The New Forest – A Royal Favourite since 1079
Here’s a question – which National Park was established by a King, saw the deaths of two of that King’s sons, yet remains a favourite of the Royals? It’s the New Forest – a beautiful stretch of woodland and heathland across the South Coast.
The New Forest is anything but new, being established by William the Conqueror in 1079 as his own personal hunting ground. Punishments for hunting on the King’s grounds included chopping off the offender’s hands, but these were rarely enforced. With the death of William I, His son William Rufus took over and introduced the death penalty for hunting in the Forest. Strangely this, and other harsh acts, made the King quite unpopular!
It was perhaps ironic that it would be the King himself who died because of hunting in the Forest – an “accident” with an arrow in 1100 killed William, and very few people mourned. In fact, his killer was never even pursued, let alone brought to justice. The Forest had already been the scene of his brother Richard’s death in 1081, and his illegitimate nephew (also Richard) later died in the Forest too.
Despite this grisly early history, it remained a popular hunting ground with Kings. King John is said to have hunted there with hawks and Henry VIII was also a frequent visitor. The Forest survived deforestation for ship building and years of neglect under the Stuart Kings only to lose 4,000 oaks in the “Great Storm” of 1703, under Queen Anne. But later monarchs restored and protected the Forest, and today it is a National Park, still 90% owned by the Crown.
And the monarchs keep visiting! Just last year, the Queen and Prince Philip visited as the conclusion of their Diamond Jubilee tour. They walked around the New Forest Show in 28C heat, watching the New Forest ponies parade and cuddling the micro-pigs! Almost a thousand years after the creation of the Forest, it’s good to see the Royals still enjoying their hunting ground.
By Sam Sutton – New Forest Activities