Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sports & Games - 13-17C Ground Billiards

Ground Billiards Woodcut based on a medieval tapestry commissioned by the St. Lo Monastery of France, circa the 1500s.

The Billiards game we know today appears to have developed from a game called "ground billiards." Although some believe it originated in Spain or Italy, this game probably emerged first in England or France during Medieval times. In Italy the game was known as biglia, in France bilhard, in Spain virlota and in England "ball-yard." An illustration of ground billiards is in Sports and Pastimes of England by James Strutt, created around 1344. But if the image dates to 1344, the game it illustrates could be considerably older. Illustrations dating from the 14C have been found showing "ground billiards" in action - it has similarities to croquet. Manuscripts have been located documenting the equipment used for the game at the time. The earliest of these dates is around 1300 AD. It appears, however, that some people continued to play "ground billiards" in its changing forms as late as the 17C. 

Ground billiards of the 1300's was actually very similar to golf and croquet. Variations of the game were probably as numerous as the towns in which it was played. Ground Billiards was played on a small outdoor court with a hoop at one end and an upright stick at the other. This combination billiard, golf, & croquet-esque pastime required players to strike balls around the court with maces.The object was generally to propel a ball, through obstacles, to a predetermined destination. The equipment was often primitive, but functional: a ball (sizes varied, often one per player); a propelling device (maces—elongated sticks, curved and flattened at the end—were widely used by the 1300's); and a variety of posts, pegs, cones and arches, to be struck, knocked down or passed through.

Many of the cities of this period had been designed to protect their inhabitants from hostile attacks. Many were built on plateaus and surrounded by walls. This greatly reduced the areas where ball games requiring a great distance could be played. Consequently, many games became miniaturized, played in small enclosures or courtyards.
Ground Billiards

Ground Billiards and Lunch - Beugelen, pumping through the bracket German perhaps 1650s