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Children Played 500 Years Ago Too!

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So, What is a Game? 


Well, it can be “a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.” 

Games come in a huge variety of types. Every child plays games -- whether they have access to the latest computer games, board games, or a sidewalk, children have always played. Games and playing may look different now than in the past, but play has always been an important part of childhood. And that hasn't changed in over 500 years since the Tudor period in England! 


Who played games in Tudor England? 

Both children and adults played games and sports in the 1500’s and 1600’s in England. Some of their games may be familiar to you:  hopscotch, tag, tennis, chess, and cards. Some may be new to you: stool ball, merels and skittles. Those with a lot of money could buy beautiful hand-made game boards and cards. Average citizens who worked on farms, on manor houses like Agecroft and in towns had less free time to play games and had to make many of their own gaming pieces and equipment. Only the king and his nobility could play tennis! Nevertheless, games and sports were a big part of life in Tudor England. 


Why do people play games? 

If you think about one of your favorite games, this question is easy to answer. Playing games is a wonderful way to spend your free time. Whether it is a game to play alone or with friends, it makes you happy – it is fun and relaxing! It is a challenge to use strategy to beat your opponent and satisfying when you win, right? Winning by chance, like when you use dice to make your next move, is also thrilling. These are the same reasons people played games 500 years ago in England. 

In Tudor England, many games were used to educate children. Games of skill and battle helped children learn to use strategy. Games like chess and cards taught upper-class children the lessons of a hierarchical society- which people held the most power (king, queen) and which people had less (pawn). A Tudor child playing with a wooden doll learned about being a mother. Games today teach us lessons as well. We learn about the value of money in games like Monopoly and about chance when we play games with dice.


What games were popular for children in Tudor England? 

Wealthy children played many of the same indoor parlor games their parents played. These included backgammon, chess, backgammon, cards, and riddles. Ordinary children played more outdoor games like tag, hoops, quoits (ring toss), blind man’s bluff (tag with the “it” person blindfolded), marbles, hop scotch, hide-and-seek and leapfrog. Popular board games were merels, fox and geese and game of the goose. Yo-yos and cup and ball toys were also popular with both groups. Ball games like stool ball and skittles were played out doors. 

Where were these games played? 

People with wealth played games in parlors, courtyards, and vestibules. Ordinary citizens played games inside their homes, in their yards and streets and in public green spaces. 

When you visit Agecroft Hall, you are able to see all the different ways that people in England during the 16th and 17th century entertained themselves.  In the Great Parlor you will see a chessboard or cards.  These are games that the Dauntesey family would have played with their guests. Going upstairs, you may notice some children’s toys in one of the bedchambers.  Many toys back then would have been made by hand. Outside on the back lawn, there is a lawn bowling green and a turf maze.  

Even if you don't have the games below, there are ways to make them at home!

Check out this link for ideas

Then think about things you have around the house that can be used to recreate some of these Tudor games.


The game of Bowls refers to a popular Elizabethan game in which a small “bowl,” or ball (called a “jack”) was used as a mark at the end of a green lawn.  The players rolled their bowls toward the jack, and the one coming closest to it would be the winner.  When a bowl touched a jack, it was said to “kiss” it.  The bowl was not perfectly round-rather lopsided to make the ball curve in a haphazard way.


Chess is believed to have originated before the 6th century CE, but evolved into what we know as chess today in the 15th century. It found its way to England from India, Persia, and Moorish Spain. Some iterations involved two or more playing boards. Chess was a parlor (indoor family space) game that could be played by all ages. 

Fox & Geese

This game of strategy was a popular board game in Tudor times.  It was popular in Europe as early as 1300 and consisted a cross-shaped board divided into four squares.  Playing pieces represented 13 “geese” and one “fox.” The object of the game was for the fox to remove as many geese as possible from the board and thus making it impossible for the geese to trap him.  If the fox avoided the tram and moved to the opposite side of the board, he won.  The geese win if they trap the fox.  Geese may move one position in any direction.  The fox may move one position in any direction or may jump an adjacent goose.

Royal Game Of Goose

The game of the goose was played in Italy as early as the 15th century and reached England by 1597. Rules and board illustrations have varied over time, however the rules presented here are standard basic rules for today’s boards and those used 400 years ago. 


The Game of the goose is a simple race game. It is played on a spiral shaped board with 63 spaces. Players move their markers with the rolled total of two six-sided dice. The first player to reach space 63 wins.

(9 Mens Morris)

This is a board game that originated in the 14th century.  The board is made up of three concentric squares (one inside the other) joined by lines at the midpoints and corners.  This is a two-player game of strategy, and each player uses nine playing pieces.  The object of the game is to remove all but two of your opponent’s pieces or by blocking him so he cannot move on his turn.  Rules varied, but the game is similar to both checkers (jumping your opponent to take him off the board) and tic-tac-toe (making a “mill” or three in a row with your pieces).  Merels boards could be created in the dirt, on stone, or on wood.  Any small object (such as stones) could be used for playing pieces.  This was a popular game among common citizens. 


This is a game in which players toss rings at a stake, called the hob. A ring that encircles the hob scores two points for the thrower; a ring closer to the hob than an opponent’s scores one.  This is like the ring toss and horseshoe games you may be familiar with.  Quoits was a popular game in the English colonies and it still a popular competitive game in the UK today.

(Nine Pins)

In skittles, players rolled a wooden ball or threw “cheeses” down a lane to knock over wooden pins, usually 9.  The game is believed to have originated in Germany and had many rule and play variations.  It was a popular tavern game in Tudor England. 


Stoolball is a Medieval precursor (came before) of modern day baseball and cricket.  It is considered the first bat and ball game in North America, and was played at Plymouth in 1621 during Christmas.  The game was popular in Tudor England among ordinary citizens.  It was played on a “pitch,” or field with a paddle and ball (often made of wool fibers covered with leather). 

The goal of the pitcher was to hit a stool or stump with the ball, while the batter defended the stool either with his hands or a paddle.  Rules varied and base-running was included in some of the variations.  Stoolball was played by both men and women. 

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