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Forest of Dean Eyre Roll, 1634

Nicholas Herbert

(Volume 26, 2012)

A forest eyre was anciently a periodic judicial visitation to punish offenders against forest laws, and regulate local officials. Largely disused by the 1630s, the eyre was revived by Charles I as an extra-Parliamentary source of revenue. Levying severe fines and controversially extending the Forest bounds to affect Gloucestershire and Herefordshire parishes that had been free of restrictive forest laws for over 300 years, the Dean eyre, held at Gloucester castle in July 1634, set a pattern which helped fuel opposition to the Crown.

Besides casting further light on the use of Crown prerogatives under Charles I, more locally the eyre records varied information on the Forest's contemporary administration, industry, landholding, and topography. Historic pressures on Dean - local claims to dig minerals, to take fuel and building material, and to pasture animals in the royal demesne land, and the perennial temptation to boost income and diet by stealing the king's timber and deer - were augmented by new elements. Courtiers and landowners were allowed to inclose demesne land for their own use, and ironmasters were licensed to establish furnaces and forges, and manage the woodland to fuel them.

The impact is seen in the long list of offences recorded here, the sheer scale of wood-stealing, the use of the Forest's resources by tradesmen such as coopers and tanners, and the early invasion of the Forest demesne by squatters, a forerunner of the later and more permanent settlement of the area.

This volume presents an account of the proceedings of the judges at the 1634 eyre, the king's counsel's own notes, forest offences reported at a preparatory 'swanimote', claims made to rights of common and other privileges, and the records of subsequent swanimotes. Also included is a reproduction of a 17th-century plan of the central Forest, not previously published in full.

A full introduction relates the story of the eyre, providing its context within the complex and unusual history of the Forest of Dean. Extensive indexes complete the edition.

xxxix + 182 pages, ISBN 97809001977802

Price: £30 (free postage)

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