Ackermann’s Repository of Arts/Series 1/Volume 1/January 1809/British Sports


The forest laws, which are the foundation of our game laws, may easily be traced to a Saxon or Danish origin. The creation of the New Forest by the first of the Norman kings, shews the indefinite antiquity of other forests belonging to the crown. The very names of the inferior courts are Saxon: whoever will attentively consider the institutions of our Saxon ancestors, will discover in them not only a perfect regard to equality of rights, connected with an anxious attention to order and good government in a wild and uncultivated country, but that the influence of these institutions continues to pervade the whole system of our constitution. We ungratefully deny to our German progenitors the acknowledgment, that to their plain good sense, their love of liberty, of order, and of justice, we owe almost all the bleesings of the government we enjoy; whilst a foreigner (Montesquieu del’ Esprit des Loix) accurately tracing our happiness to its real source, justly exclaims, "Ce beau systéme a été trouvé dans les bois.” The struggles successively made in this country have been to preserve and restore, rather than to improve our constitution. To this country the Saxons brought the institutions of their forefathers, pure and uncorrupted, from their native forests; and after a struggle of two centuries, the Britons were driven to the western extremities, and this island, in possession of the conquerors, became truly German; for in their new situation they receded no farther from their institutions than was merely necessary for their establishment. It would derogate from the glory of the Saxon institutions, if these laws could be considered as a system of slavery; indeed, an impartial and unprejudiced inquiry into their history and origin, will induce us to believe, that at the early period when their foundation was laid, the forest laws were part of a political system for the internal benefit and security of the country at large, mixed indeed with the indulgence of royal pleasures, but in which the public peace and the preservation of the growth of timber, were considerations of no less importance. Canute, to whose mildness of government the submission of the Saxons is attributed, established regulations similar to those of his own country: what they were cannot be accurately or perfectly given now, but they are stated to have been framed with the advice of his great men, for the ends of peace and justice; but it appears, that for killing a stag, a gentleman lost his rank,

No 4


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For No 1 of Ackermann’s Repository of Arts &c Pub. Jany 1809,101, Strand London.

a yeoman his liberty, and a slave his life. The severity of these laws was considerably abated in practice by his successors, and under Edward the Confessor they were almost entirely neglected: it was this which made the revival of them, under William the Conqueror, to be felt as a greater hardship, which certainly was not lessened by his adding to their penalties —the loss of an eye as a punishment for killing a stag. The reservation of controul in the crown over the officers of the forest, is the origin of the office of chief justice in eyre of the present day. Both the Williams were fond of the chase, which led them to oppress their subjects most inordinately. Henry commenced his reign by promising relief, which he never granted; on the contrary, it is evident, from the charter of his successor, that his extending the abuses of the forest laws occasioned great discontent. During the reign of Henry II. a milder system prevailed; and in Richard I.’s time the severe punishments enacted by the forest laws, were usually redeemed by a fine. John had stretched the forest law to the utmost, and was compelled to submit to an explicit declaration of the rights of the crown in this as well as in other respects; for that purpose a commission issued to ascertain boundaries, &c. The regulations then made were repeated in the reign of Henry III. and confirmed by Edward I. The Ordinatio Forestæ made in the 34th of this reign, contained many beneficial regulations. This statute is recited in the first of Edward III. from the latter of which, it appears, that at very distant times the law had provided for persons charged with offences of the forest a particular remedy, similar to the writ of Habeas Corpus, so deservedly considered as one great bulwark of our liberties; a statute was likewise made in this reign, for keeping the perambulations of Edward I. In the reign of Richard I. the officers of the forest appear to have attempted to influence the juries, an offence for which a remedy was provided in the 7th year of his reign: here the regulations of the forest appear to have remained for several years.

(To be continued.)


All the meetings in the south differ from the Malton meeting, in running for the prize cup. In the south, each member subscribes to it, and, if present, starts a dog, which are drawn by lots to run against each other, two and two. The next day the winners of the preceding day run against each other, till all the dogs are run off; and lastly, the two winners of the whole start for the cup. An interest is thus kept alive through the whole meeting. The best dog is fairly ascertained, and not more than a brace of dogs are started at once, which renders the course a proper trial: this cannot be the case when five or six greyhounds are running together after one unfortunate hare.