This delightful and informative book should be required reading for historical novelists, painting as it does a picture of the English at play. And rough play it was too, since its essence was frequently, that something, either human or animal, should die. The author comments that the Anglo-Saxons were a dull lot, sports-wise, but the arrival of the Normans and the reign of Henry VIII soon rectified that.
The re-publication of this book by N&MP in association with the National Armouries is particularly timely since it gives an account of many sports which are currently under threat from Government or animal right lobbyists, including hunting with hounds (stag, boar, hare, fox), shooting, pugilism and horse racing, as well as such less controversial sports as football, bowls, wrestling, cricket and tennis. More ancient pastimes covered include falconry (now experiencing something of a comeback), jousting, tilting at the quintain and fighting the pel (and the interesting water quintain), archery – also experienceing a revival -, bowls as a courtier’s game, quarter-staff and singlestick and cudgel play, gladiatorial boxing and wrestling, the old pub games (skittles, nine-pins, Kayle pins, Loggats, quoits and marbles, shove-ha’penny), cock-fighting, throwing at cocks, bull-baiting and (contrary to Spanish lore) bull-running, dog-fighting, bear- and badger-baiting and rat killing.