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Savernake Forset, Wiltshire, England         OS Map Grid Ref: SU224668
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Savernake was on of the great hunting forests established by William the Conqueror in the 11th century for his own use and that of his Norman successors. Passing through the female line, the wardenship of the Forest has remained in the same family since that time. Savernake, owned by the Marquess of Ailesbury, now covers some 4,500 acres and has been privately owned since its acquisition by Edward Seymour, Lord Protector during the minority of Edward I. Throughout its history it has continued to be called a forest although this name is usually reserved for Crown lands.

The early Norman kings ruled England from the twin capitals of London and nearby Winchester as the latter offered them easy access to their French possessions in Normandy.

Contrary to popular conception, the medieval "forest" was not necessarily a wooded or wholly wooded place. It was;-

"an area of land which had been requisitioned by the Crown and which was administered under the Sovereign's direct authority; used for the purpose of a game reserve"
  - The Marquess of Ailesbury, A History of Savernake Forest

...the forest might consist of woodland, rough grass, heath and scrub or any combination.

The borderers, those who lived around the forest, would have traditional rights of grazing and pannage in the royal forests.  

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The historian John Aunrey suggested that the name "Savernake" may have had in origins in Old English; "sweet" from 'sa' or 'say'), "fern" from 'vern' (referring to the sweet cis fern) and "oak" from 'ake', hence "Sa-vern-ake".


There was a Roman town at Werg, Mildenhall to the north of the forest which is well documented as "Cunetio. The remains of a Roman road runs through the forest from this settlement in a south-easterly direction.


There was a forest here at the time of the Norman conquest in 1066 and the decision name of the "New Forest" established in Hampshire by The Conqueror suggests that the other forests of southern England had already been established for a considerable time.

The royal forests produced a valuable income for the crown at the revenues of Savernake were used by The Conqueror to provide the jointure (the provision made by a husband for the support of his wife after his death) of his queen and an income for his sons.

The Conqueror soon appointed the first Warden of Savernake - Richard Esturmy who had faught the Saxon king of England with him at Senlac .

Medieval hygeine left much to be desired and there were litle or no drainage or other sanitary provisions even at royal castles other than possibly a garderobe over the moat. After a few weeks' occupation a castle would become rank. The monarch possessed many royal castle and, when any castle became unliveable, the roayl court would remove to another while it was cleaned out. Nearby Marlborough was such a royal castle frequently visited by the Norman kings.

The farming techniques of the time made itimpossible to grow sufficient fodder to last livestock through the five months of winter and all animals which would not be required for breeding would be butchered in the autumn and preserved by the only available method - salting. The royal forests were as valuable a source of fresh meat in the winter as they were of royal sport.

During the first century and a half after its establishment by The Conqueror the forest spread over the surrounding countryside to the anger of the landowners who were resentfull of the monarch's absolute power over the forest lands. King John was made to promise deafforestation and rights for the borderers in the Magna carta of 1215 and the young boy-king Henry III but nothing was done.

It was left to the young monarch Edward I to send a John de Berewyke to conduct a perambulation and establish the boundaries of Savernake. De Berewyke applied himself to the task with such enthusiasm that he slashed the forest to one fifth of it's size. Not only did he cause a stir in Wiltshire and Berkshire, but the king himself had second thoughts. Unable to back-track on his word, Edward did what many a medieval monarch resorted to - he asked Pope Clement V to absolve him from a promise too rashly made. Savernake continued to creep outwards, even into Berkshire and Hampshire.

It was in 1330 that the powerful Council of Regency acting during the minority of King Edward III took the matter in hand and redefined the borders of the forest. Most people were satisfied with the new arrangements but, within Savernake itself, turmoil ensued; much of what today would be called redundancy resulted from the changes and claim and counter-claim for the remaining bailiwicks were made before the king's justices at Westminster.

Tudor Times

Henry VII was less than satisfied with the state of Savernake in his time and determined to "have our game within our said fforest to bee reserved, cherissed and kept for our disport and plaissir".

His son and successor, King Henry VIII became a frequent visitor to Wolfhall when Sir John Seymour was the Warden. It was during these visits that Sir John's daughter Lady Jane came to the notice of the monarch - this despite her having been Lady in Waiting to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn. The hapless Anne Boleyn was charged and condemned of adultery (tantamount to treason for a wife of the monarch) and beheaded in the spring of 1536 and the monarch married Jane Seymour the following day.

Jane gave Henry Edward, the male heir he wanted and the Tudor dynasty needed to survive, although she died a few days after the birth. The monarch favoured the Seymours even after her death; Thomas was Henry's Lord High Admiral and Sir Edward rose rapidly to become Lord Protector during the regency of his royal nephew Edward VI.

It was Edward, Lord Protector, who arranged ownership of the forest and Marlborough to pass from the crown to himself by Letters Patent in 1548. When he fell fram grace, all honours and property acquired by him after 1540 should have become forfeit but the Seymours managed to retain possession of the forest.

Edward, Lord Protector, had planned an ambitious palace similar to that built by Sir John Thynne at Longleat in a part of the forest known as Brail Wood. Shortly after his execution, the land was granted to the earl of Pembroke who was ordered to remove the buiding materials which had been amassed there.

Lord Hertford, the Protector's heir, was imprisoned in the Tower of London by Queen Elizabeth I for marrying Lady Catherine Grey (the sister of Lady Jane) without her consent. On his release, Wolf Hall had become so ruinous as to be beyond repair and it was decided to enlarge the small Tottenham Lodge to the south of the forest. This house was to become the forerunner of several mansions on the site.

Hertford created two huge deer parks in the forest and was often the host of King James I at Savernake.

Stuart Times

Hertford was often the host of King James I at Savernake but his descendants began to run out of money.

In 1676 there was no male heir of the Seymour line and the Forest passed to Elizabeth Seymour's husband Lord Bruce, the eldest son of the Earl of Ailesbury. By the end of the 17th century Elizabeth was dead, her staunchly Jacobite husband was in exile, Wolfhall was a ruin and much of the forest had been turned to agriculture.

Lord Bruce's son set about the task of restoring the forest's fortunes with the help of an auncle and bulding a new Tottenham House designed by Lord Burlington, his brother-in-law. He chose the youngest of his sister's sons as a heir to carry on his work, recreate Tottenham Park and extend the Grand Avenue.

20th Century

Realising that it would be impossible for him to maintain the forest, the sixth Marquess of Ailesbury commenced negotiations with the Forestry Commission in 1930 which resulted in the usual 999-year lease in 1939 with the Marquess and his heirs retaining the hereditary wardenship.

In the old deer park, the only conifers to be planted by the Forestry Commission are larches and these to provide shelter for hardwood saplings. Certain glades in the forest remain unplanted.

Charcoal burning took place in Savernake's glades during World War II. The charcoal was used in the filters of gas masks issued to the civilian population as well as the military.  

The Forestry Commission undertook to remove the deer of the forest to Tottenham Park.The first attempt to do this, aided by the boys of Marlbouough College failed although a second attempt, aided by the army suceeded.

During World War II, Tottenham Park came under the plough as part of the war effort and most of the deer were destroyed.

A smaller deer park is now maintained to the south of Tottenham House containing fallow and red deer. A few roe and flalow deer remain in the forest. Although they are no longer hunted for sport, the Forestry Commission controls numbers by culling.

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The first Warden of Savernake was Richard Esturmy, appointed by The Conqueror. He had faught the Saxon king of England with his lord Senlac in 1066.

HC Brentall, local historian of adjacent Marlborough, suggested that "Esturmy" might be derived from "l'estormi" - "the wary" or "the alert one".  

The post stayed in the Esturmy family until the middle of the 15th century when it passed to the Seymours via the female line. In 1676, it passed to the husband of the late SeymoursWilliam Seymour's grand-daughter, Thomas Bruce, the eldest son of the Earl of Ailesbury and has remained in the family to the present day.

Wolfhall, near Burbage, was the home of the hereditary Wardens of the forest. When the Earl of Hertford was released from the Tower of London by Queen Elizabeth I it was ruinous beyond repair and Tottenham Lodge at the south of the Forest was enlarged to serve as the Seymour's residence.

Royal visitors to Savernake have been traditionally greeted with a blast of the medieval hunting horn of the Esturmys. This was last done during the war-time visit of King George VI in 1940. 

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Savernake Forest has been designated as an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". Most of the Forest is also designated as a "Site of Special Scientific Interest" on account of the many rare lichens and fungi which are found there. The 4,500 acres of the foreast contains much other wildlife, much of it rare.


Savernake contains much hardwood and is reknowned for its avenues of 200-year-old beeches, many planted to the instructions of "Capability" Brown. Parts of the forest floor are thickly carpeted by thousands of bluebells early in May while the trees themselves are at their best when they display the copper, brown and gold livery of autumn.

 Red Kite: Milvus milvus


Crossbills, Hawfinchs, Nightingales, Redstarts, Nightjars and Woodpeckers are all found at savernake as well as many species of birds of prey including buzzards, kestrels, owls and sparrowhawks. A pair of rare red kites (Milvus milvus) have been seen recently.


A legacy of origins as a royal hunting reserve, Savernake conatins the native fallow deer as well as roe and red and ever-increasing numbers of Muntjac.

Bagers and foxes are also numerous.

Contact Details

The Savernake Estate

Savernake Estate Office
Savernake Forest
Wilts SN8 3HP

tel: 01672 512161
fax: 01672 516811

The Forestry Commission

Forestry Commission

tel: 01594 833057


Tottenham House

Amber Foundation
  (the tennants)

tel: 01672 870331
fax: 01672 870338


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Links to Other Pages on this Site

William I (the Conqueror)
The Seymour Family

Links to Other Sites

. . . . . the inclusion of these links to other sites is for the interest and convenience of visitors to this site only and does not imply any endorsement of the products or services offered by the individuals or organisations involved nor the accuracy of the information contained therein . . . . .



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Wiltshire had no less than nine royal forests; Braydon, Chippenham, Chute, Clarendon, Grovely, Melchet, Savernake and Selwood.  

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Recommend a Book for this Page

A History of Savernake Forest
  by the Marquess of Ailesbury (29th hereditary Warden of Savernake)

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