Power relations in the royal forests of England patronage : privilege and legitimacy in the reigns of Henry III and Edward I
1University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, History
|Online Access:||PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.9 MB)|
|Persistent link:|| http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:oulu-201312052004
|Publish Date:|| 2013-12-09
|Thesis type:||Master's thesis
The present thesis examines the power structures of the royal forests of medieval England. The royal forests were vast geographic entities that sheltered a variety of resources. Some of these resources were mundane, like timber and land, and some were more symbolic, like the deer and the right to hunt, but all were highly valued in the medieval world. This research analyzes the role of the forester as a guardian of such resources and how the forester functioned within the local power structures of the forest as well as in the realm on a more general level.
Traditional historiography has tended to gloss over the significance of the forester. Typically he appears as a stock character, as an evil local tyrant with no discernible redeeming qualities. Research emphasis has traditionally been placed on the forest laws and on royal hunting, with the forester appearing only as an addendum. More recent research, while addressing other important aspects of the forest, such as the symbolic nature of hunting, has also generally perpetuated a stereotypical image of the forester. One aim of the present research is to examine the forester more closely to see if this reputation is duly earned. A secondary aim of the thesis focuses on examining the general position of the forester within the power structures of medieval England. The forester naturally had an important role in local power structures, but these would have been intrinsically connected to wider power structures as well. This thesis aims to examine the forester’s position within both power contexts. Additionally, the tools and means by which a forester might contest power will also be examined. The analysis is effected primarily by examining feudal ties of fealty and land tenancy as well as how power structures were negotiated and contested.
An accessory aim of the research is to understand why (and how) power roles changed in the forest. Foresters were often stripped of their offices, seemingly due to malfeasance, and the forest officialdom seems to have been ever fluctuating. In general, the locals who resided in the forests commonly complained of the foresters’ corruption and abuse. In this light, this thesis aims to examine the possible reasons why this was the case. Was the forester’s position a tenuous one? Were his actions the result of a wider political/power calculus or were they simply inane as historians have been apt to interpret them?
The research focuses on the cases of two foresters in particular, which I take to be generally indicative. The careers of both foresters are examined closely and contextualized to better understand their actions and the environment that engendered them. The foresters are examined primarily by using the forest court records, as well as other traditional sources of historiography. A general sketch of the forester’s place within the power structures is offered, as well as a detailed analysis of the power roles of the two foresters examined in the research. The results imply that the forester, and the entire forest system by extension, has generally been misinterpreted by previous research traditions.
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