Savernake Forest, between Marlborough and Hungerford, is privately-owned by the Trustees of Savernake Estate - The Earl of Cardigan and his family solicitor. It extends to some 4,500 acres, and is the only-privately owned Forest in Britain. Guardianship of the forest has now largley passed via lease to the Forestry Commission.
No-one can say how old Savernake Forest is. It cannot be less than 1,000 years old, as it is referred to in a Saxon Charter from King Athelstan in 934AD, being called "Safernoc".
It is certainly older than the other great Forest of southern England, which was only planted over a century later by the Normans, and whose name reminds us that it is younger than ancient Savernake - the New Forest.
Since it was put into the care of one of the victorious knights who fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Savernake Forest has passed down from father to son (or daughter, on 4 occasions) in an unbroken line for 31 generations, never once being bought or sold in a thousand years, and today it is the only Forest in Britain still in private hands.
The high-water mark of the Savernake Estate's fortunes was undoubtedly in Elisabethan times. The head of the family (Sir John Seymour) was used to welcoming King Henry VIII to the Forest, where the King was very keen on his deer-hunting. King Henry stayed at Savernake shortly after the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn in 1536, and his eye was then taken by his host's daughter, Jane. They were subsequently married, and Jane Seymour was crowned Queen just months later, causing the head of the family at Savernake to suddenly find himself father-in-law to Henry VIII.
Jane's great claim to fame is that of all his 6 wives she was the only one to give the King what he so badly wanted - a son - the future Edward VI. Sadly Jane died in childbirth, and after marrying again, Henry himself died a few years later. So it fell to Jane's brother Edward to leave his estate of Savernake Forest in 1547 and to go up to Hampton Court, where for the next 5 years with the title 'Lord Protector' he was King of England in all but name, while his late sister's young child Edward VI grew old enough to reign alone.
The other high-water mark was in the 1740s. The head of the family at that time (Lord Thomas Bruce) made a great success of himself, and had risen at Court to be Governor to the young King George IV. He employed Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to plant great beech Avenues in Savernake Forest, which was then some 40,000 acres, nearly 10 times its present size. These included the Grand Avenue, running through the heart of the Forest, and which at 3.9 miles (dead straight) stands in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest Avenue in Britain.
The Cardigan title is famous for the misguided efforts of the 7th Earl, James who led the disasterous 'charge of the light brigade' in 1854 Charge of the Light Brigaderemembered in Tenyson's famous poem. James however had no children and the title passed to the then Earl of Ailesbury and on to the current family. The present 14th Earl of Cardigan is the owner of Savernake Forest today. Charge of the Light Brigade, Painting by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855) The Charge of the Light Brigade was an ill-advised cavalry charge, led by Lord Cardigan, which occurred during the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854 during the Crimean War. ...