One of the typical pop culture motifs surrounding the Merry Men stories is the concept of them poaching the game and being hunted by the Law (or at least, Wardens) for that.

This seems rather counter-intuitive to me: it's not like game wasn't plentiful; and prohibiting lower classes from hunting it only seems to have negative consequences all-around: the people are more hungry; and less satisfied; and you have to spend extra on enforcing the poaching laws.

If so, are there any meaningful reasons for why the King wouldn't just say "hey, anyone has permissions to hunt in Sherwood Forest!", which appears to be a win-win for everyone involved (the King gets better fed and thus more productive populace, less discontent and rebellion. The local authorities get to stop spending resources running down poachers). And since the King's the one decreeing this out of the largesse of his heart and care for his subjects, there's no loss of face for the monarch.

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    Actually, the first tack I'd take is hunting conservation. 1 king (or his personal hunter) regularly taking game for his table would be a whole lot easier for a small tract of forest to absorb than all his thousands of subjects doing so.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 8, 2016 at 22:01
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    I'll look it up if I get one of those elusive round tuits, but my understanding is that there were (professional) royal game masters who were responsible for taking care of the forest, which included keeping the king's household (and associated retinue) supplied with game meat. If a king himself hunts, it's for sport.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 8, 2016 at 22:07
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    I think your assumption that the game was plentiful is unsupportable. I suspect that turning a band of peasants loose in a forest will quickly deplete all of the interesting hunting. Uppity peasants want to eat meat like their betters! what nerve!
    – MCW
    Feb 9, 2016 at 0:42
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    My professional historian girlfriend reading over my shoulder offers her learned opinion, "Because... peasants."
    – MCW
    Feb 9, 2016 at 0:43
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    @SJuan76: Really it's more apples to apples, as the population density of the buffalo-hunting plains tribes (probably fewer than 100K over a much larger area) would have been roughly the same as that of nobles in medieval England. It was primarily the Eastern market for buffalo robes &c that led to killing large numbers of buffalo. That killing could have been accomplished without guns: see the earlier extincion of most of the North American megafauna.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 9, 2016 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


Firstly, denying the peasantry the right to hunt was an exercise of power. Secondly, for some kings, hunting was a form of entertainment/activity. The more game for the king the better his chances of a successful hunt.

Inviting other nobles to accompany a king on a hunt was a means of keeping the nobles content, thus securing the king's power base.

Being a king or noble was more about power and ensuring a better quality of life for the royal household and the nobility. A better quality of life, at the time, meant having more meat to eat, which hunting could supplement.

  • Yes. Basically the king didn't care what the masses thought, only other nobles that he "knew."
    – Tom Au
    Feb 9, 2016 at 2:39
  • The flip side is that the nobles were expected to keep down the population of predators and other threats to the peasants and their livestock. Mar 12, 2018 at 13:18
  • Is there any evidence for that in primary sources etc....?
    – DVK
    Jan 2, 2022 at 17:46

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