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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Renaissance Pastimes, with or without good company.

The Not-so-Beautiful Game…   
 Football was not the formalised game as we know it today.  It was generally played by the youth of one parish against the youth of another and the goalposts could be two or three miles apart, the game lasting until one side scored a goal.  There were no set number of players or even a requirement that the opposing teams have the same number of players.  Women who played football were rare and frowned upon as hoydenish.  The game was a free for all and the ball could be transported in any way, including carrying.  It was not done to carry edged weapons.  Death and serious injury were quite common; the game was banned regularly by successive monarchs to little avail.  Frankly, I’d back any group of late medieval London apprentices to take on our modern football hooligans any time.  
      Football and the like could distract people from the serious business of archery, still compulsory after High Mass every Sunday for every male age seven and up, unless excused by reason of infirmity.  Every boy had to be provided with a bow by his parent or guardian; and every man over sixteen had to own his own bow.  Firearms were becoming more common but had not replaced the English clothyard arrow yet. Legislation of 1515 placed property qualification on the use of crossbows or firearms.

The Sport of Kings, many of whom could out-McEnroe McEnroe
      The game of Real or Royal Tennis is the progenitor of lawn tennis, and is played within an enclosed court.  The rules are extremely complex and outside the scope of such a brief treatise as this.  The service always took place from the same end, the players swapping ends; the opposite end was known as the Hazard end, and scoring took place by setting up a Chase, in which the ball had to bounce in a certain places for a score to be recorded.  If score was made by the server, it was a service chase; if by the receiver, a hazard chase.  Similar scoring points were used as in lawn tennis today.  For more details see Wikipedia here:
There are similarities to a street game dating back to Imperial Rome that is called Pallone, and is particularly associated with Florence.  The ball is hit with wrist braces and is a kind of cross between tennis, football and intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Variants of this hand tennis were played by youngsters in most places with some variation or other. 

Bandy, forerunner of many games
Also popular was Bandy – known by other names, but this being the Suffolk name I make no apology for it – which was a forerunner of hockey, ice hockey, and had links to golf, shinty, lacrosse and hurley. The team sizes may have been more regular that for football; but the goals were probably as variable.This is a game in which a ball is hit by a stick, with intent to get the ball into a goal.  Bandy is the English equivalent to Hurley and Shinty and derives from an Icelandic game brought by the Vikings.  The Dutch had a game with some similarities called Kolv but this seems to have been more akin to a form of golf on ice. Bandy, shinty and hurley have all had their ice counterparts but until the mini-ice age era the grass form dominated.   There are also references to a game called goff which may be more related to kolv and may have become golf.  The earliest record of this or a similar game is depicted in a stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral where a boy with a curved stick and a ball is shown.  Shakespeare mentions it in Romeo and Juliet: “The Prince expressly hath forbidden bandying in the Verona streets” showing it to be a known sport by this time – one incidence where Wiki slips up in dating it to the 1814 frost fair.
The modern game of bandy is an ice sport and is also known as Russian Hockey

Children’s games
      Children played games with balls and other games which would be familiar today – badminton was then called battledore and shuttlecock; hoodman blind is now blind man’s buff, hide-and-go seek requires no translation.  Marbles were played by boys, who also enjoyed skipping, or jump-rope that no mere girl would be allowed to play (besides, skirts); and boys also bowled hoops along.  The game of Conquers became conkers and gave its name to the horse chestnut fruit when that became more common to use than the hazelnut of the original game.  Tilting at the quintain is not a game we would recognise now, but was essential training for a youth that would wish to be a knight.  A version of this was also popular at fairs, often involving a sack of sand or flour that would swing round to buffet anyone who did not hit the quintain squarely.  A ring was sometimes used instead.  Those who succeeded at a fair  might win a prize.

Indoor games
     Adults played cards, more widespread with the ability to print them on pasteboard; and chanced with dice.  Gambling was common.  The intelligentsia played chess; there was also draughts, shuffleboard (shove ha’penny) and fox and geese.  Billiards was also played and games that would develop into bowls and skittles.  Many liked the so called sports of cockfighting and bear baiting. The wealthy hunted, hawking and coursing, and read, as books became more common.

  Women of all estates amused themselves with sewing, starting on their dower chest from their earliest years; all women made their husband’s shirts for them, whatever else they may have paid to have made up or bought second hand. The wealthy embroidered. 
Patchwork was not as we know it now; appliqué work was long known from the crusades, and quilting too, but patchwork was crazy patchwork sewn willy nilly to use up scraps. (Ann Hathaway’s famous quilt is sewn thus, even that late). Incidentally the term patchwork had not then been coined; nor indeed had appliqué.  The art arose from appliquéd designs the Moors used, the idea brought back by the crusaders, so that by the 15th century appliqué decoration on bed curtains and other household linen instead of or as well as crewel work.  The overall climate change from the beginning of the fifteenth century also increased the need for warm bad clothes; when the art of applying scraps of left over fabric to old worn blankets to prolong their life began is uncertain.  This random patching was not however intended to be as decorative as the fad for crazy patchwork that was revived by the Victorians, but more to create a warm and practical item and make sure that left over scraps were not wasted.  Anne Hathaway’s quilt – or as it would be known, a ‘coverpointe’ later ‘counterpane’  has strange long strips that are not aesthetically pleasing to the eye but used fabric without waste.  A scrap of velvet might be next to a bit of common nettlecloth, according to how the shapes of the scraps, and what came to hand, fitted next to each other.  Commonly the piece was started at one end and pieces were added across to the other, overlapping or butting up as seemed appropriate.  Bear in mind that this was a vernacular craft and no kin to the beautiful quilting including trapunto done by and for wealthy women, which was not patched at all but was from whole pieces of silk.

The great age of play going had not started in Felicia and Robin’s time; miracle, morality and mystery plays were the main forms of drama.  Miracle plays, to be banned by Henry VIII in the mid 16th century were developed by the church and depicted the lives and miracles of saints with more or less fiction involved.  Mystery dramas were vernacular dramas typically performed by various guilds to celebrate various saint days, but mostly the entire cycle taking place on Corpus Cristi, the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday in June or early July.  Guild mysteries tended to to show Biblical scenes appropriate to their guild, such that the building of the Ark was performed by shipwrights.  Some ingenious contrivances were invented to display miraculous events.
Morality plays were allegories to make a point; Everyman of 1500 is the best known in which the character Everyman is called upon by Death to account for his actions in life.
Plays might also be performed by puppets and puppeteers.

The wealthy would hold hunting parties which would probably culminate in feasting and dancing to the music of professional musicians.  Less wealthy must content themselves with village celebrations, such as weddings, where the village waits would make music as best they might, with perhaps a rebec player [a kind of fiddle] and a pipe-and-tabor player being the only members.  Pipe and tabor involved playing a three-holed pipe with one hand and banging the tabor or small drum with the other.  Considerable skill was needed to get an excess of notes by overblowing on the three-hole pipe.
And of course making music was a pastime that cut across the whole of society, though the level of musical training was obviously greater for the wealthy, and the choice of instruments. Lutes were not exactly cheap, but simple fipple flutes – what we now call recorders – might be afforded by many more. 


  1. Oh man, this is fascinating!! So, I have a couple of questions:

    First--I should know this but I don't--is the rise of Elizabethan theatre in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century linked in any way to the Henrician ban on mystery plays and the Protestant Reformation?? Clearly, French theatre has caught up by the age of Louis XIV, but is the rise of an English Theatre the way that enterprise-meets-public spectacle-meet-unsatisfied market demand???

    Second, when you say women made all their husband's shirts, are we talking about from sheep to thread?? and if they were linen shirts, would they at least buy bolts of cloth and then possibly embroider and monogram them?? and by the late eighteenth century, does that mean that the wife of an English aristocrat...such as the gentlemen I like to write about on occasion...would have been embroidering/and or making their husband's shirts???

    I will also note, just for the record, that your post begins with a series of open leisure activities, but, once it discusses women, is moved over into constructive & productive activities that might be dovetailed with leisurely conversation...or the custodial care of children and elderly...once again, it occurs to me to reflect that men work from sun to sun, but women's work is never done...and women's leisure, throughout the centuries, has been, well, sorta non-existent....???

    Thanks for this fascinating post!!!


  2. And very insightful comments there, Clio, that even a woman's leisure activities were generally productive. Many women did weave, it was a womanly art, and a loom of sorts provided at least homespuns for common everyday use. This was less common for the merchants' wives who had other things to do - which was often in the area of man's work too - but still the sewing of shirts was something everyone up to Queen Katharine of Castile and Aragon undertook. The fineness of the linen they were sewing would depend on their estate in life; the conceit of embroidering the neck [as depicted by Holbein] had not really caught on in Felicia's time. A length of linen was 24 yards and that would be 3 shirts.[linen was a narrowcloth] Peasant women probably made less full shirts and bought enough Holland [the roughest grade linen] for a shirt at a time.
    Regarding the women at work, the highest in society would have had childcare and would have had leisure to set pretty stitches in embroidery, but even a wealthy house would find a use for this. Wealthy women would have the leisure to amuse themselves with music both playing, and listening, singing, and would join the hunt and hawking [with a merlin, a ladies' hawk]

    By the late eighteenth century most shirts would be made up by a tailor or more likely a seamstress in the houses of the gentry. From impoverished gentry down, all clothes were made at home as ever.

    I am not particularly knowledgeable about the rise of the theatre of Shakespeare's day but I believe the plays of the time tended to have their roots in the fabliaux of earlier literary endeavour, short satirical poems that criticised the morals of the day. The stereotypes from them and from the morality plays can be readily recognised in Shakespeare, though he often also gave them a bit of a twist. Certainly mystery plays were performed up to the 1580's - it was Miracle plays Henry banned - but the spread of Protestantism drew disapproval on the mystical aspects and there was moreover a move towards secularism generally through the century. The church was no longer putting up the money, but the common man would pay to see travelling troupes perform, and the common taste was for secular, and preferably bawdy or violent; one favourite was of the Faversham Murder which involved themes dear to the fabliaux, of an older husband, young wife and her lover.
    Sarah Waldock

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