From Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales, Their Legendary Lore and Popular History, by John Timbs, Volume II, re-edited, revised, and enlarged by Alexander Gunn; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; pp. 16-18.
In the Chase of Cranbourn, within a mile of the county of Dorset, in the parish of Tollard Royal, Wilts, is an ancient farm-house, known as King John’s Hunting-seat. Cranbourn Chase formerly extended over no less than five hundred thousand acres of land, and was the sole 17 property of George, Lord Rivers. There is an ancient custom kept up until our time — that on the first Monday in September, the steward of the Lord of the Manor holds a Court in the Chase, and after the Court break up they hunt and kill a brace of fat bucks. A writer in the London Magazine, who was present at the hunt in the year 1823, after pleasantly describing the opening of the Court, the fair in the forest, the assemblage of country lads and lasses, sportsmen, foot and horse, and ladies on horseback, the buck breaking cover, who steals out, dashes over the vale, bounds up the summit of an opposite hill, where he is fairly surrounded by the hounds, and his pursuers, informs us that the two bucks, having been divided, are hung up; and next day the steward presents the several parts to gentlemen who were present at the hunt. The hunting-box is nearly in the same state as when King John was present there as Earl Moreton: it is now a farm-house; the walls are of great thickness, and the rooms are large and lofty; and there is a carved oak chimney-piece in one of them. There is a legendary story of the Chase, as follows: — “Once upon a time, King John, being equipped for hunting, issued forth with the gay pageantry and state of his day. There were dames mounted upon high-bred steeds, that were champing and foaming on the bit, and whose prancing shook the grounds; and Knights, whose plumes were dancing in the wind, while borne by fiery chargers, swift as the deer they followed; the yeomen dressed in green, with girdles round their waists; and to add to the brilliancy of the scene, the morning was as unclouded as the good-humoured faces of the party.”
The King appeared overjoyed, and during the time all heads were uncovered as he rode along, he overheard a gallant youth address a lady nearly in these words:
The happy couple left Tollard Royal on horseback. As they took leave of the King, the moon was sinking below the horizon. The King had observed before they left —
But they rode on, too happy to remember that the moon would soon leave them.
They were missing for several days, until the King, while hunting with his courtiers found their lifeless remains. It appeared that when 18 the moon descended, the faithful pair must have mistaken their road, and had fallen into a hideous pit, where both were killed, as likewise the Knight’s horse, close beside them. The lady’s horse, a dapple grey, was running wild as the mountain-deer: he was soon caught, and became the King’s, who rode him as a charger.
King James I. often hunted in Cranbourn Chase. In a copy of Barker’s Bible, printed in 1594, which formerly belonged to the family of the Cokers of Woodcotes, in the Chase, are entries of the King’s visits: “The 24th day of August, our Kinge James was in Mr. Butler’s Walke, and found the bucke, and killed him in Vernedich, in Sir Walter Vahen’s walk; and from thence came to Mr. Horole’s walk, and hunted ther, and killed a buck under Hanging Copes. And sometime after that, and (sic in MS.) came to our Mrs. Carrens, and ther dined; and after dinner he took his choch, and came to the Quene at Tarande. Anno Dni. 1607.” “In our dayes,” says Mr. Coller, in his Survey, Cranborne gave the honourable title of Viscount unto Robert Cicell, whom King James for his approved wisdom created first Baron Cicell of Essendon: and the year after, viz., 1604, Viscount Cranborne; and 1605, Earle of Sarum; whose son William nowe enjoys his honours and this place, where he hath a convenient house, at which the King, as often as hee comes his Westerne progrese, resides some dayes, to take his pleasure of hunting both in the Park and Chase.”
In May, 1828, an Act of Parliament was passed for disfranchising Cranbourn Chase; and Lord Rivers’s franchise thereon, which was seriously curtailed in 1816, expires on the 10th of October, 1830. The gradual destruction or removal of the deer (about 12,000 head) was commenced by the Chase-keepers shooting nearly 2000 fawns, many of which were taken for sale to the neighbouring towns in Dorset, Wilts, Hants, &c., and disposed of at the low price of 5s. or 6s. apiece. The Committee and other proprietors of lands who formed the agreement with Lord Rivers, framed a very judicious mode of assessing the yearly payments to be made to that noblemen, his heirs, &c., by the several landowners, by which means the uncertain question of boundary was avoided.
There is also in Wiltshire, at Aldbourne, near Marlborough, a farm-house, supposed to have been a hunting-seat of King John. Aldbourne Chase, an extensive waste, with a large rabbit-warren, was formerly well wooded and stocked with deer.