Tudors - Football History - 1500-50

In the 1500’s – The Tudors of England – the Game of Football was an entirely different game to the one played today.  The goal posts were a mile apart, there was no limit to the amount of players and the ball, made from an animal’s bladder, could be picked up and thrown or kicked in an attempt to score a goal.

 In 1514, Alexander Barclay, a monk in the Benedictine Monastery in Ely, Cambridgeshire, described a game of ball which, although it includes reference to both hands and feet, is named Foote-ball - "They get the bladder and blowe it great and thin, with many beanes and peason put within, It ratleth, shineth and soundeth clere and fayre, While it is throwen and caste up in the eyre, Eche one contendeth and hath a great delite, with foote and hande the bladder for to smite, if it fall to the ground they lifte it up again... Overcometh the winter with driving the foote-ball".

 In 1519, William Herman, who had been headmaster at both Eton and Winchester colleges, produced a book 'Vulgaria'.  In it, he refers to "We wyll playe with a ball full of wynde".  It is believed that this is the first reference to Football being played at public schools in England.  Around the same time, one Richard Mulcaster, who had been a student at Eton and became a teacher and headmaster at various English schools, was a great advocate of Football.  His writings refer to "sides" and "parties" (teams), "a judge over the parties" (referee), "standings" (positions) and "trayning maister" (coach).  He also says "[s]ome smaller number with such overlooking, sorted into sides and standings, not meeting with their bodies so boisterously to trie their strength: nor shouldring or shuffing one an other so barbarously ... may use footeball for as much good to the body, by the chiefe use of the legges".  It would seem that public schools were attempting to reorganise a previously violent game.

 Henry the Seventh passed a law forbidding the Game of Football in public areas, purely for military reasons.  However, Henry the Eighth was fairly sporty and, in 1526, in a shopping list of the time, ordered footwear for The Great Wardrobe "45 velvet pairs and 1 leather pair for football".  However, it must be noted that there were laws for the privileged and different laws for the common man, because Henry banned the game in 1548.  While banning the common man from sports, Henry was a keen hunter of stags, spending up to 6 hours a day in the saddle.  As an example of Henry's laws, yeoman farmers were allowed only to hunt foxes and the common man only allowed to hunt rabbits!

 The Irish were allowed to play Football and Archery in 1527, but were banned from the sport known as 'Hokie', the forerunner to Hockey, "the hurling of a small ball with sticks or staves".  The "Statute of Galway", of this year, was the first reference to the playing of Football in Ireland.


/affiliate_paperclip_assets/original/667.jpg?1346697570 Henry 8th played the Harp - did he
play football too?

In 1531, The Church expressed concern about playing Football on a Sunday and the brutality of the sport - then controversially, praised the physical benefits.  The preacher Thomas Eliot, in his book "The Governour" discussed the dangers that Football caused (and the benefits of Archery) “foote balle, wherin is nothinge but beastly furie and exstreme violence; wherof procedeth hurte, and consequently rancour and malice do remaine with them that be wounded” - and of Archery (shotyng) " where, in shotyng, if the shooter use the strength of his bowe within his owne tiller, he shal neuer be therwith grieued or made more feble".  Then, in 1534, the same man, in his book 'Castell of Helth' wrote about the benefits of "footeball" as part of what he calls "vehement exercise".  And, in 1572, the Bishop of Rochester demanded that the “evil game” (of Football) was stopped.

 The oldest surviving Football was found behind panelling in The Queen's Chamber of Stirling Castle in 1981.  It dates back to around 1540 and was used in Scotland.  Made from a Pig's Bladder, covered in leather and about 6" (150mm) in diameter, it resembles descriptions of a ball used in the Carlisle Castle game of 1568, watched by Mary Queen of Scots.  Sir Francis  Knollys, described the game at Carlisle Castle, Cumbria "20 of her retinue played at football before her for 2 hours, very strongly, nimbly and skilfully". 

Her 'retinue' were all nobles, who had fought for her at the Battle of Langside, within Glasgow's city boundaries.  She had been on her way towards Dumbarton Castle when she found her way blocked by the Regent's troops and lost over 300 men in the resulting battle.  She stayed at Carlisle Castle before crossing to England and her eventual execution.




Previous Index Next