Recreation during the Elizabethan Era encompassed spectator/blood sports, team sports, simple games, and individual amusement activities. Queen Elizabeth enjoyed hunting--at age 67 she was occasionally found on horseback loving the "thrill of the chase".


Two sports now considered inhumane were active twice a week in London. These "blood sports" thought by most people today to be too gruesome, cruel and violent, had great appeal for the Elizatethans. Large crowds of both men and women of all classes flocked to see bear baiting or bull baiting , and Elizabeth frequently used it to entertain visiting ambassadors. "The average Elizabethan," writes historian M.St. Clair Byrne, "was not sensitive to the spectacle of physical suffering, either in human beings or in animals." The building shown here on the left was the arena where bear and bull baiting was held.

Bearbaiting involved a bear tied to a stake by a long rope. The animal was put into a pit where four or five large, fierce dogs call mastiff (or in some cases, lions) were let in for the sole purpose of attacking the confined bear. Any dogs that might survive the bear's retaliation were pulled off just before the bear was killed. The dogs would be considered winners if the large animal was killed, but losers if many of them were disabled that the rest refused to attack. Sometimes apes were used instead of bears.




Bullbaiting was much the same as Bearbaiting, except that the bull was let into the pit and "worried to death" - teased or hurt until it died. Cockfighting was another popular blood sport. Roosters were fitted with sharp blades on each foot and put into a pit to fight to the death. Fighting cocks were expensive, so it took a well-to-do man to own these birds, but men of all classes came to see and bet on the fights.




Team sports gained in popularity during Elizabeth's reign. They, too, were rough and violent like the sports involving animals. Common men played football (not an ancestor of American football, despite the similarities) received its name not because the ball was kicked but because all the players went on foot. It was extremely violent as there were few rules. Hurling, a combination of hockey and polo, had some players on foot, others on horseback. The object of the game was to strike a ball (with a stick or a club) so that it went over the opponents' goal. Country hurling might match the entire adult male populations of two villages, and the goals might be three or four miles apart. Soccer was also played, but the government frowned upon it since it was the cause of many riots and bloodshed.




Fencing was one of the most popular of sports. Betting was commonplace as one of the contestants might bet that he could hit his opponent a certain number of times. In addition, much time was spent with the sport of hawking - very popular with gentlemen. Training a hawk or a falcon began with the capturing of a wild bird, then taming it by sealing its eyes with needle and thread, then tying the thread back over the head of the bird so that the trainer could open and close the bird's eyes at will. The temporary blinding made it very easy to train the hawk or falcon to hunt other birds. Bells were attached to the birds legs so that the trainer could keep track of its whereabouts.



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 roll 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.

And if you are bored with these popular amusements, perhaps you might find more interesting things to do. Many Elizabethans occupied their time with various activities.

Of course, the Elizabethan Era being the time of Shakespeare, going to the theatre was always an option. Attending the most well-known, The Globe Theatre was an adventure in itself. Many of Shakespeare's plays (he acted in some of them) were performed at this magnificient theatre.

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