When we think of games today, we imagine board games like Scrabble, Monopoly and Cluedo or games played on an Xbox or Playstation. Games today can be played by anyone of any age and social background. However, in the Elizabethan period, games that were popular at the time such as bowls, quoits and card games, were agasint the law for almost everyone. In 1542, Henry VIII reissued legislation outlawing all artificers, husbandmen, labourers, mariners, fishermen, watermen, servants and apprentices from playing ‘tables’ (backgammon), cards, dice, football, bowls, tennis, quoits and ninepins.
The reason for this was that in the Middle Ages, kings forbade people from playing idle,unlawful games in order to force them to practice archery. The only people allowed to play these games were members of the gentry with an annual income of more than £100. The rest of the population could only play them at Christmas, and in their own home. The penalty if caught playing games at any other time was a heavy fine of £1.
It is interesting to note that had Sir Francis Drake been playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe at the time of the invasion of the Spanish Armada and had his crew been involved in the game, then he would have gone into battle without them because technically, they would all have been taken before the magistrate for playing an illegal game of bowls.
The game of bowls was very popular with the masses as records show that hundreds of people were arrested for playing it. Tennis however, was a game for the aristocrats who had their own tennis courts built and played in private; they were not subject to the restrictions and fines.
Card games were played everywhere from alehouses to palaces. The most popular were Gleek, Primero, Prima-Vista, Maw, Cent (which is like modern Picquet), One and Thirty, New Cut and Trumps (which is like modern Whist). Queen Elizabeth was extremely fond of cards and was very good at it.
Board games were common pastimes in the sixteenth century. Not all of them had to be palyed on a board, the necessary markings could also be scratched on the ground or on any convenient surface. Some of the board games played in the Tudor era would be recognisable today. Chess and draughts were both common. Fox and Geese is another game that is still played today, although it was known under a variety of names.
If you Google the game Fox and Geese this is how you play it:
The Rules of Fox & Geese
The game of Fox & Geese is played upon a cross shaped board consisting of a 3×3 point square in the middle with four 2 x 3 point areas adjacent to each face of the central square. This makes a total of 33 points. Pieces are allowed to move from one point to another only along lines which join points. Accompanying the board, there should be a single playing piece representing the fox in black or red and 15 white playing pieces representing the geese.
Preparation and Objective
Fox & Geese is a game of inequality. The geese cannot capture the fox but aim, through the benefit of numbers, to hem the fox in so that he cannot move. The objective of the fox, on the other hand, is to capture geese until it becomes impossible for them to trap him. The geese start by occupying all 6 squares of one arm of the cross plus the whole first adjacent row and the two end points of the central row. The fox starts in the middle of the board.
Player’s toss a coin to decide who will play the fox – the geese move first. Players take turns to move a goose or the fox to an adjacent point along a line. However, the geese are restricted to being able to move directly forwards, diagonally forwards or sideways only.
Upon the fox’s turn, if a goose is adjacent to the fox with an empty point directly behind, the fox may capture that goose by hopping over it into the empty square and removing the smitten goose from the board.
Captured pieces are never replayed onto the board and remain captured for the remainder of the game. The game is finished when a player loses either by being reduced to two pieces or by being unable to move.
Like all unequal games, it makes sense to play an even number of games, each player alternating between playing the fox and playing the geese. The player who wins the most games wins the match.
The fox can start anywhere on the board not occupied by a goose at the option of the player controlling him.
Variations with 13, 17 and 22 pieces can be tried.
Some variations prevent the fox from moving but not capturing diagonally. The limitations on the movement of the geese can also be varied. For instance, diagonal movement can be disallowed.
A huffing rule has been played in the past. If the fox can take a goose but does not do so, a new goose is added anywhere on the board by the player playing the geese.
If anyone has played this game, please let me know how you got on and what it is like to play.
Another form of indoor entertainment was ‘clash’ or ‘pins’. This was a type of bowling in which skittles are knocked down with a ball, like modern ten pin bowling. This game was thought to be far too low class for anyone of social standing, although it isn’t explained why this is.
Games have been popular through the ages and continue to rise in popularity thanks to the Xbox and Playstation. These games would be completely unrecognisable to the Elizabethans and games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto would scare them to death. Other games like the fantasy games based on Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings would probably have been more like the lives of some of the people who lived in the Tudor era (minus the dragons of course). Archery, jousting and life on the Tudor streets in London could be a battle everyday where the loser lost his life.