Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest

Sherwood Forest Hunting

Andy Gaunt, an archaeologist uncovering more about historic Sherwood Forest talks more about his blog

Sherwood Forest is the most famous forest in history.

As the home to the legendary outlaw and hero Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest is known throughout the world. 

robin hood statue

robin hood statue

The antics of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, their run-ins with the Sheriff of Nottingham, Guy of Gisborne, King John and King Richard the Lionheart have been told and re-told around fire sides and to children for hundreds of years and now are known all around the world.

But what exactly was Sherwood Forest, where was it, and when and where did it stretch?

To the modern mind a forest conjures up images of an enormous area of woodland – such as the Amazon Rainforest.

But in the medieval mind a forest was something different. The word ‘forest’ would have conjured up images of Deer and the Crown.

This is because a Medieval Forest was an area subject to ‘Forest Law’- a law protecting venison for the King, and the trees and vegetation of their habitat.

Therefore under forest law it was illegal to hunt deer, and it was illegal to chop down trees and woodland, within a royal forest.

In the early days punishments for such crimes could involve hanging, blinding and mutilation. 

major oak

The Major Oak

Sherwood Forest covered an area approximately 15 miles from north to south, by 6 miles from east to west, entirely within the county of Nottinghamshire; it was well wooded, especially in the northern ‘High Forest’ area with woods interspersed with vast tracts of heather clad heath. 

The most famous of these woods were Birklands and Bilhaugh – home to ancient veteran oak trees and the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve.

These remote areas were the perfect hideaway for miscreants, malefactors, ne’er-do-wells and outlaws.

Sherwood was not however the single great area of woodland of popular imagination.

There were villages with their arable and pasture fields throughout the forest, and even the medieval town of Nottingham was within its bounds. 

It was in fact a complex landscape where generations of people played out their lives.

King John's Palace Clipstone

King John's Palace Clipstone

The story of Medieval Sherwood Forest is fascinating: and the lives of its people, the shape of it landscape and the story of its administration are all brought to life in the website ‘Archaeology and history of Medieval Sherwood Forest’ at:  

…which builds the picture of this colourful time through the historic documents, sources, maps and archaeology.

The Administration of the forest including its courts, judges, foresters, keepers, rangers, tax collectors and Sheriffs are told from the records…

The landscape of Medieval Sherwood Forest is brought vividly to life with journeys through the medieval forest: describing the roads, fields, heaths, woods, hills and rivers of the forest… along with royal hunting lodges, palaces, castles, and deer parks… 

priests behaving badly

Priests Behaving Badly

This backdrop provides the setting for the stories of the people of Medieval Sherwood, including: the Keepers of the forest, Women keepers of the forest, the Vikings, Saxons and Normans of Sherwood Forest, peasants, bad Sheriffs of Nottingham, badly behaved priests, hangings, outlaws, thieves, Kings and Queens of England, gaolers, pig-rustling butchers, market-stall holders, Abbots, Bishops, Archbishops, Monks and Friars…

The actual history of the world famous Sherwood Forest is as exciting and intriguing as any of its legends… 

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Posted on 24 May 2012
Featured author: Dale Web Marketing Officer

A Mansfield lad who likes reading, running and red wine.

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