Deconstructing the Royal National Park – 7. Right Royal precedents?

Experts in the field of genocide and ethnocide (e.g. Clastres) have said that those processes are first of all perfected ‘at home’ and then applied to other peoples’ lives overseas.

While these violent acts takes a most physical form, it also resides at the conceptual level, and that can be a very subtle form indeed.

Dr Mosley’s draft work draws attention to the influence of Henry Thoreau.

Similar suggestions for area protection were made by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) who,  like the colonists in Australia, saw the royal parks of England as a precedent – in this case not the urban park but the royal forest hunting parks of the countryside established by the Normans (such as ‘High Peak Forest’ and ‘The Forest of Dean’). After witnessing the cutting down of forests in Maine Thoreau wrote in his journal (published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 1858  and posthumously republished in The Maine Woods (Thoreau, 1864)), that: “the kings of England formerly had their forests “to hold the king’s game” for sport or food, sometimes destroying villages to create and extend them, and I think they were impelled by a true extinct”, and went on to ask:

Why should not we, who have renounced the king’s authority, have our national preserves, where no villages need be destroyed, in which the bear  and the panther, and some even of the hunter race, may still exist, and not be “civilised off the face of the earth.” – our forests, not to hold the king’s game merely, but to hold and preserve the king himself also, the lord of creation, –   not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own true recreation? Or shall we, like villains, grub them all up, poaching on our own national domains?

 Thoreau’s works were particularly influential on the conservationists who followed him.  (Dr Mosley Appendix C p 34-35:)

The misquote of “extinct” for “instinct” may be more accurate than intended. (Google up Thoreau for original – in google books.)

Simon Schama has already covered much of ground in what happened with the Norman invasion and I can do no better than to quote him.

“Landscape and Memory”

Simon Schama

1995 Alfred A, Knoff New York

(Anglo-Saxon times)

“For there were people in the woods: settled, active, making a livelihood out of its resources, a robust society with its own seasonal rhythms of movement, communication, religion, work, and pleasure. Even the broadest forests were laced with cart tracks, footpaths, and trails which to its adepts were as familiar as Roman roads. The network of tracks ran through a landscape in which town dwellers might become quickly disoriented, but to those who lived there it was mapped with distinctive landmarks…” (page 143)

“And the trees themselves were not all of a sameness, either in maturity or density (let alone species). Much of the forest, even in the Middle Ages, was already being managed as a special kind of micro-economy for its inhabitants. Hardwoods were cut at regular twelve-year intervals four to six feet from the ground, sufficiently high to prevent deer from eating the new shoots. The base “stool” would then be left to regenerate itself rapidly into the kind of light timber that could be used to meet all manner of essential needs: fencing, wattling, tools and implements. The result was an underwood, or coppice, that was the distinctive mark of the medieval forest and which in a very few locations, like Hadfield and Hadley Chase, can still be seen in England.” (page 143)

Schama continues:

” In contrast to the ancient forests of Germany and Poland and to the conifer woods of the Scottish Highlands and the oak forests of the English aristocratic estates – all products of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century crazes for picturesque and Romantic  “improvements” – these ancient woodlands seem thinner and almost patchy , with swather of grassy meadows and wild flowers blooming between pollarded and truncated broadleaf trees. The exact opposite of what is now considered to be an ideal norm of forest habitat – the untended wilderness – they have light and space and variety: a working room for an authentic woodland culture.” (ibid)

“And the wild animals of the chase often shared the woods with the domesticated livestock pastured by the cottagers.  Cattle, horses, sheep, and even goats (though they were voraciously destructive of saplings and young coppice shoots) grazed the underwood and any clearings caused naturally by the fall of old trees.” (ibid)

“The mark of these western woodland societies was not their separation from, but their connection with, the rest of the world…” (Page 144)

“The greenwood, then, was not an imaginary utopia, it was a vigorous working society. And it was just because the English woods were home to all this busy social and economic activity that the imposition of the Norman concept of forest seemed so brutal. For even given the exaggerations of medieval chroniclers, there is no doubt that, institutionally, the imposition of forest law was a violent shock. It fundamental principle, originating in Frankish custom, was the creation of huge areas of special jurisdiction, policed at the king’s pleasure and by his direct appointment, for the preservation of game. The nomenclature “forest” that now replaced the older Latin terms of saltus or silva was in all probability derived from foris, or “outside.” It signified not a particular type of topography but a particular kind of administration, cut off from the regular codes of Roman and common law. Such “forests” could and were imposed on large areas of the English countryside, including the entire county of Essex, that were not wooded at all, and which included tracts of pasture, meadow, cultivated farmland, and even towns. For the first century of Norman rule there “forests” made up something like a quarter of the entire territory of the realm, and during this period the kings, especially Henry II, seemed eager to “afforest” lands at will.” (page 144)

“The Normans put in place the essential elements of the regime: the lord wardens of each royal forest, with their keepers and “garcons” appointed to apprehend malefactors against the vert and venison… But it was under the Angevin kings that the forests reached their greatest extent territorially and their laws were most seriously enforced.”  (page 145 – 146)