University of Oulu: Department of History, Master’s Thesis, November (2013)
In this study I shall examine the subject of power relations in the royal forests of England. The vast forests of late-medieval England contained a variety of valuable resources; some were mundane, like timber and land, and some were of a more symbolic nature like deer and the right to hunt. Control and usage of these resources was to a great extent dictated by the unique legal codes of the forests which aimed to maintain the forests to the king’s benefit. But at the same time, forests, by their innate nature, were difficult to guard and thus invited misappropriation. This thorny conundrum caused a great deal of friction amongst the inhabitants of the forest (the primary users) and the royal foresters charged with overseeing resource usage in the forest. This general discord over access to resources will serve as the point of departure for the present study.
In my analysis of resource use in the forest I shall attempt to analyze the interplay of power between the various actors in the forest, namely, the local inhabitants and the foresters. These interactions, be they casual and lawful or covert and illicit, reflect much about the power structures that underlay the royal forest system, and perhaps reflect something of medieval man’s notions of justice and authority and privilege. In similar fashion, squabbles over resource use in the forest can also help shine light on the society of late-medieval England, its social make-up as well as the localized power relations constitutive of it. The ultimate goal of this study will be to present and interpret these matters in an attempt to better understand the agency and goals of the various actors present in the royal forests.