The Black Act (1723)

Between 1721 and 1723, a series of riots and poaching occurred in and around the Windsor Forest, dubbed the Waltham affair. The first of these affairs occurred in October of 1721 when sixteen poachers raided the park of the Bishop of Winchester out of supposed “private spite” (Rogers, 468). After subsequent raids of the Bishop’s property and similar elite properties such as the Farnham deer-park, where the Waltham Blacks stole eleven deer and killed many more, the Parliament of Great Britain passed legislation which was essentially a collection of punishments for these poaching raids. The Waltham Black Act ended up being an extremely severe legislative decree laying out more than fifty new offenses that would be punishable by death (Cruickshanks and Erskine-Hill, 358). The “ferocious legislation” included laws prohibiting going into any woods using any sort of disguise or blackened face. People charged with this crime could be prosecuted without any connection to a specific act of destruction or larceny (Rogers, 465). The severity of the Act was designed to “ensure the wholesale suppression” of the gangs of poachers, who were known as “Blacks” because of their practice of blackening their faces in order to conceal their identities (Rogers, 478). Some historians have argued that the Waltham Blacks were lined to the Jacobite movement, supporters of the Stuart monarchy who sought to overthrow the Hanoverian king of England, which is perhaps why the English Parliament was very adamant in creating such intense laws. Other reform laws were proposed by John Locke, who thought the poor were to blame for their own situations. For more information on John Locke’s Poor Laws, check out this link.


Rogers, Pat. “The Waltham Blacks and the Black Act.” The Historical Journal 17, no. 03 (1974).

Cruickshanks, Eveline, and Howard Erskine-Hill. “The Waltham Black Act and Jacobitism.” Journal of British Studies 24, no. 3 (1985): 358-65.

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