On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Date Written: 20/11/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
A Keynote Address, Delivered in the State Rooms at the House of Commons, 7 November 2017 about the Charter of the Forest.
To make a long story short I can summarize the history of the Charters as follows. The Magna Carta began as an armistice to end a civil war in 1215; in 1217 it was joined by the Forest Charter and together they became a kind of treaty when war had resumed; they developed a legislative appearance in 1225 at the time of the real Robin Hood, became the first statutes of English law by 1290; they mutated into something constitutional curtailing despotism by 1640; ten years later they formed part of the indictment for treason against King Charles Stuart; they then went off-shore and enabled the American revolution of 1776 beginning with the battle of Lexington; they helped blow the horn of jubilee with the emancipation of American slaves in 1865; blowing back against empire in national liberation struggles led by Gandhi, Mandela, and Sun Yat-Sen; from them they returned boomerang-like to the anti-fascist north Atlantic in the Four Freedoms of FDR and the Atlantic Charter of 1941, becoming after that war part of the welfare state with its housing construction and national health; and so to us.
There is the long and short of its history but what of its text, its actual content? The sweetest thing about the Forest Charter is honey for the free man (chapter 13), and the most human thing is the abolition of the death penalty for forest offences (chapter 10). It is true that there are arcane words but these are quite understandable once we understand that this is not a neo-liberal document of private property and commodity exchange but one recognizing a commons mode of production and reproduction wherein subsistence belongs to a far more equitable gender regime.
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