The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 17 No. 9 • October 2014

1215 The Year of Magna Carta

2015 800 Years Later, We’re Way
Overdue for the Next Magna Carta

Historical facts and direct quotes that follow are from Danny Danziger & John Gillingham’s “1215: the Year of Magna Carta” (Touchstone, 2003). [Buy at].


“Magna Carta, Clause 47: All forests which have been afforrested in our time shall be disafforested at once.” During King John’s lifetime, a third of England was said to be forest, though that word didn’t mean what we mean by “forest” today. “Forest” as the word was used then was to a large extent ordinary inhabited countryside that was declared to be “forest” by the King, which then established for the King “a royal monopoly over the management and distribution of resources previously enjoyed by local lords and tenant farmers.” (This is much like “our” nationalized forests today, all of which were in use by Americans before they were nationalized.)

Not surprisingly, the huge profits the King could obtain by way of declaring lands to be “forests” meant that conversion of inhabited countryside to the King’s “forests” was taking place at a rapid rate, with rules and regulations (primarily aiming to extort money from those living in those areas) covering most uses of the “forest.” Penalties for unauthorized hunting included blinding (hart or hind) and (for large game animals) death or mutilation (such as removal of the offender’s eyes or testicles). But nearly every other use actually permitted, such as farming, was conditional based on regulations subject to change without notice. “When one woman had an unauthorized ditch dug around her own land, it was confiscated, and it cost her a hundred marks to buy it back.” (A mark was worth about 2⁄3 of a pound.) The right of farmers to graze livestock on the “forests” was strictly controlled and permission to do so could be withdrawn at any time.* Just like today’s federalie bureaucrats!

In 1217 and following King John’s death, further reforms were added in the Forest Charter of 1217 to disafforest larger sections of land. “Every freeman was to have the right to develop his own land within the forest so long as this did not cause damage to a neighbor; in future no man was to lose life or limb for taking the king’s venison.”

It is said that a practice preceding the reforms of the Magna Carta and the Forest Charter was the disafforestation by various Kings, such as Richard I in 1190, in exchange for money payment. “This could only have happened because people in those counties raised funds and petitioned for something they regarded as being of benefit to them all; such action helped to create county communities and was of great importance in paving the way for Magna Carta. It gave people experience of cooperative political action, of demanding reform and being prepared to pay for it. The Crown accepted that the extent of the forest could be a matter for negotiation — and this too would be a feature of Magna Carta.”

Eight hundred years later …

Eight hundred years later, we are back to square one. About one third of the land area of the United States is declared “federal lands,” which are not public lands in any sense but are lands claimed by and controlled by the Federal government, with use strictly limited and subject to change without notice. Hunting on these lands is no longer punishable by death or mutilation, but for many “endangered” species and even for some non-endangered species such as crows, to do so can result in potentially long prison sentences and large fines. The woman who was punished for digging a ditch around her own land (see above) would encounter a similar fate if she did so today. (A rancher friend of ours was sent to federal prison for doing this.) Forest reforms instituted by Magna Carta can be seen no more, with the creation of a permanent Federal land estate (the federal lands) having taken place, at first slowly, during the last 120 years and then rapidly with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 which established by Congressional statute the permanent Federal land estate. No longer does a freeman have the right to develop his land provided it does not cause damage to a neighbor.

R.I.P. Magna Carta

* See the July 2014 issue of this newsletter for our article [See “A True Story — Durk’s Participation In The Negotiations With The Bureau Of Land Management and Two Rancher Friends for Grazing Rights”] on how the Bureau of Land Management regulates livestock grazing today (what an eyewitness, a close friend of ours, reports really happened when heavily armed federal forces invaded the ranch of Cliven Bundy and what Durk Pearson saw and heard as an eyewitness to negotiations between two ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management on a contract for livestock grazing). King John would have approved.

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