Certainly the ascendancy of the Norman overlords hastened the creation of private hunting parks across great swathes of the English countryside, the king leading the way with the creation of royal hunting parks. Possibly the best known of these medieval royal hunting parks is the New Forest, mostly in Hampshire, this because it was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 (when it was very ‘New’) and because much of it survives to the present day albeit as an assortment of common lands rather than as any remnant of its original function. The New Forest, with its areas of broadleaf woodland, heathland, wet heathland (along river courses) and tree plantations (planted by the Forestry Commission soon after the Great War), was designated a World Heritage Site by U.N.E.S.C.O. and a National Park by the British Government in 2005. The semi-wild New Forest ponies (see above) are a particularly admired element of the open woodland.
Royal hunting parks, like those of ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries, needed clearly defined boundaries within which the Forest Laws applied and within which the bulk of the wildlife (game) remained. This would have been a most expensive and problematic element of private hunting parks. Wooden fences or earthen embankments, or both, were created. Although in practice these could not have contained all the game mammals and birds, if surrounded by cultivated open fields it would have been in the interests of the surrounding parish peasantry to drive back the game from their tender crops and to thereby avoid harsh punishment such as that meted out to poachers. The chase and the kill were perceived in medieval culture as manly, character-building pursuits as well as being a good practice-ground for the military skill of firing arrows from a long bow while riding a horse.
Over the following two centuries the number of royal hunting parks proliferated.
(To be continued).