Screw the Magna Carta. The Charter of the Forest is where it's at

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Missed these ones…

  • “the chief constable shall receive one pig every month and two comely lasses of virtue true,”

  • “it is illegal to mail threatening letters and to put squirrels down your pants for the purposes of gambling,”

  • “five kicks of the same can shall be considered illegally transporting litter.”


“All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners,
sheriffs and their servants, or river-banks and their wardens, are at
once to be investigated in every county by twelve sworn knights of the
county, and within forty days of their enquiry the evil customs are to
be abolished completely and irrevocably.”

I would watch this movie.


Sure, it’s true that the Magna Carta was mainly for the benefit of the aristocracy and John reneged on the deal as soon as he could get away with it, but it does mark the first time an English absolute monarch agreed in writing to limitations on his own power. So it does represent in a real way the shifting of the balance of power in medieval society.


Of course the word “forest” was not a synonym for “wooded area” but meant an area where “forest law” applied. Which was an entire separate area of the law, like cannon law, or chancery law or common law. And even though there were hamlets and farms within the forests, the laws were intended to maximize the the forest game rather than the lives and weal of those living there. Which meant that they were often highly resented.


A freeman was a member of the social class of landowners who weren’t part of the upper classes. Most people weren’t landowners.

Give me the Peasants Revolt anyday.

When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?


The “the” is included. You don’t need an aftermarket definite article.

It makes me think of bureaucrats horning in on someone else’s turf with ideas about “evil customs” that in no way take account for sound ecological practices established by those who actually live there.

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Magna Carta: document protecting the aristocracy from women and Jews.
The Charter of the Forest: document giving birth to the tragedy of the commons.


I was expecting The Animals of Farthing Wood’s Oath of Mutal Protection.


I’m having trouble understanding what those “evil customs” might be. It could be describing a protection racket (levying taxes without consent or contribution to the crown), or something like the invocation of single combat at fords (ancient Irish custom).

All I know is that they really didn’t want those weirs to impede shipping.

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This article should have a trigger warning:
Phrases such as, “How’s this for some hot, nasty 13th-century libertarian action,” may trigger sudden spasms of laughter which could cause you to choke on your veggie burrito.
I about died, man.

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The tragedy of the commons is not a historically supported occurrence. The use of commons land was regulated, and the Charter of the Forest did put limits on what could be done (the law doesn’t permit cutting down the forest for example). Those who had common rights to a piece of land were just as aware about proper stewardship as any individual private owner would be, and acted accordingly.


The term “forest” literally meant a place where the nobility had the exclusive right to hunt. Although peasants were allowed to gather firewood, berries, mushrooms, but not big game.

The real tragedy of the commons is of course enclosure. The expropriation of common land by the wealthy which destroyed the livelihoods and balance which had existed before.

EDIT “expropriation” being the wrong way round here. Appropriation probably right? Anyway it was the state taking land which was not privately owned but commonage and allowing private only access.

IIRC at that time though, while hoi polloi were allowed forage, coppice, etc. in the forest only the wealthy were allowed hunt game there. Hunting usually is a means of enforcing an elitist state and food order on people.


I took “evil customs” to mean Druidic orgies and human sacrifices and suchlike.

Yet another example of the subjugation of women…

Every free man shall have … the honey found in his woods.

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Expropriation would be the correct term here.

And in anniversaries that the British government would rather you didn’t know about, today is 31 years since the Battle of Orgreave.

And some people still wonder why we don’t trust the police.


I’d argue that (for most purposes, not including some Econ101 blowhard literally asserting that the filthy peasants ruined their commons which is why they had to be sent to the mills) there’s a case to be made for “yes and no…”

‘Yes’ in the sense that if you do look at things that are actually ‘common’; but unregulated(eg. California aquifers, fish stocks in international waters or weakly policed areas of ocean, passenger pigeons, etc.) you do pretty much see ‘the tragedy of the commons’ happen. Often good and hard.

‘No’ in the sense that ‘the commons’(probably because of the-not-yet-named-tragedy-of-the-commons problem) were not common but unregulated. Their use was subject to a variety of customary and legal restrictions that, along with expressing a variety of quirky historical accidents, largely kept that potential problem in check.

As an account of what actually happened to those particular ‘commons’, the idea is about as silly as the idea that ‘the social contract’ is actually in writing somewhere, as signed by the founders of society. As a thought experiment written in historical fiction, it’s a pretty accurate model.

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