In this article we'll be picking up our history of billiards from 1600 and working our way until 1674. It really wasn't until 1600 that billiards began to be noticed to a great extent. The first writings and references to billiards could be found in the works of Shakespeare such as Antony and Cleopatra. The most popular passage of this reference was when the Egyptian queen suggests to her handmaiden, Charmian, "Let's to Billiards.
" This was from Act II, Scene V. Even though the game was embraced by all European royalty, it was only in France that the game spread to every level of society from the very rich all the way down to the lowest commoner. Outside of France it was purely a game of nobles. It really wasn't until the reigns of French Kings Louis XIII and Louis XIV that the game spread throughout Europe.
The difference between these kings and those that came before them was not just their love for the game of billiards, it was their expectation of others to, not only join them for a game, but also to show a certain level of play. In other words, they loved the competition and they were willing to accept it from wherever it came. These games were not just amusement to these kings. These were games that could make or break political careers, much like politicians of today being seen in public events with people of influence in order to strengthen their chance for election. To play a king and to play well was a show of respect, not only to the king but to the whole country.
Even monarchs when they came to visit were judged by the respect that they showed for the game. Well, this had a kind of snowball effect. Most likely to keep in favor with France, the game of billiards exploded all over Europe.
Skilled players were recruited by royal families in order to teach them and their children everything there was to know about the game. From this, rivalries developed and royal tournaments were played. What started out as a pastime was now turning into a sport. This craze eventually spread to the cities where tables popped up in taverns and inns.
And just like in France, the game spread to every connecting village and town all over Europe. A book by Charles Cotton called the Compleat Gamester, was published in 1674. It contains some of the earliest descriptions of English sports and pastimes. Even though the book is mostly a study of rules and equipment of the game, it does give one a very good idea of just how important this game had become all across the land and also marked the distinction between the classes of the times. The truth is, just as the newest fads of our time dominate magazines and publications, billiards at that time was as popular and important in European society as any game that has come along since anywhere. In the next article in this series we'll be picking up where we left off at 1674.
By: Michael Russell