King William I
William the Conqueror and the New Forest
As the Duke of Normandy, he defeated, and killed King Harold, at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He then became known as William the Conqueror; he was referred to in France as Guillaume le Batard. He was the illegitimate son of Robert the Devil, the Magnificent Duke of Normandy. William was crowned at Christmas 1066; he had been promised the Crown of England by his English cousin Edward the Confessor, who had died in early 1066. This was not realised until he had defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and claimed the Crown.
The Royal Forest
The “New Forest” or “Nova Foresta” was created in 1079, by King William I, as a royal hunting area. The Anglo-Saxon Kings were very different from the Normans. English royalty had never before reserved certain areas to be outside (Latin: foris) the law of the land. Which is why the New Forest is not just a heavily dense wooded area. A royal ‘forest’ is not what you might expect from the word.
The Royal Deer
William decreed that the New Forest became a royal hunting ground. Extremely harsh laws were applied within the Forest area. Fines for breaking Laws greatly benefitted profits to the Crown.
The New Forest was now a place where only the sovereign could hunt deer and wild boar.
The Forest law was designed to protect the ‘venison and the vert’, the animals of the chase and the greenery that sustained these now noble animals.
The local inhabitants (Commoners) were given very limited rights of gathering fuel and pasture within the Forest. The New Forest thus became a haven for roaming ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys (but no goats!). These Common rights are still in practice today.
In later centuries, when England was dominating the World through it’s Navy, the New Forest was an important source of timber for the Fleets due to it’s proximity to our main Naval Ports and plentiful supply of trees.
William I was described as a tough, brave, inspirational and religious man. This invasion by the Normans changed much of the Anglo-Saxon way of life that was being established here. French became the language of the upper classes, cow meat became known as beef and swine became known as gammon; murder became a crime and slavery was abolished.
William died in September 1087, and was buried in Caen. His England reign is noted for the construction of castles, the settling of Norman nobility and the creation of the Domesday Book. William’s lands were divided after his death: Normandy to his eldest son, Robert, and his second surviving son, William Rufus, inherited England. The New Forest has been Crown Land for nearly 1,000 years; it is now a National Park.
Ironically and tragically two of William’s sons and a grandson were to die while hunting in his New Forest. His second son Richard, “while spearing deer in the New Forest he was crossed by a pestilential blast and was killed”. Richard’s younger brother William Rufus met a similar fate too. His grandson, son of his eldest Robert, was’caught and suspended “like Absalom” by the boughs of an oak tree whilst eagerly engaged in the chase’.