Parks, Hays, Warrens, and Chases


A number of royal parks were within the royal forests, or on their outskirts, and here the deer were preserved with special care. These parks were usually enclosed by a ditch and earth bank, topped by a wooden palisade, though by the reign of Henry III the royal parks of Devizes and Woodstock were enclosed by stone walls. The expense of maintaining these enclosures was usually borne by the Crown, but in the case of Northampton Park the tenants of lands nearby owed the labour service of maintaining specified lengths of the park enclosure. From time to time instructions were given for feeding the deer with hay, and occasionally with oats, when other food was scarce. The custody of parks and woods in royal manors within the forest was for a long time a bone of contention. In 1237 it was decided by King and Council that custody should belong to the bailiffs of the manors, provided that they swore to answer faithfully to the Chief Justice of the Forest for the safe keeping of vert and venison, and did not pasture any animals in ‘enclosures hays or forest pastures belonging to the said manors’ without the consent of the Chief Forest Justice ‘according to what shall be most to the King’s profit’.

Many of the king’s parks were kept by ‘parkers’, who often had sub-parkers under them. Royal parks such as Guildford Park on the outskirts of Windsor Forest, King’s Cliffe, Brigstock and Northampton parks in Rockingham Forest, and Woodstock Park on the outskirts of Wychwood Forest were subject to the forest law. Some isolated royal parks which were not within the forest nor adjacent to it, like Kenilworth park in Warwickshire, were under the jurisdiction of the Chief Justice of the Forest. There were also many parks belonging to subjects, both within the forest and outside. Any landowner might make a park in his lands, provided that they were outside the forest. If they were within it, he had to obtain the king’s licence to inclose and impark them. This licence to impark transferred the ownership of the deer in the woods from the king to the lord of the manor: the forest law and the forest officers no longer operated in them. The owner of a private park within the forest was bound to maintain the park enclosure, so that the king’s deer should not stray into them through any breaches therein – otherwise the parks were seized by the forest officers.

Pleas of trespasses in private parks were mostly heard at the General Eyre, according to common law. By the Statutes of Westminster of 1275, a person convicted of such trespass was to pay substantial amends to the plaintiff, and an amercement to the king, and find sureties against repeating the offence. If he could not pay, he was to be imprisoned for three years, and if he could not then find sureties he was to be banished for the realm. Fugitives were to be ‘exacted’ in the county court and outlawed. By these statutes the punishment for trespassing in [private] parks was more severe than for similar offences in the forests. Occasionally such pleas might be heard by the forest justices. During the latter half of the thirteenth century, commissions of oyer et terminer were frequently issued for pleas of trespass in private parks.


There were many royal hays within the bounds of the royal forests. ‘Hay’ means a hedge or enclosure; many of the demesne hays were enclosed woods which formed the nuclei of royal forests. Most of the forest offences presented at the Hungtingdon Forest Eyre of 1255 were committed within these hays, or in the districts lying around them, and royal gifts of deer, timber and firewood from the Huntingdon Forest were made chiefly from them. The king’s foresters had a special duty to protect the deer within the hays, however they sometimes abused their authority. Some royal hays were extensive forest areas which could not have been completely enclosed. The Hay of Lythwood in the Long Forest in Shropshire, included a number of woods and townships, and ‘the Hay of Hereford was a forest district some six miles in length, including part of the county town’.


The king reserved the right of hunting certain beasts other than the four beasts of the forest in his royal warrens. The hare was the main beast of the warren, and the Somerset Forest Eyre roll of 1257 shows that it was protected in the warren of Somerton in the same way as the four beasts of the forest: when a hare was found dead there an inquest was held by the four neighbouring townships, and those who had taken hares were attached to appear at the eyre, committed to prison on conviction, and usually released on payment of a fine. The fox and the wild cat were also considered to be beasts of the warren, and in certain warrens the rabbit was preserved, as were game birds such as the pheasant and partridge. It was furthermore decided in 1339 by the Court of the King’s Bench that the roe was a beast of the warren and not a beast of the forest, on the ground that it chased away the red and fallow deer, and that therefore landowners who had the right of free warren in their lands within the royal forest might hunt the roe on those lands.

The king had the right to create warrens in all his demesne lands, and one warren at least, in Cambridge, also included within its bounds lands held by subjects. If a royal warren were within the bounds of the royal forest, it was obviously subject to the forest law, and the deer were preserved in it, however there were also many royal warrens outside the forest. Two of these at least, the warren of Staines in Middlesex, and the warren of Cambridge, were under the jurisdiction of the forest officers. Entries on the 1286 Huntingdon Forest Eyre roll suggest that the king’s rights there had been long disregarded. The royal warren of Staines was, before its diswarrenment in 1227, likewise subject to the authority of the king’s officers of Windsor Forest, who held pleas of the warren there. There were also many warrens belonging to subjects, which had been granted by royal charter. In 1232 Henry III granted to Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester and his successors ‘free warrens in all his demesne lands in England throughout each one of his manors’. If the proposed warren were within the bounds of the royal forest, a preliminary inquiry by a local jury was held to determine the effect on the rights of the Crown. When suits were bought in the king’s courts by landowners against trespassers in their warrens, the amercement went to the king, but when the case was heard in a franchise court, the amercement went to the holder of the franchise. Substantial fines were paid for charters of warren: in 1255 the abbey of Worcester paid a mark of gold to the king, a mark of silver to the queen, and 2 marks 9s. to the Chancellor and his clerks. Henry III exploited this source of revenue by selling the right of warren to any landowner who desired it.


A ‘chase’ was usually a district where the right of hunting the deer belonged to a subject. The chase of Cranbourne, in Dorset, and Wiltshire, was held in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by the Earls of Gloucester and Hertford. Some of these chases had formerly been royal forests. Such private forests sometimes kept the machinery of the royal forest administration almost unchanged, as in Pickering forest in Yorkshire, and the forests of Lancaster, granted in 1267 by Henry III to his son Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and his heirs. However medieval choosing of names was not always consistent. In the thirteenth century the royal forest of Exmoor was sometimes referred to as ‘the chase of Exmoor’, and royal letters patent in 1295 referred to ‘the free chase of William de Braose, which is called the forest of St Leonard’.