Most of the trail at the Ozark Medieval Fortress goes through the woods and guests often ask about the forest and hunting laws of the Middle Ages. The woodcutters at the Castle also follow the Medieval practice of leaving brush piles in the forest and many guests ask about that as well. The piles of brush are authentic because the people of the Middle Ages knew very well that in the winter times of snow it was much better to have rabbit stew than acorns to eat. The brush piles were habitat for small wildlife such as rabbits, pheasants and the like.
Peasants were allowed to clear brush, but not cut trees down. They could take branches off trees only as high as they could reach. As a result, the innovative and practical people developed the parrot’s beak brush cutting tool on a pole to extend their reach. Sometimes called a “brush ax” it was the forerunner of the halberd that became popular as a weapon in the late Middle Ages.
William the Conqueror of Normandy, France started what became known as the Forest Law as separate from Common Law or Church Law. This gave the king direct and ultimate authority over these lands and special courts were set up to administer the law. Punishments for breaking the law were very harsh until Henry III signed the Forest Charter in 1217 (about the time of the date of the Ozark Medieval Fortress). This began the practice of allowing peasants to hunt rabbits and other small game without punishment. Very nice to have a king realize that it is bad to have fat game protected while the common people starve.
It is true that the forest as well as the animals belonged to the lord and permission was required to cut trees or hunt. The forest was not just what we would consider woods, but included meadows and more open country if the lord so ordered. Nevertheless, because so much of Europe was wooded in the Middle Ages, our idea of “forest” is not far off. At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, a minimum number of trees have been cut to preserve the “feel” of the Medieval.