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Elizabethan England
Elizabethan Sports

by Gretchen Elaine Maxwell and Alan Ryan Carey

Elizabethan England embraced many different customs and cultures. The customs that had the greatest effect on the rest of the world were the games of war that consumed spare time. Games of war varied from hunting, with hawks or dogs , to equestrian activities, including tournament jousts and tilts. Most of the sports of the Elizabethan era were carried over from the Medieval period.

Hunting was a favorite pastime for people, especially rich people. Queen Elizabeth herself loved to hunt. The hunt allowed the rich nobles to show off their fine horses, hawks, clothing, and weapons. Horses were shown off by their breeding, most commonly by nobles, and ranked by endurance, speed, beauty, and strength. From the hunting rounds the wealthy would often establish a breeding tree of some sort in an attempt to create the perfect breed.

Many clothing fashions were established during the hunting trips. Often a noble would arrive garbed in a new outfit which the wealthy and under class surrounding the hunt would emulate, thus spreading the style. New weaponry also appeared at such events. One such case was the adapted new arrow head that was eventually used to fell knights, due to its armor-piercing capabilities.

Hawking, otherwise known as falconry, was the sport of royalty. It was said that this was a reference to the stateliness of the birds, but it was a royal sport mainly because commoners could not afford to train the birds. They could not afford any other aspect of the sport, for that matter. The eagle was a bird reserved solely for the King and Queen, but there were no other restrictions placed upon the birds species. As was the case with the horses, there was a slight attempt to breed hawks, but interaction primarily fell upon trading, rather than breeding.

Jousting was a popular sport that involved running at an opponent with a lance and trying to knock him off his horse. Shields and armor were involved, of course. Jousting tournaments were held for the rich; they were forbidden to common folk. Jousting, like any other sport, was another excuse for the rich to show off their armor, clothes and animals. Preparation for the joust involved the quintain, which properly knocked a person off their horse if the person didn't hit the quintain just right.

Another tournament sport was archery. Outside of being a tournament sport, archery involved a skill that was used in battle. Since the common people were the most numerous in battle, the commoners participated in the sport as well. The shaft of the arrow was generally made out of wood, since metal would be too heavy. The head of the arrow was made out of iron. Archers have always held a very important place in military life. During Henry V's reign in the middle ages, 6,000 English soldiers shot down 85,000 French soldiers at Agincourt, a famous battle depicted in William Shakespeare's Henry V.

Sports and games of war took a place of importance in the society of Elizabethan England. Tournaments, whether archery or jousting, were mainly events for the rich to show off their possessions. Hunting was a favorite pastime of high society. The practical uses of Elizabethan sports were teaching and practicing skills that could be used for battle or survival.


Works Consulted

Brasch, Rudolph. How did Sports Begin? New York: David McKay Company and Inc. 1970.

If you're looking for a brief outline in regards to archery and hunting, this is the book. It includes a glorious battle of King Henry V with an army 6,000 archers defeating a French Army of 85,00.

Dodd, A. H. Elizabethan England. London: SBN, 1974.

This book gives a delightful little summary on what kind of people joined in on the hunt, highlighting the rich and famous, of course. It has some lovely pictures, too.

*Queennell, Peter. A History of Everyday Things in England. Vol.2.New York: G.P.Putnam's Sons,1960.

This book goes into detail about what Elizabethan hunting was like. This book has a tendency to be verbose; there's a quote every other line. If you're looking for a book that gives an account of a hunt, you'll love it. If not, at least the pictures are pretty.

*Strutt, Joseph. The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. New York: A. M. Kelley, 1970.

This book was the inspiration that Gretchen and I needed to compose this tribute to the sports that made Elizabethan England great. Gretchen- I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up. Alan- I agree with Gretchen in this case; it contains an insightful look in to the aspects of archery, jousting, and hunting.

*Source for visual

Elizabethan Entertainments
and Pastimes

by Steve Loew and Andrea Vincent

The most popular of Elizabethan entertainments and pastimes included the arts, such as literature, theater, and music, as well as sports.

The public theatre, sometimes called the most genuine form of entertainment during this period, came to London around 1576. The first theatre was built outside the city limits to avoid strict city regulations.

The earliest theatres resembled the innyards from which they had evolved. The theatres were built around courtyards, with three-story galleries facing the stage. People from every social class, from the workers to the aristocrats, attended the theatre. The aristocrats sat in the galleries, while the commoners stood on the ground around the stage, with a few young men often sitting on the stage. The most popular playwrights of the era were Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare.

Another important form of public entertainment was literature. Elizabethan writers produced all kinds of texts, such as technical works, political and religious tracts, ballads, almanacs, and histories. People were able to buy a broadside or a pamphlet for a penny, making the pleasure of reading affordable to almost everyone.

During this time period, reading was a more public activity than it is today. People sometimes held readings where the latest works were read aloud.

Elizabethans also loved to listen to music, which, of course, was always performed live. For the most part, people made their own music. Laborers and craftsmen often sang while they worked, common people sang after a meal, and the well-bred people of society often played or sang a piece by rote during recitals.

Dancing, another popular activity, provided a great opportunity for interaction between unmarried people. The preferred type of dancing varied according to social class, with those of higher social position favoring the courtly dances imported from Italy and other European countries, and the ordinary people preferring "country" dances. The European courtly dances were mostly performed by couples and involved intricate and subtle footwork, while the English country dances were danced by couples in round, square, or rectangular sets with much simpler form and footwork. Queen Elizabeth herself encouraged country dances among the aristocracy.

In addition to social dances, there were performances and ritual dances . One favorite was Morris dancing, characterizing by the wearing of bells.

Sports were regulated by the government. Those of rank were expected to take part because sporting events trained men for war, whereas the laborers had to work six days a week and could not participate. On Sundays, the working class often practiced archery.

Hunting was also very popular with noblemen and gentlemen. The animals that were hunted the most were the stag or buck, and when the prey was felled, it was always eaten.

During mid-winter, when stag could not be hunted, the Royals and their nobles engaged in hawking. Falcons were trained for this sport, and laws were passed to punish any poacher who stole their eggs. Poaching by night was a much more serious offense than poaching by day. Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, made unauthorized hunting in private forests a felony punishable by death if the offense was committed at night.

The sports most popular among the commoners were football and hurling. Football was much rougher in the Tudor times than it is today, with all sorts of injuries ranging from minor to fatal. There were no limits to the number of players, and no lines. Football was called "a friendly game of fight."

Hurling, which was played in two different versions, was as dangerous as football. The first form was played with a box ball. There were fifteen to thirty players per side, and the object of the game was to pick up the ball and run it through to the goal, passing the ball to teammates mates if tackled. This game was a forerunner of modern rugby.

The second style was played with wooden sticks and a ball. The ball was hit through the air into a goal, in a manner resembling modern-day hockey.

See also "Amusements"

Works Consulted

Ridley, Jasper. The Tudor Age. New York: The Overlook Press, 1990.

This book describes the life and pastimes of the laborer and the titled gentlemen and ladies of the Tudor Age. The chapter, "Sports and Pastimes," was most informative.

*Singman, Jeffery L. Daily Life in Elizabethan England. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

This book contains an abundance of information on Elizabethan entertainment from literature, music, and theatre to board games and hunting. The chapter on entertainments was most helpful.

Wilkins, Frances. Growing up in the Age of Chivalry. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, Inc., 1977.

This book has a good description of the kinds of games played by the children in the different classes of the Tudor Age. The chapter entitled "Games and Sports" had the most information on that subject.

*Source for visual.


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