In this article we are going to continue with the early history of billiards picking up from the late 1400s. The early table games of the late 1400s were very similar to the games played on the ground. They were also played with pegs, posts and arches.
The differences were that the maces were smaller in order to accommodate the raised playing surface. Also, rails were attached to the tables to keep the balls in play. There were many variations of the early, which were played mostly by monarchs and noblemen.
These rulers literally dictated the rules that would be played on what was called their "home" table. In the early 1500s the game spread like wild fire, especially in France. By the end of the century you could find billiard tables in taverns, inns and a number of other public places. From France the game eventually spread to other European countries. In each case it would find itself in homes of nobility and in the royal courts.
As the need for tables began to increase at an alarming rate, monarchs would compete with each other to find artisans who could design the most magnificent tables and gaming rooms. Even through the game was mostly played by nobility, the commoners of the lands also had their own tables built or built them on their own. This included farmers, migrants, field hands and just about anybody. The tables themselves were crude by comparison to the nobleman's tables, usually composed of whatever materials they could get their hands on. And even though some of these tables would fall apart in a stiff breeze, the joy that the game gave to these common folk was unequalled by even the wealthiest kings. In the mid 1500s the billiards craze spread to England and believe it or not, at least according to history, one of the greatest fans of the game was Mary, Queen Of Scots, who, unfortunately was executed for her part in the attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I, in 1588.
When she was first placed in jail, she was allowed the use of a billiard table inside her prison cell. Before she was beheaded this privilege was taken away from her and she wrote a letter of complaint to the Archbishop of Glasgow. Even though she was never allowed to play again, one last wish of hers was granted. After she was beheaded her body was wrapped in the cloth from the table that she played on in her prison cell.
It is obvious from the above account that women enjoyed the game of billiards as much as the men. They also played and competed on every level. Legend tells us that these women were so skilled that they, Marie Antoinette for one, on the eve of the French Revolution, regularly pummelled their male opponents.
This has to this day made billiards a popular sport for women as well because the nature of the game, not requiring a lot of physical strength, puts women on an equal playing field with men. In the next article on billiards history we'll pick up with the 1600s. .
By: Michael Russell