The name of England’s New Forest is a bit of a misnomer. It dates back to 1079, when William the Conqueror decided to turn it into a Royal preserve so he and his mates would have a private corner of the country where they could go hunting deer.
I guess that’s one advantage of being a conqueror – you can make up your own rules and decide which bits of the new territory to keep for yourself.
It wasn’t an entirely successful move for the Conqueror’s dynasty though. Just 21 years later, the second Norman king – William Rufus – died in the New Forest after a fellow ‘nobleman’ shot him with an arrow rather than a deer.
It doesn’t sound like William II was that popular. His hunting companions apparently left his body where it fell and his death was described by some church chroniclers as an ‘act of God’ and an appropriate end for a wicked king.Whether he was assassinated or killed by accident is uncertain, although there were many conspiracy theories (nothing wrong with them – fuel for many books).
However, one of the other members of the hunting party was William’s younger brother Henry. Things didn’t go so badly for him. He had himself crowned king a few days later and managed 35 years on the throne.Whatever the truth of how and why William Rufus was killed, the decision to make the New Forest into an exclusive hunting ground has left its mark on this part of the world.
The forest remains as a patchwork of heathland, bogs and woodland. It’s not exactly wild – it’s been managed for centuries – but its depths contain some of the biggest and oldest trees in England. You could almost imagine Robin Hood appearing out of the greenwood… but sadly that’s a different forest in another part of the country.