Tennis in the Tudor Era
Back in the fifteenth century, physical fitness had a distinct purpose: preparing for war, rather than being something people did for fun or companionship.
But during the fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance, a writer called Castiglione wrote a book called the Book of the Courtier in 1527, which celebrated the advantages of exercise for purposes other than keeping battle ready.
He even advocated exercise in terms of social benefit, as an activity to be played with 'gentlemanly finesse, one of the many accomplishments of a courtier".
Another author, a man named Sir Thomas Elyot, wrote about the significance of exercise and recommended sport as a means to 'preserve one's health and increase strength through vigorous motion'.
Elyot highlighted exercise's role in maintaining both physical and mental well-being, asserting that it improved digestion and fortified a person's spirit, making them stronger and more courageous.
A sport considered to be acceptable for courtiers was tennis which was already an age-old game by the sixteenth century. The origins of tennis are not quite clear, with some sources states it was played in France and Spain since the twelfth century.
The term "tennis" may be derived from the French tradition of calling out "tenez" before serving the ball!
The game was adopted in England but for some reason was restricted by royal decree between 1305 and 1388. According to Records show that it resurfaced in the English court during the reigns of Henry V in the early 1400s.
Tennis truly gained popularity in the English court during the reign of Henry VII during the late 1400s. The king's personal interest in the game led him to organize a tennis match at Kenilworth and construct courts at various locations such as Richmond, Wycombe, Woodstock, Windsor, and Westminster within the next fifteen years.
Tennis then went on to become a spectators sport, too, offering ample opportunities to showcase the players skills - and offer the audience the chance to bet on the outcome of the game! Both players and spectators could place bets on the outcome, with the privy expenses (the King's accountant) revealing that even the King was not always successful. Between 1493 and 1499, Henry VII lost a total of £20 - or £14,000 in todays money!
The game itself differed from modern tennis. In the sixteenth century, there were two variations played on different types of courts.
For a young Henry VIII, tennis, along with hunting and archery, formed part of his education.
One of his initial building projects as king was the construction of a new "tenys playe" at Westminster. Over the following two to three decades, he expanded his ownership of courts, constructing tennis plays at Beaulieu, Bridewell, St James's, Greenwich, Calais, Whitehall, and Hampton Court.
The most impressive of Henry's courts were the "great covered courts" built at Hampton Court Palace and Whitehall between 1532 and 1533.
Henry was not the sole enthusiast of tennis among the courtiers. Many noble individuals, including Lords Rochford and Ros, the Dukes of Suffolk and Buckingham, Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon, and Anthony Knyvet, actively played the game.
On the day of Anne Boleyn's arrest, she spent part of the morning observing a tennis match at Whitehall. According to author Alison Weir, "Her champion emerged victorious, and she lamented not placing a wager on him when a gentleman messenger arrived" and summoned her to appear before the Privy Council.
Real tennis, the ancient form of the sport, is still played today in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and France. Fewer than 50 real tennis courts remain worldwide, with only a handful allowing the public to witness a match.
One of these historic courts is located at Hampton Court Palace, where a Royal Tennis Court building from 1626 stands, likely erected on the site of an earlier court.
The court currently hosts a club with over 500 members, and as stated on The Royal Tennis Court's official website, it has been in more or less continuous use since its construction.
The terms "Royal" and "Real" were introduced in the mid-twentieth century to differentiate this ancient form of tennis from the lawn tennis that emerged in the late nineteenth century.