Throughout the ages children have played games, with toys and with each other. Play is critical to the healthy growth and development of children as it helps them learn to solve problems, to get along with others and to develop fine and gross motor skills. It also allows them to interact with the world around them and often reflects incidents relevant to the time period.
Some games played during the medieval period remain almost unchanged today, such as Tag or Tip, Hide and Seek and See Saw, whilst others have developed over time, modernised and modified. The following are just a few of the many games played by children in the past;
Ring Around the Rosie
The words to ‘Ring Around the Rosy’ have their origin in English history. The rhyme dates back to the Great Plague of London of 1665 but it has also been suggested that it may have originated during the bubonic plague of the medieval period. The symptoms of the plague included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin (ring around the rosy). Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs (or posies) which were carried as it was believed that the disease was transmitted by bad smells. The term ‘ashes, ashes’ refers to the cremation of the dead bodies. The English version of ‘Ring Around the Rosy’ replaces ‘ashes’ with ‘A-tishoo, A-tishoo’ as violent sneezing was another symptom of the disease. Players hold hands in the shape of a circle and sing or chant;
Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
We all fall down!
Nine Men’s Morris
The game Nine Men’s Morris is known to have been popular in medieval England and France and probably shares a common origin with ancient versions of tic-tac-toe. The term Morris evolves from the Latin merellus, meaning ‘token, coin, or counter’. Opponents play with nine counters of a distinctive colour or marking. The object of play is to capture the opponent’s army of nine tokens before he or she captures yours or to deny the opponent’s ability to make a move.
Jeu de Dames
Jeu de dames, the medieval form of draughts or checkers is believed to derive from the game Alquerque which included the method of jumping/capturing pieces or tokens as the main objective to winning. Je de Dames was first mentioned in the late 14th century by the English poet Sir Ferumbras, who was an avid player.
Fox and Geese (Halatafl)
The game Halatafl is known to have been played from at least as early as the 14th century. In the English-speaking world the game was known as Fox and Geese. In this version the objective was to capture each other’s pieces. It is not mandatory for the fox to capture the opponent’s pieces, and there are no restraints on the defender’s (the geese’s) movements.
Knucklebones is usually played with five small objects. Originally the “knucklebones” (the astragalus: a bone in the ankle or hock) were those of a sheep, which were thrown up and caught in various manners. Modern Knucklebones consist of six points, or knobs, proceeding from a common base, and are usually made of metal or plastic. The winner is the first player to successfully complete a prescribed series of throws, which, though similar, differ widely in detail. The simplest throw consists in tossing up one stone, the jack, and picking up one or more from the table while it is in the air. This continues until all five stones have been picked up. Another throw consists in tossing up first one stone, then two, then three and so on, and catching them on the back of the hand. Different throws have received distinctive names, such as ‘riding the elephant,’ ‘peas in the pod,’ and ‘horses in the stable.’
Then, as today, children loved to rough and tumble and act out the roles of the adults about them – knight, soldier, lady of the court, but one thing was certain, their childhood years were fraught with danger, with one in four failing to celebrate their 12th birthday, falling foul of disease or death by misadventure.
In Book Two – THE ORDER OF THE LILY Gillet de Bellegarde has some fun at Broughton with the local children, playing the games of ‘Hoodman’s Blind, ‘Fallen Bridge’ and ‘Jingling’ :-
Cécile settled herself beneath the shade of a tree and watched as Gillet and Bertram were nominated to entertain the children. They donned their hoods backwards for ‘Hoodman’s Blind,’ and riotous squeals filled the air as Gillet and Bertram tried to catch their undersized quarry. When ‘Fallen Bridge’ had been exhausted, they took up ‘Jingling.’ Gillet placed the tiny bells around his wrists and ankles, as Bertram and Lady Matilda bound the children’s eyes with strips of cloth. The bells sounded Gillet’s every move as he tried to avoid capture. With the cunning of an adult, he threw a bracelet to Bertram, and together they confused the children as the tinkling came from more than one direction. When an assertive lad peeked from beneath his binding and discovered their antics, the men were besieged and forced to the ground. Gillet and Bertram were bested, and bellowed helplessly as an army of sticky hands tickled them.