The arden is an area of England in Warwickshire, with parts in Staffordshire and Worcestershire. It is situated between Stratford-upon-Avon and Tamworth, and it was once heavily wooded and known as the Forest of Arden.
There were also settlements in the forest such as Henley-in-Arden, which grew around an Iron Age hillfort, and Coleshill, which grew up on a Roman ring fort and then developed into a major mercantile centre during the medieval period. The forest was also home to many wolves and bears.
It is estimated that in the early Middle Ages the forest covered over a large area of land extending from the River Avon to the River Tame, and it was considered to be one of the most important areas in England. It was an important hunting area with many flora and fauna, but there was also considerable timber in the forest, especially oak and lime.
In the late medieval period it was possible for individuals to become a ‘forester’ and hold forest law rights in the forest. However, this was not the case with the forest of Arden, as it is thought that the forest law never applied there. The area may have been more of a frontier than other forested areas at the time, and it is also likely that the landowners and their estates did not want to be subject to the strict laws of forest law.
The Forest of Arden was home to a number of different lords who owned estates in the area, some of whom had strong local loyalties. For example, Robert Catesby, the leader of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and later the Earl of Warwick, was a native of Lapworth, which lies near the southern boundary of the forest, and his wife was from an area in the forest called Balsall.
During the sixteenth century, the area was redeveloped into a number of plantations by various lords, who were keen to increase their holdings and political power in the region. The area was a hotbed of activity and a centre for a variety of activities, including agriculture and fishing.
It was also an important place of pilgrimage for the Knights Templar, who occupied a preceptory at Temple Balsall, located in the forest. They were suppressed in 1312 but their influence was resurged during the Reformation in the 16th century and many of their followers remained in the area.
A wayside cross, known as the ‘Coughton Cross’, is situated at the southwestern corner of the forest, and was believed to be a site where travelers would pray for safe passage through the forest.