Billiards Early History

In this series of articles we're going to present a history of billiards. In this article we'll cover the years 1100 through 1470. There are almost as many theories as to the origin of billiards as there are billiard players in the world, therefore you have to take what you will be reading in these articles with a grain of salt, at least as far as early history is concerned. Most historians can trace the origin of billiards back to the 1100s.

During this period pictures resembling the game that we now know began to surface, which is not to say that other variations of the game didn't exist even earlier. During this time life in Europe was pretty crazy with the crusades, not to say dangerous. However, this was a period that brought many people together, especially wealthy people from England.

The Knights Templars were among these very wealthy people and it is believed that they helped bring the game from France, where supposedly it originated, back to England with them. This was believed to be around 1164. But it really wasn't until the 1300s that the game began to catch fire.

During this time it was believed that the Knights had become too rich and powerful and they were basically done away with. This was around 1314. During this period, recreation was strongly regulated.

Only approved activities were allowed. Billiards just happened to be one of those activities. But in 1369 these approved "games" were also seen as too dangerous and eventually the playing of them was limited to just one day a year.

By 1441 all games were considered to be the cause of all hatred and malice in the world and anyone who continued playing them would be excommunicated. But this didn't stop the people as they just moved the games to outside of the cities, to hard to find places and played in secret. Early billiards was actually closer to golf or croquet and there were a number of variations on the game.

The object was to shoot or propel the ball to a predetermined destination. The equipment was simple. A ball and a stick. The destinations for the ball to be shot to were designated posts, pegs, cones and arches.

These objects either had to be knocked down or passed through. It wasn't until the 1400s, in 1470, that the first billiard table was discovered. It was found among the possessions of King Louis XI of France.

This actually is more significant than just the fact that the table was found. It also shows the changing morals regarding the playing of these games. With the king's approval of these games, it also ended a long period of religious persecution. The church decrees slowly vanished and nobility and even the clergy began to participate in these games.

In the next article in this series we'll continue with the late 1400s and discuss how the popularity of the game began to really take off, especially in France. .

By: Michael Russell


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