800th Anniversary of Charter of the Forest

Written By: - Date published: 8:25 pm, November 5th, 2017 - 21 comments
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Issued alongside the Magna Carta on November 6, 1217, the Charter of the Forest is among the first ecological charters in history and among the first to assert the rights of the common man and woman. It is an assertion of the rights of ordinary people to the right to subsistence.

For hundreds of years after 1217 it was more influential than the Magna Carta itself; every church was required to read it out four times a year in designated services.

In  August by wonderful serendipity I joined with others on a Barge trip from Windsor to Runnymede to learn about the Charter of the Forests from Guy Standing and others. Guy coined the notion of the dangerous ‘precariat’ class, has written two books about it and  has visited New Zealand a number of times.He has also written about and supports Universal Basic Income. Cricket tragic and bloody good bloke. Big brain too. He has written about the Charter of the Forests here and here.

Of the Charter of the Forests he says:

We must use this anniversary year to revive and to defend the Charter’s principles, including its assertion that every commoner has the right to subsistence. It is a wonderful opportunity to organise a series of events to celebrate, defend and revive the commons, thereby exposing the ideology behind the ongoing plunder of the commons and the micro-politics behind it.

I’ll be celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Charter with others at the Southern Cross in Wellington at 6pm tomorrow, November 6th 2017. All welcome.

Some things never die. The idea of citizens’ rights to the commons has real power.

21 comments on “800th Anniversary of Charter of the Forest”

  1. mickysavage 1

    What a wonderful idea. I imagine it could take off in Waitakere!

  2. This is pointing us in the right direction. The “right to estover” interested me the most, along with the challenge to the “tragedy of the commons” lie.
    I will be celebrating on the 6th and taking this to my Tuesday meeting of Riverton Men Who Talk About Stuff.

    • Cinny 2.1

      This is awesome, never heard of it before, thanks ever so much for the info Robert, wonderful.

      You make me smile…. “Riverton Men Who Talk About Stuff” epic goodness!

    • Sabine 2.2

      Riverton Men Who Talk About Stuff.


  3. Bill 3

    So some fkcers assumed a right (probably by force) to designate rights? Or am I missing something?

    • Cinny 3.1

      Forests were owned by royals, any hunting/gathering on their land was punished, often killed.

      Self entitled bloodlines can lead to the starvation of millions among other things.


      Crikey maybe Robin Hood hooked up the Charter?

    • Mike Smith 3.2

      I think you may be missing something Bill might be worth a second look

      • Bill 3.2.1

        “Issued” absolutely entails a ‘from on high’ position of the ‘issuer(s)’.

        From the second link

        Issued in the name of a ten-year-old King Henry III alongside the modified Charter of Liberties that had been sealed by King John and the barons at Runnymede on June 15, 2015 that became Magna Carta on November 6, 1217, the Charter of the Forest is among the first ecological charters in history and among the first to assert the rights of the common man and woman.

        So nah. Think I missed nothing and that, rather, you’re overlooking a bit of ‘a detail’ concerning power and authority there Mike.

        In essence that’s all it was – a claim to power and authority, perhaps much like marriage equality today extends and solidifies the “right” of the state to determine or “sanctify” relationships – and a concomitant “right” to extend a certain largesse.

        All a crock in my book. But hey…

        • Sam aka clump

          Ok. So I’v seen a lot of comments and blogs from you Bill that are. Well. Shall we say they’re fraught with hyperbolise and it’s hard to figure out if they are literal statements. And I just think this shit needs to be addressed. You know? Because TS is the standard and all that. With that in mind let’s look at what the British library has to say.

          “In John’s reign, roughly a third of the country was royal forest, and the penalties imposed for forest offences were a major source of revenue for the king. One aim of the Forest Charter was to reduce the area of the royal forest by removing everything which King Henry II (chiefly blamed for the forest’s vast extent) had placed within it. The Charter also banned capital punishments for forest offences (such as poaching and hunting the protected deer), and exempted those having woods within the forest from fines for erecting buildings and creating new arable land.”

          So as you can see the “Forest Charter” actually decreased the monarchies power from multi-city to city level restricting the Kings ability of destroy the region over just because.

          Now I’m like bro. You shouldn’t believe in your own head cannon… https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-forest-charter-of-1225

          I’ll catch you guys later. How ever, I’m actually afraid for my life right now. There’s this guy calling himself 3way going around, I mean he destroyed Frank Mackasy so hard, that’s why Frank doesn’t comment here regularly, I mean this guy destroyed him so hard. He said he was going to destroy Draco the Basturd (I mean T Bastard or DTB). 3way was saying Basturd was pretty powerful around here and then he wasn’t, because this guy destroyed him so hard. And I don’t know if he’s going to destroy me next. Ok. So, just be wary. This guy might even destroy the entire TS debating community, or even the entire NZ political debating community. he’s that powerful. I don’t think any one is safe from this guy. He’s clearly to strong for us.

          Ok so I’ll see you thoughts later.

        • left_forward

          It is tempting to ignore your thoughts in the same way that you have dismissed this Bill. Your one dimensional focus on the abstract illegitimacy of the monarchy to hold power, dismisses as a ‘crock’’, the socio-economic consequence of the Charter as pratically experienced by commoners.
          Did you overlook this essential detail?

          • Carolyn_nth

            Bill is an anarchist – he rejects any state operator’s claim to confer rights for anyone, not just that of the monarchy.

    • left_forward 3.3

      No Bill, you are not missing anything, but your focus is curious.
      It was called monarchy – a key assumption in the articles.

  4. weka 4

    Gem of a post Mike, thanks.

    I’ll take it to the #LeftwithEnough twitter chat tomorrow night.

  5. Incognito 5

    Thank you for drawing attention to this.

    When the State does not protect and comes up for the commons who does? When it is gone, it is too late and practically impossible to reverse especially since most laws are to protect (private) ownership and exclusion of the many in favour of the few.

  6. swordfish 6

    Geez Louise !, this takes me right back to 1984 – the year I did my first Uni paper – (History) Medieval England (Massey Extramural). Covered this period too – including King John, Henry III, First & Second Barons’ Revolts, Simon de Montfort, Magna Carta.

    (was just starting to research essay on Magna Carta around the time I cast my first ever vote – for incoming 4th Lab Govt – utterly unaware of Roger the Dodger’s “moste egregious plan to destroye the Anciente Commonweal Ryghts of the Kiwi Peasantry” – aka Rogernomics )

    Believe it or not, the Charter of the Forest does actually ring a bell with me – but obviously it’s a pretty vague recollection after all these years.

  7. Descendant Of Sssmith 7

    I remember elsewhere pointing this out when people were trying to get the council to write by laws to say Lewis Stanton should be booted out of town.

    Some wally was trying to say under the Magna Carta he should have been banned and as the rights here go to a large extent hand in hand with the Magna Carta I thought it worth noting.

    One of the reasons I’m not convinced of becoming a republic is I’m not convinced that many of these rights would be maintained.

    At least with the Treaty giving us this:

    In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

    theirs always the chance to use some of these old rights in reviewing our law.

    Copyright is a good example of a law that was originally designed to restrict the rights of business and ensure that art and literature and so retained it’s ability to go into the commons that has now been largely reversed in purpose.

  8. Descendant Of Sssmith 8

    Those of us who grew up on Robin Hood are well aware of the Charter Of The Forests.


    The Norman kings imposed the forest system upon appropriate districts of England by the use of impulsive decrees. Within the bounds of the royal forests a comprehensive body of laws was developed to protect the hunting rights of the Crown. The four beasts of the English forest were the red deer, the fallow deer, and the roe and the wild boar, together called ‘the venison’; lesser beasts such as hares and rabbits, wildfowl and birds used in falconry, and fish in the ‘forbidden rivers’, were also protected. The forest inhabitants were forbidden to possess bows and arrows or any other means of taking the game, and their dogs must be ‘lawed’ (i.e., their claws cut) so that they were unable to run in pursuit of the wild beasts. The ‘vert ‘ – the trees and other forms of vegetation which gave food and shelter for the game – was also preserved by numerous and oppressive regulations, which forbade the people to clear and cultivate waste land, restricted their rights of cutting wood for building and fuel, and of pasturing their animals on the wastes, and even made it an offence to enclose their crops against the deer. Areas within the forest and outside were designated as Parks, Hays, Warrens and Chases.

  9. left_forward 9

    Thank you Mike – I enjoyed reading the article and the links.
    Interesting to contemplate the concept of the Charter of the Forests in a NZ context, and considering how it might inform a deeper understanding of Tino Rangatiratanga and what Maori chiefs in 1840 were seeking to protect. Although ‘chieftainship’ may be seen as antipathetic to the commons, from a Maori societal view I would argue that these concepts are closely linked.
    Happy Anniversary.

    • Gaylene Middleton 9.1

      Basic Income NZ (BINZ) hopes to explore these NZ issues with a seminar next year.Guy Standing is speaking at the 800th Charter of Forest Anniversary at Durham Cathedral today. He is speaking on the contemporary relevance of the Charter.

    • Descendant Of Sssmith 9.2

      Aye it’s one of the areas I’ve always felt there was some strong congruity – the rights of the ordinary people – the right to gather food, the right to share songs and stories, the right to gather firewood and have shelter, to manage local resources, the freedoms to cross well established paths and land areas, the management of resources for all – not just the few.

  10. Gaylene Middleton 10

    Basic Income NZ (BINZ) is hoping to organize a seminar on these issues next year. Guy Standing is speaking today at the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest at Durham Cathedral,UK. He is speaking on the contemporary relevance of the Charter.

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