The Tudor era
By 1500, the Forest was owned by the third Duke of Buckingham. In 1521 the estate reverted for a brief period to the King, Henry VIII and then Edward VI, before being given to the family of the notorious Sir Richard Rich.
The Duke of Buckingham
By 1500, ownership of the Forest had passed to the third Duke of Buckingham. He caused a major dispute in 1519 when he tried to enclose the common land to create a deer park. The commoners objected strongly and in the end, the Duke gave in.
Two years later, the Duke fell out of favour with the king, Henry VIII, and was beheaded. Henry confiscated all of the Duke’s great estates, but took the unusual step in keeping the somewhat smaller Hatfield Estate for himself, for the rest of his reign.
Sir Richard Rich, 1st Lord Rich
After Henry VIII’s death in 1547, his successor, Edward VI, gave the estate of Hatfield, including the Forest and forest rights, to his Lord Chancellor, Lord Rich.
Readers of Hilary Mantell's "Wolf Hall" triology or the "Shardlake" novels of C J Sansom will be aware of the notorious reputation of Sir Richard as Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations and fixer to the King, Henry VIII.
A dispute is decided by the Court of the Star Chamber
The late 1500’s saw a dispute between Robert, the third Lord Rich, and the Barrington family over ownership of various rights in the Forest. The Barringtons had a long standing claim to be the hereditary Woodwards of Hatfield Forest, since before the Norman Conquest, implying certain rights.
This dispute went to the Court of the Star Chamber for arbitration in 1576 and their decision was later confirmed in 1585 by a special Act of Parliament.
As a consequence, the Barrington family would relinquish the ancient office of Woodward in return for forest rights in the north eastern third of the forest, in the Bush End and Takeley quarters, to the east of Shermore Brook (but not rights to the soil or pasture). They also had restrictions laid down on the amount of trees and coppicing. The Barringtons would also have commoners’ rights over the whole forest for a specified number of animals.
Lord Rich continued to keep the rest of the forest rights, in the two thirds of the Forest to the west of Shermore Brook, the rights to the soil over the whole Forest, and to continue to pasture his deer throughout the whole forest.
End of the Rich era
The Rich family however never seemed to be close to Hatfield, possibly worn down by the continuous disputes, and they sold their interest in the soil of the Forest, the hunting rights, and the timber to the west of Shermore Brook, to Lord Morley and the Parker family, from Great Hallingbury, in 1592.