Charter of the Forest and the Provisions of Oxford: Definition & Significance

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  • 0:06 The High Middle Ages
  • 1:03 The Charter of the Forest
  • 3:14 The Provisions of Oxford
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

In the High Middle Ages several charters were created that limited the authority of ruling powers. This lesson explores two of these charters, both of which limited the authority of the king of England.

The High Middle Ages

The High Middle Ages, which spanned from the 11th through the 13th centuries, were a time of conflict. Anyone with authority was fighting to keep it, while others fought to take it from them. Kings fought with each other, as well as with nobles and barons. Even the pope was fighting for power.

In 1164, King Henry II of England issued the Constitutions of Clarendon, which required members of the clergy who had committed crimes to be tried in a royal court. Until that time, church officials who committed crimes were only tried within the church, where punishments were limited and not as severe as those issued by the royal court. Under the Constitutions, the criminal would be taken to a royal court after being tried in a church court. This created a new limit for the authority of church officials. However, it also created a rivalry between the king and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett, which would last for years.

The Charter of the Forest

England found itself in a state of economic decline. Henry II's son, John, was king. He was bickering with the pope and rich barons. John was desperate for funding and power. The barons rebelled against the king and pressured John into formally issuing the Magna Carta, which limited his authority over the barons. The document was written in Latin and contained clauses that addressed property rights of barons and other nobles. The king was basically putting himself under legal restrictions and allowing the barons more power. Future generations would use this document as a basis to further political freedom. Americans even used the Magna Carta as justification for their claims to freedom from England in 1776.

The Magna Carta had to be reissued based on pressure from nobles and barons. This actually occurred three times: in 1216, in 1217 and in 1225. Although the majority of the document was to limit the king's authority over the barons and increase the baron's political freedom, one section in particular granted a few legal rights for common men.

The Charter of the Forest was created to compliment the Magna Carta's reissuance in 1217 and 1225. The Charter guaranteed free men access to previously private royal forest lands. King John and his predecessor and older brother, King Richard, expanded the land they considered to be part of their royal forest. They began to include fields, moors and even parts of villages. This put the land under special restrictions and prevented commoners from cultivating and using the land. Forest land was vital at the time for its resources. It provided firewood for cooking and heating, as well as land for animal grazing.

As long as their activities didn't cause harm to any other citizens, people could once again farm and cultivate the land on which they lived. The Charter also made the punishment for stealing deer from royal forests less severe. Previously, killing a royal deer could result in mutilation or death. The Charter of the Forest abolished this punishment and called for only a fine or imprisonment for the death of a royal deer.

The Provisions of Oxford

King Henry III of England faced immense pressure from the barons over authority. Barons basically felt they should have a king's authority over their local communities, but the king felt he held equal authority over all. At the same time, Pope Innocent IV was fighting with the Holy Roman Emperor. He offered to make King Henry's son, Edward, the king of Sicily in exchange for Henry's support against the emperor. Henry accepted the offer and provided a lot of funding for the pope. This decision was very unpopular with the barons.

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