The Impact of Forest Law
After his victory over the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings, William I enacted new laws in England, known as “Forest Law”. The purpose of the law was to create hunting reserves for exclusive use by the king and his supporters. Under the law, the acts of hunting game, farming or using lumber from a royal forest was illegal. Saxons living in the new royal forests were evicted or punished. In Sussex, an area of approximately 20 square miles of the Weald was enclosed or “afforested”, creating the .
Punishment in early Normans times, particularly under William II, were very harsh and often involved blinding or cutting off a hand of the unfortunate "outlaw". Later punishments moderated into fines and local Lords granted rights to use the forests for payment.
King Stephen had promised to rescind the forest law, but Stephen, as was often the case with his promises, reneged once he was king. The royal forests reached their greatest extent under the reign of Henry II.
Royal forest law rights were moderated when King John was forced to sign Magna Carta 1215 and later when Henry III was forced to sign the Charter of Forests in 1217.