Early Croquet History, 1066-1400 AD
Croquet was invented shortly after 1066 for entertainment in the Royal Court. The word croquet is taken from the french at the time (the equivalent to Old English – Vieux Francais) meaning conquer, and was also applied to William the Conquerer, as William le Croquet In the same way that the Bayeux tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings, croquet is essentially a game recreating the scene. The balls represent the various divisions within William’s army advancing in turn through the ranks of Harold’s defenders, the hoops (something for which the French had a lot of balls in doing). All the attackers are trying to be the first to put ‘one in the eye’ of Harold by hitting the peg. The development of croquet was so rapid that is was even included in the tapestry.
The invasion of Ireland by Henry II (a great lover of the game) in 1171, saw croquet travelling over seas to Ireland, allowing further development of the rules. The rules were never formally written at this early stage, meaning several regional variations developed in England, Wales and Ireland. Very little play occurred in Scotland, although the game spread there in 1174, after another victory by Henry II. The current form of croquet is thus derived from the best of these sets of rules, as that version became more widely played.
By 1200 the sport had developed to be very popular among the high society in England, whilst peasants emulated the game with whatever they could spare, using stones for balls etc. At this time the University of Oxford was beginning to form as a collection of colleges. Croquet was a very popular pasttime among Dons at this time, and the name of Balliol (Ball In ‘Ol) college is even derived from the fascination with the game. ‘Ol being the term that was used to refer to the hoops, or ‘holes’.
Communication between Oxford and the University of Paris meant the game travelled back to France, becoming known as paille maille (ball-mallet). With the foundation of Cambridge the first varsity match was played in 1231, making it the oldest varsity sport. Sadly due to the sports decline in 1350’s, Cricket is widely regarded as having the oldest varsity match.
In 1337 the hundred year war began, as a result of a dispute over rules between Edward III and Philip VI, however the real reason behind the war was soon lost in the bickering about who owned Normandy. The black death in the 1350’s, saw a massive decline in croquet being played to the extent that it was all but wiped out in England. The fear of public meeting to play the sport was too great. Those most keen on the game, who continued to play, all succumbed to the disease. However the game paille maille survived in France, leading to the belief that the game was invented there.
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