in the forest, may with impunity make a mill, fish-preserve, pond, marl-pit, ditch, or arable in cultivated land outside coverts, provided that no injury is thereby given to any neighbour." 

The death penalty was abolished for capturing deer and mutilation as a lesser punishment was banned, although law breakers were still imprisoned or fined. The laws of The Charter were enforced in the forests by Verders' Courts.

Magna Carta is seen as the foundation of human rights in countries such as the United States, but the Charter of the Forest may be a more important document for the 'common man' of England and deserves its own celebration in 2017.

(First published 30th September 2014)

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