hist-games: Freq. Asked Questions -- Part II

David KUIJT kuijt at umiacs.umd.edu
Mon Oct 20 10:07:55 PDT 1997



On Mon, 20 Oct 1997, Jeff Singman wrote:

> > 	2) Bowling (nine-pins)

> As far as I can tell, nine-pins seems to be a 16c development (at least,
> the earliest documentation appears to be 16c); it is a hybrid of 2
> medieval games: the pins come from Kayles (essentially nine-pins with a
> throwing-stick instead of a ball); the ball probably from Bowls (as in
> modern Lawn-Bowling).

I did some research into medieval and renaissance bowling games several
years back.  With the caveat that I haven't got the results in front of
me, and it is a while since I did the research, I think you may have
overstated things a bit, Jeff.

[Nomenclature: I'm using "ball/pin" to refer to games where a ball is
rolled in an attempt to knock over pins; "stick/pin" to refer to games
where a stick is thrown in an attempt to knock over pins; and later
"ball/ball" to refer to games like modern Bocce where the target is a
single smaller ball.]

There are certainly illustrations in 16c woodcuts of bowling against nine
pins.  But throwing sticks against pins seems to be a parallel game to
throwing balls against pins.  In particular, I believe Strutt (Games and
Pastimes in Medieval England) reproduces illustrations of ball/pin games
and stick/pin games from before 16c (by my memory of the clothing, I would
guess 12c-13c).  Strutt is a poor source, but I've seen ball/pin games in
(I think) the Luttrell Psalter (1340s) and elsewhere.  Also, I believe
that one of the games in the background of Brueghel's Children's Games
painting (mid 16c) shows stick/pin games.

As another note, ball/ball games (throwing balls at a smaller ball as
target) also seem to be a parallel and related family.  Also, many bowling
games (ball/pin and ball/ball) were played with `biased' bowls (to use
Cotton's terminology) -- balls like those used for modern English
lawn-bowling that are not spherical, and so travel in curved arcs.
Some ball/pin games had a differentiated pin (one marked to be special),
called a "king" pin.  You can see this clearly in some illustrations (I'll
attempt to find references later).

Back to the original question, my impression is that ball/ball games,
ball/pin games, and stick/pin games are all parallel (although likely
related) families of games that go back at least through the 12th century. 
I have no information about how far back they go beyond that. 

As for the exact origin of ball vs 9 pins in particular, I'd have to go
back and look at my data.

Regards,

David Kuijt/Dafydd ap Gwystl


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