William The Conqueror Was The First Major Environmentalist

Grace Higgins | November 14th, 2019

Nearly thousands of years before the first major worldwide environmentalist movements, or save the planet marches, one King was already implementing laws into his kingdom to protect the beauty of the natural land. Yes, William The Conqueror despite being a brutal opponent on the battlefield loved to protect his forests and lands from human pollution.

newforestcommoner.co.uk

Known as the Forest Laws, William implemented a whole set of laws in his kingdom that was separate from the Common Laws. You see he was a great lover of hunting, and therefore established a whole system of forest law to ensure that animals could replenish their herds peacefully. So maybe not an environmentalist in today’s definitions, but at the name, this was the first leader to implement laws that protected game animals and their forest habitats from destruction.

The English people did not really take to kindly to these laws and were frustrated by them, which is seen in the 1087 poem published on the year of his death: The Rime of King William that covers the subject.

This is because the laws could also stop people from simply trespassing on the forest vegetation, along with five animals that were now protected: the hard and hind (red deer), boar, hare, and wolves. Protection was also supposed to cover fowls such as pheasants and partridges, and also the extended family of deer such as buck and doe. If you did want to hunt them, then you had to pay the fee, and this was normally only authorized if you were local nobility.

Locals of the forests did have certain rights also such as cutting down wood for fires, bringing up their own swine in pastures or harvesting products in the forest – but if you wanted to hunt then you had to have a license and this required paying the fees.

Despite these protections, it has to be said that the wolf and boar were both extinct in England by the 15th century. Dogs were also banned from forests, along with walking around with any hunting gear. However, it is also thought that offenders were not really aggressively penalized, there were writings of hunters being blinded for breaking the forest laws but these turned out to simply be propaganda used against King William.

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