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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

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Whilst

the throne was occupied by Henry VI. we have chiefly to notice the complaint, which the traders of Tewkesbury made to the Government, that "their boats and trowes conveying all manner of merchandise down the Severn to Bristol, &c.," had been stopped at the coast of the Forest by great multitudes of the common people dwelling thereabouts, who seized their vessels, carried away the corn, threatened their lives if they resisted, and forbad any complaint being made, on their coming that way again. The petition caused letters of privy seal to be proclaimed in those parts to the effect that "no man of the said Forest should be so hardy to inquiet or disturb the people passing the said river with merchandise, upon pain of treason." But the account proceeds to say that "the said trespassers came to the said river with greater routs and riots than ever they did before, there despoiling at divers times eight trowes of wheat, rye, flour, and divers other goods and chattels, and the men of the same cast overboard, and divers of them drowned, and the hawsers of the same trowes cut away, and mainstrung the owners of the said goods, who should not be so hardy as to cause any manner of victuals to be carried any more by the same stream, much or little, for lord or for lady, as they would hew their boats all to pieces if they did so." More stringent measures were therefore evidently necessary, and in 1429 the Parliament passed an act, enforcing a restoration of the plunder, and amends for the
injury done, within fifteen days, and the offenders to be imprisoned, or else the Statute of Winchester would be enforced against them.

The singular perquisite of a bushel of coal, worth twenty pence, from each pit, at the end of every six weeks, was now attached to the office of "capital forester of all the foresters," held at this period by Robert Greyndour. The King's lands, manors, castles, and other possessions in this Forest, were also granted to Henry Duke of Warwick, for one hundred pounds annual rental.

After the accession of Edward IV., and his unpopular marriage with Elizabeth Woodville, this Forest was the spot to which, upon the defeat at Edgecote (26th July, 1469), her father the Earl Rivers and her brother Sir John Woodville fled, where they were recaptured and carried to Northampton, their place of execution. A sergeantry, called woodward of the Lee Baile, was then held by John Throckmorton, Esq.

In the reign of Henry VIII. the office of Bleysbale and forestership of fee was filled by William Alberton. A rental of sixty-five shillings and sixpence was paid to the Crown for certain lands in the Forest held by the priory of Monmouth; and others, called Cley-pitts, Litterfield, and Hill Hardwell, paid two shillings and four pence. Letters patent granted the custody of the Gablewood to Henry Bream.

Edward VI. farmed the Forest to Sir Anthony Kingston. How far the Forest population were interested in the stirring events of the Reformation, we are, unfortunately, left to conjecture; but the suppression of the adjacent Abbeys of Tintern and Flaxley, with their large possessions, must have brought the changes of the period visibly home to them.

The reign of Elizabeth brings us to the date of an incident more generally notorious perhaps than any other in the history of Dean Forest, viz. its intended destruction by the Spanish Armada. Evelyn in his 'Sylva' thus mentions it:--"I have heard that in the great expedition of 1588 it was expressly enjoined the Spanish Armada that if, when landed, they should not be able to subdue our nation and make good their conquest, they should yet be sure not to leave a tree standing in the Forest of Dean." Were it not that he particularly states that he had "heard" the report, we should conclude that he obtained his information from Fuller's 'Worthies,' published two years previously, where it is mentioned with this only difference, that "a Spanish ambassador was to get it done by private practices and cunning contrivances." Fuller had probably read this account in 'Samuel Hartlib, his Legacy of Husbandry,' published in 1655, where, speaking of the deficiency of woods at that time, he writes--"the State hath done very well to pull down divers iron-works in the Forest of Dean, that the timber might be preserved for shipping, which is accounted the toughest in England, and, when it is dry, as hard as iron. The common people did use to say that in Queen Elizabeth's days the Spaniards sent an ambassador purposely to get this wood destroyed."


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