A Footnote to “How Long Has This Been Going On?”


William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror

On May 3, a couple of days ago, I posted a little article at our “Not Without a Fight!” blog on the interpretation of King William Rufus’s death by medieval English historians and, thereafter, by generations of the British people. Rufus was the third son of William I or William the Conqueror, he who famously defeated the Anglo-Saxons in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Rufus, who succeeded his father on the throne with the latter’s death in 1087, died in mysterious circumstances in 1100 in a place called the “New Forest.” This “New Forest” was a huge area declared by fiat as a hunting preserve for William the Conqueror and his noble friends in 1079.  It was very unpopular, according to medieval English historians anyway, among English commoners and especially those displaced by the King’s bold edict.  These same historians were fond of attributing Rufus’s death, as well as the deaths of two other members of William I’s family, to divine retribution for the King’s destruction of locals’ homes, livelihoods, villages, and churches with the New Forest’s creation.

More recent historical study — beginning, oddly enough, with a commentary on this history by Voltaire in 1753 – has questioned whether William I’s New Forest was as disruptive to local communities as medieval historians claimed. Despite more than a little evidence that undermines the old, medieval account, that account seems to have survived quite well in the popular mind or English folklore.

Now, you might be wondering why I would have bothered to recount this story on a blog site devoted to the looming economic and social crisis faced by U.S. counties with considerable acreages of national forest. Well, it all began a couple of weeks ago when our old TV gave out. We bought a new TV and its remote came with a Netflix button, for streaming videos from that source. One of the shows I began watching via this new source was David Starkey’s brilliant, 17-installment series on the history of the British monarchy. As it happens, the series’ third program briefly touched on the story of the New Forest’s creation, King Rufus’s untimely accidental death, and the place of these events in British historical memory. My immediate reaction was: “I can use this!”


One side of the three-sided "Rufus Stone."
One side of the three-sided “Rufus Stone.”

Well, it struck me that the locking up of our national forests – by which I mean, in this case, the great decline in logging and forest management activity over the past two decades – has a very, very long history:  i.e., stretching all the way back to the creation William the Conqueror’s New Forest in 1079. That’s very nearly a thousand years ago. It also struck me also that the persistence of the divine punishment interpretation of Rufus’s death in the English historical memory represents a kind of long term – indeed, very long-term! – symbolic price William the Conquer had to pay for his love of hunting and his creation of the New Forest. That price, in turn, might strike a cautionary note for today’s officialdom and their green friends, where these folks are (or appear to be) happy with the prospect of shutting down the multi-use of our national forests.

So that was my thought process. Unfortunately, the blog post didn’t communicate all of that as well as it might have – indeed, or even as well as I’ve communicated it here.  Nevertheless I’d like to invite members of this list to have a look at this NWAF! post when and if they have a moment to spare for some very old history.

— Ron Roizen

11 thoughts on “A Footnote to “How Long Has This Been Going On?””

  1. The “New Forest”, even if the story of its creation may be apocryphal (as suggested in your other blog post), would seem to have more in common with a private game preserve than a U.S. national forest. But it makes for an another equally interesting historical analogy, concerning the private playgrounds of the rich and powerful: apparently, going deer hunting with Sir Walter Tyrrell was even more dangerous than going quail hunting with Dick Cheney.

  2. Frankly, a very ridiculous stretch, trying to link the actions of a king centuries ago, in another land, to management and use of our national forests.

    • Also the Great Smokies National Park and I think Shenandoah.. one person’s progress is another person’s displacement.

      • Too true. Add to the list a number of former towns and farms that now lie submerged behind dams (such as the remains of Kennett, California, now at the bottom of Shasta Lake.) And lots of examples involving so-called “gentrification”, the most egregious (to me anyway) represented by Kelo v. City of New London, where the Supreme Court put its stamp of approval on the city’s taking land away from homeowners via condemnation, and transferring it to a private developer. One of the few times where I found myself in agreement with both Thomas and Scalia (who had the decency to write and/or join in dissenting opinions).

  3. I appreciate your comment–I too am fascinated by history and how we got to where we are. Everyone is just waking up as if the trends have not been going on forever. I just read an enormous, fascinating tome: “The Master Game: who rules the world” that has nothing to do with Forests… but very interesting–and I have not comprehended it yet…

  4. There is, indeed, a certain similarity between William the Conquerer’s creation of the New Forest (a playground for the elite) and the shift of National Forest land from providing basic human needs (supporting communities and providing jobs) to providing “the wilderness experience” and “spiritual renewal” to a favored few. However, I do feel that as an analogy it’s a bit of a stretch.

    But, if the analogy does prove valid, who will feel the arrow?

  5. These posts strike no chord with me at all.
    1) More than half of the forest landscape (viewed at almost any scale) are controlled by private interests, NOT the federal government.
    2) Federal forests are NOT “locked up.” Substantial logging is still going on every National Forest in the nation. The rate of logging on federal lands has necessarily decreased, so that the forest can recover from decades of unsustainable logging and so the public can obtain a more desirable mix of outputs (see below), instead of mostly wood fiber which we already have in abundance from private lands.
    3) Federal forests are working forests. They are hard at work 24/7 producing not only significant wood products, but also clean water, high quality habitat for fish and wildlife, biodiversity conservation, recreation, solitude, scenic beauty, communities bonding to places, flood control, slope stability, soil conservation, nutrient cycling, carbon storage/climate control, etc.

    • 2ndLaw (i.e. NoName)

      1) Federal timberlands constitute 133 million acres, non-federal public timberlands constitute 45 million acres and private timberlands constitute 356 million acres in the US. Amazing that those private and non-federal lands combined have less acres burned than is burned on Federal Lands. I don’t suppose that you would concede that the lack of sound forest management on Federal Lands has anything to do with that.
      2) Wrong in regard to logging as explained here https://forestpolicypub.com/2014/05/03/more-on-wildfire-and-sound-forest-management/comment-page-1/#comment-46716 and multiple other places.
      3) Only when they aren’t burned or eaten as has increasingly happened since sound forest management was removed from our National Forests as explained in the same link as in #2


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