Charter of the Forest Lecture
By Kathryn Roberts
On April 10, the USDCHS welcomed Prof. Joshua C. Tate to the Hatfield Courthouse for his presentation “Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest.” Professor Tate teaches at the SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas.
The presentation to introduced and investigated the Charter of the Forest, a document that, although roughly contemporaneous to Magna Carta (1215), receives far less attention. Promulgated in 1217, the Charter of the Forest governed matters associated with the royal forest lands under King John. At the time, the royal forest comprised approximately one-third of the land in England. The charter had three primary aims; reduce the overall area of the royal forest, grant the right to use the forest for specific purposes, and ban the use of capital punishment to address forest-related offenses.
By contrast, Magna Carta contained other protections for the citizenry that were not exclusive to the use (or misuse) of the royal forest. Magna Carta is also widely understood as a precursor to our and other modern constitutions. One particularly important provision provided, essentially, for government by and justice under the law for free men – a departure from the medieval practice of “ordeals” which were decided by priests and, naturally, God himself. This provision was arguably a precursor to our own Fifth Amendment. However, other provisions were less universal, addressing instead specific protections for the English church, the City of London, hostages in Wales, and what to do about Alexander King of Scots.
This presentation was well-attended by some of the most scholarly members of our legal community and CLE Credit was also available. We are very grateful to Professor Tate for his scholarship, good humor, and thought-provoking presentation.