What to do with all that grass ~ Lawn Games in Regency England

Kristi here. The vast lawns of many English country estates lent themselves well to a variety of games. This is a very good thing, as I’m sure many a guest was thankful for the room to move in the outdoors during a crowded country house party.

Battledore and Shuttlecock

One such game that was popular during Regency England was Battledore and Shuttlecock. A combination of modern day badminton and hacky-sack, two or more players would attempt to keep the feathered shuttlecock in the air by hitting it with small rackets, called battledores.

Three young girls play Battledore and Shuttlecock
Three young girls play Battledore and Shuttlecock, via Wikimedia Commons

As near as anyone can tell, this game originated in Greece around 1BC. Although it appears to have initially spread east from there so he likely never played it, the fact that people played this game while Jesus walked the earth is a little mind-boggling.

The game remained largely unchanged until the mid-1800s when the English added a net to the game and it became badminton.

It isn’t surprising, really, that such a simple game remained popular for so long, when you consider people’s natural tendency to play “keep it up” with just about anything. The hack-sack craze in the 1990s, a beach ball in a stadium full of people, or a balloon in the midst of more than one toddler. We love to see how long we can defy gravity.

Bowls

Similar to modern day Bocce, Bowls, or lawn bowling, is not nearly as old at Battledore and Shuttlecock, but it was certainly not new to the Regency game player. Definitively traced back to the 13th century, Bowls was played with a series of balls, specially formed with a bias so they would roll on a curve.

men playing bowls 1945
This picture of men playing bowls in 1945 will give you an idea of how the game looked. Picture via wikimedia commons

In simple terms, Bowls is played by seeing who can get their ball the closest to the “jack” a smaller white ball thrown out at the beginning of the game as a target. This game could be played alone or in teams, making it ideal for either a leisurely family afternoon or a house party event.

The game became so popular, that Henry VIII feared the practice of archery – then a crucial element of battle –  would suffer. He made it illegal for all but the wealthy to partake of the game, leaving those who made bows, arrows, and arrowheads plenty of time to work on their craft. Even the well-to-do were limited, with the rule that they could only play on their own lands and must pay a fee of 100 pounds to maintain their own bowling green.

This ban was lifted shortly after the Regency ended and today it remains one of the main lawn games played in English-cultured nations around the world.

Did you play lawn games growing up? What is your favorite? What

Deal Me In ~ Taking a Seat at a Regency Card Table

Kristi here.

No matter the job or social class, people have always found ways to entertain themselves and have fun. Some people have more time to pursue these endeavors than others, but everyone must find the time to enjoy themselves or suffer potential emotional burnout.

It was no different in 19th century England. One pastime that crossed all class and social lines was cards. Men and women, elite and servant, shopkeeper and soldier – all were known to deal in a hand from time to time.

Peasants playing cards on a barrel
Norbert van Bloemen , wikimedia commons

Most of the games involved an element of gambling, using poker chip-like markers to place and collect bets. These were called fish, though by this time they didn’t always look like fish. (You can see pictures and learn more about gaming fish here.)

Were you to sit down at a table with your favorite Regency heroine, the cards would be similar enough to modern decks that you would have little trouble figuring out what was in your hand. You would have to do a bit more counting though, as the corner indexes didn’t appear until later in the 19th century. During the Regency cards simply had the needed number of emblems, requiring frequent counting to ensure the card’s number.

Venetian deck of cards
Venetian playing cards (from Wikimedia commons).In the suit of Coins. English decks contained the four modern day suits.

You might even recognize one or two of the games being played at the Regency card table.

Vingt-et-un is still played in every casino around the country, though in America it is commonly referred to as Twenty-one or Blackjack.

Cribbage was well established by this time. Rules have shifted and adjusted over the years, but the game was largely the same, including the peg board.

Whist is a game found frequently in Regency-based novels. A precursor to today’s game of Bridge, Whist is played by two pairs of partners and was more of a gentleman’s game, though the ladies were known to play it as well.

Two well-heeled ladies play a game of cards
via Wikimedia Commons

Cards were such a ubiquitous enjoyment that parties and social gatherings were formed around the versatile game apparatus. When many people wished to play together, they played “round” games. These could, theoretically, be played by any number of people, so were excellent for parties and generally allowed for more camaraderie among the participants than the more serious and structured games, such as Whist.

Many of the “round” games seemed to derive from the French game Loo. Players had to pay into the pool in order to participate. Everyone would then be dealt a hand of cards (either three or five cards each, depending on the version.) Each person that won a trick would get a proportionate share of the pool.

Cards during the early 19th century did not yet bear the intricate patterned backs we are used to today, instead they were plain white, lending themselves to card marking and cheating, even inadvertently, with slight smudges and markings.

The wealthy would provide packs of brand new, government sealed playing cards when they had guests over. The less affluent made do with the cleanest deck they had available.

While today’s card backs bear everything from red and blue swirls to pictures of sports teams or even our own families, one thing remains the same. Even the barest of game cabinets is likely to contain a deck of cards.

So break open a pack and take yourself back to Regency England. Don’t worry if you don’t have anyone to play with. Deal out a regular game of solitaire and tell yourself you’re playing Patience.