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Entry from the Faiths & Folklore, A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated. by W. Carew Hazleitt; Vol II, London: Reeves andTurner;1905; pp. 584-586.



TENNIS. — An evolution from handball or jeu de paume. See an interesting paper by Mr. Andrew Hibbert in the Antiquary. In the Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VII. 1493-1505, there are several entries relating to tennis: —

“May 13, 1494. To a Spanyard the tenes pleyer, £ 4.

  July 6. — To Hugh Denes for balls at the paume play, 1/-.

  March 29, 1495. For the Kinges losse at the paune [paume] play, 7/8.

  July 5, 1496. To the new pleyer at tenes. £4.

  August 30, 1497. To Jake Haute [Jacques Haut] for the tenes playe, £10.”


Our next King, his son, was fond of this sport, and charges appear in his privy expenses for tennis-coats, tennis-drawers and tennis-slippers. Referring to him in 1519, the Venetian ambassador, who knew him intimately, says in his Report to the Senate, that he was extremely fond of tennis, at which game it is the prettiest thing to see him play, his fair skin glowing through a shirt of the finest texture. His elder brother Arthur had also been partial to the same sport, and the shirt, which he wore was made of long lawn embroidered with blue silk round the collar and wrists.

In James the First’s Basilikon Doron, 1599, he recommends this sport, which he calls the caitch or tennise as a suitable one for his son Henry, and as the latter was at this time only about six years of age, it is easy to understand what he means by advising him to use it and other field sports moderately, “not making a craft of them.”

His son Charles, when Prince, is said to have been addicted to the same amusement, as well as to bowls (as elsewhere mentioned), and to have occasionally played for a watch of Edward Eastās make, popularly known as an Edwardus East. Hazlitt’s Livery Companies, 1892, p. 425.

Pepys mentions a visit to the tennis-court in September, 1667, to see a match between Prince Rupert and one Captain Cooke against Bab May and the elder Chichley, where the King was and Court; and “it seems,” says he, “they are the best players at tennis in the nation.”

In the Patterne of Painfull Adventures by Lawrence Twyne (1576), King Altistrates of Pentapolis is represented playing at tennis, and Prince Apollonius is said to serve him skilfully with the ball. In 1620, Middleton published his Courtly Masque; the Device called the World tost at Tennis.

Day, in the Parliament of Bees, 1641, character 7, has the following passage:

Par. Suppose all kingdomes in the world were bals,
And thou stood’st with a racket ’twixt foure walls,
To tosse ad placitum: how wouldst thou play?

Acol. Why, as with bals, bandy ’em all away:
They gone, play twice as many of the score.

In Howlet’s School of Recreation, 1684, occurs a copy of verses entitled “The Tennis Court.”

The game of hand-tennis, or fives, was a favourite recreation of Hazlitt the essayist and critic; and he has left an entertaining paper upon it, and upon the great expert of that day, Cavanagh.

In the 18th century, Copenhagen House, Islington, was a famous resort of fives-players, while it was kept by Mr. and Mrs. Tomes. Mrs. Tomes claimed to have made the first fives-ball ever thrown up against Copenhagen House; this was in 1779. It was a sport, with which the landlady, a Shropshire woman, had been familiar in her own county. Clubs and Club Life in London, by J. Timbs, 1872, p. 462.

An Italian resident in London in 1669 (Antiquary, August, 1884), says: — Before the fire there were six different tennis courts, all built in the French fashion. Now there are only four, two having been burnt. The finest is that belonging to the king, just opposite the palace, with which there is communication by a gallery over an arch. The king has a bedroom there to change his clothes in, the window of which, guarded by an iron grating, looks upon the game. They generally play there three times a week, in the morning, in vests suited to the purpose.

In James Street, Haymarket, there existed till 1866 the ancient Tennis Court, which is mentioned by writers of the period of the Restoration, and which had an inscription on the side looking to the street, commemorative of its origin and antiquity.

Lawn-tennis has become a fashionable and popular variety, in which a court, chalked out on a plot of turf, 78 feet by 36 feet, with inner courts, alleys, and a net, does duty for the original one with its four enclosing walls, where rackets, fives, and handball were formerly played. Comp. Troco.

We hear casually of this pastime as being in vogue in France in 1315, in which year Louis X., having played at it in the Bois de Vincennes, caught a chill, which is supposed to have been the cause of his death. According to a received tradition, on which a ballad was founded, the invasion of France by Henry V. of England was provoked by the transmission of a load of tennis-balls in lieu of the tribute demanded.

In 1572 Charles IX. of France divided his time during the massacre of St. Bartholomew between playing at tennis and firing from the palace windows at the Huguenots.

There is an incidental allusion to the game, as played in France in the 16th and 17th centuries in one of the Vaux de Vire of Jean le Houx, where he is describing a drinking bout under the similitude of a set at tennis; and it seems that in the time of Le Houx, who died in 1616, fifteen and a bisque amounted to a sort of double 585 odds. Vaux de Vire, edit. Muirhead, pp. ix. and 189.

In Italy it was equally in vogue in the fifteenth century. We learn that Ludovico Il Moro, Duke of Milan, was passionately addicted to it, and during his last days in confinement at Loches in Touraine he beguiled his time, when his treatment had been made less rigorous, between tennis and cards. Hazlitt’s Venetian Republic, 1900, ii, 138.

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