Verderers, Regarders, and Agisters

A characteristic feature of the English forest was the appointment of knights of the locality to act as unpaid officers. Henry II decreed by the Assize of Woodstock that in every forest county four knights should be appointed as agisters to agist his woods, and twelve knights ‘to keep his vert and venison’. The latter were the forerunners of the verderers and the regarders. By the thirteenth century these officers were elected in the county court from among the knights who resided in the neighbourhood of the forest and held land within it; they took an oath in the county court or in the attachment court to faithfully perform the duties of their office. As they were chosen by the landowners of the county, the latter were held responsible for their conduct in office. Verderers and agisters were on occasion, appointed directly by the king or by the Justice of the Forest; at other times the warden of the forest was ordered to see that the vacancies were filled. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the verderers, regarders and agisters usually held office for life, provided that they discharged their duties faithfully and well, but in the fifteenth century the authority of the verderer, like that of the coroner, was brought to an end by the death of the king, and the sheriffs were ordered to hold new elections. Verderers might also be removed from office on a report by the Justice of the Forest to the Chancery that they were incapacitated by old age or sickness, or occupied with other duties, or were insufficiently qualified in that they held no land within the forest and did not dwell there, or had committed or connived at trespasses of vert or venison, or had become a paid officer of the forest, or, in one case, had ‘entered the priestly order’. The verderers, regarders and agisters were unpaid, and there were no perquisites attached to their offices, apart from one or two special privileges. These offices involved exacting duties in the enforcement of a system which was considered hateful and oppressive by the forest inhabitants; default in any particular resulted in heavy amercements at the Forest Eyre. Therefore all landowners who were able to, secured by influence or by purchase, a royal grant of exemption from such appointments.


Verderers are mentioned by that name at least as early as Richard I’s Forest Assize of 1198. Numbers in the thirteenth century varied: there were eighteen in the extensive forest of Essex, and only two in the small forest of Rutland. They shared with the foresters a general responsibility for the safe keeping of vert and venison, the sheriff could seize their lands if they failed in their duty. They supervised and assisted the foresters in finding, arresting, questioning and attaching forest offenders, and in holding the attachment courts and the special inquests upon beasts of the forest. They kept under their seals the rolls of presentments of forest offences committed within their wards, for production at the Forest Eyre. If the verderers (or their heirs, if the verderers had died in the meantime) failed to present their rolls to the judges on the first day of the forest eyre, or if their rolls were deficient in any material particular, they were libel to amercement. The verderers also co-operated with the foresters in supervising the exercise of customary rights within the forest, such as taking wood for fuel, fencing and house-repair; in making arrangements at the swainmote for the agistment of the king’s demesne woods; and in carrying out various inquiries in the forest into such matters as the rights of the Crown and the perquisites of the forest officers. The verderers were intended to act as a check upon the paid forest officers in the interests of the Crown, but it would appear that the verderers were in many instances overawed by the authority and influence of the wardens and foresters of fee. However, in the case of ordinary poachers, they seem to have discharged their duties with reasonable efficiency.


The main duty of the knights elected as regarders was the making of the triennial regard. In addition they were bound, according to the Ordinance of the Forest of 1306, to attend the attachment courts, along with the foresters, verderers and agisters, to make presentments of forest offences. They were also employed in making various inquiries in the forest. The regarders, like the verderers, were frequently amerced at Forest Eyres for failure to carry out their duties to the satisfaction of the judges – for failing to appear with the other regarders to make the regard, or to take the regarders oath, or to present their rolls of the regard on the first day of the Forest Eyre, or for losing their rolls, or for incompetence in their returns. In such cases the sheriff might be ordered to seize the chattels of defaulting regarders.


The agisters were responsible for the agistment of the king’s demesne woods in the forest. In the reign of Henry III they accounted for the agistment dues at the Exchequer, but made substantial payments into the Wardrobe from time to time, and paid out sums locally for such purposes as the maintenance of a neighbouring royal castle, building operations, the enclosure of a royal park, and the expenses incurred for the forest officers in taking venison for the king. In all such cases the agisters received a writ of Allocate for the purposes of their account at the Exchequer.