The arden is a secluded woodland located near the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, in England. It is a place of great beauty and solitude, where Shakespeare’s mother Mary was born. In his play As You Like It, Shakespeare uses the arden as an imaginary version of the Ardennes forest in Belgium and Luxembourg, where he grew up.
The name arden was given to the area in the Brythonic language of ancient Britain, which means “high” (cf. Welsh ardd), but the word is also used in English as an adjective meaning “highly secluded or beautiful”. The Forest of Arden was considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of England, and many people traveled there from all over the country.
It is a densely forested area that once covered much of Warwickshire and Staffordshire. It was a largely uninhabited area until the eleventh century, when the first wave of settlement began. Lords and landowners in the area were enticing new settlers with free burgage tenure and seignorial encouragement to take up estates in the area.
There were several towns and villages in the arden including Henley-in-Arden, Tanworth-in-Arden and Hampton-in-Arden. The area is also known for its distinctive Triassic white heterolithic sandstone quarried from the area.
In the tenth and eleventh centuries the area was a centre of the Knights Templar, who owned a preceptory at Temple Balsall in the middle of the arden. From 1162 until the dissolution of the order in 1312, the Templars owned a substantial amount of land in the area.
As well as the Knights Templar, the area had an influx of other Christian religious orders and communities in the medieval period. There were a number of monasteries and churches, notably St John the Baptist, in the area.
The area was once a large, heavily forested area of countryside, and the forest was protected by the lords of the manors in the area. No Roman roads were built through the arden, but Icknield Street, Watling Street, Fosse Way and a salt track surrounded it.
There are some historic castles and forts in the arden, as well as several hill forts and Roman forts. The earliest recorded fort was an Iron Age hillfort in Henley-in-Arden, while the most extensive Roman settlement was at Feckenham Forest, a few miles south of Arden.
Some of the most prominent historical buildings in the arden include temples, abbeys and churches, such as Temple Balsall and Knowle Abbey. Other notable structures in the arden include the Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club, which is famous for its unique sandstone building.