bottom | contents | home
From Lads to Lord's
Preface | The History of Cricket: 1601 – 1700 | Index
The History of Cricket: 1300 – 1600
1300 | 1337 | 1477 | 1478 | 1492 | 1523 | 1533 | 1550 | 1588 | 1597 | 1598 | 1600
In the opening paragraph of his Phoenix History of Cricket, Roy Webber says:
"The origins of the game have been lost in the mists of time and it is unlikely that we shall ever know much more about early cricket than we do today. Several cricket lovers have spent years in libraries all over the country in an attempt to collect more data, but their work is restricted to the amount of matter available for research. And this is the real core of the problem: few newspapers of the seventeenth century are available and in those which exist little space is devoted to cricket. Apart from a few items, therefore, we are completely in the dark over the early years of cricket history, and can only deduce the story (my italics) of the spread of cricket from the sparse evidence available".
Webber wrote that in 1960 which, hard to believe, is now fifty years ago. Yet he could have written it yesterday for, apart from a few small finds here and a number of corrections there, we do indeed know little more today than he did in 1960. Now, as then, more than 95% of what we know about cricket before the nineteenth century is to be found in the works of Altham, Ashley-Cooper, Britcher, Buckley, Haygarth, Nyren, Pycroft, Waghorn and a few others. There have been some good contributors since Webber's day but the best we can get from them is a new angle, another approach or a fresh theory. The original research has been done, although there is a handful of optimists who insist on persevering, and all that is left is to "deduce the story" by analysing "the sparse evidence available". Although I have revisited some of the primary sources listed by Buckley in his Fresh Lights, hoping to spot something he might have missed or extracted incorrectly, he was not Waghorn and what you see is what you've got. Time is money, and is not to be wasted, so I abandoned research and concentrated on analysis, which is my profession.
The earliest definite reference to cricket occurs in 1598 and makes clear that the sport was being played by children c.1550, but its true origin is a mystery. All that can be said with a fair degree of optimism is that its beginning was earlier than 1550, somewhere in south-east England within the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey, most probably in the region known as the Weald. The sparse information available about cricket's early years suggests that it was originally a children's game. Then, at the beginning of the 17th century, it was taken up by working men.
Thu 10 March (Julian). Wardrobe accounts of King Edward I (aka Edward Longshanks) include a reference to a game called "creag" being played at the town of Newenden in Kent by Prince Edward (the future Prince of Wales), then aged 15 (see HSA, p.20).
King Edward II.
Here depicted in Cassell's History of England (c.1902), Edward II played "creag" as a boy.
Although the word "creag" is probably a variation of "craic", a Gaelic word which was part of Middle English and means "fun and games in general", it has been suggested that creag was an early form of cricket. There is no evidence to support this view and "creag" could have been something quite different as per craic, but it does at least seem a likely suspect, especially when the location is considered.
The most widely accepted theory on the origin of cricket is that it developed among the farming and metalworking communities of the Weald, which spreads across Kent and Sussex. It is significant that these counties and neighbouring Surrey were the earliest centres of excellence and that it was from here that the game eventually reached London, where it achieved mass popularity, and Hampshire, where it achieved both fame and legend. However, there is an alternative view that the sport originated in Flanders and was brought to southern England by immigrant weavers.
It is quite likely that cricket was devised by children and survived for many generations as essentially a children’s game. Possibly it was derived from bowls, assuming bowls is the older sport, by the intervention of a batsman trying to stop the ball reaching its target by hitting it away. Playing on sheep-grazed land or in clearings, the original implements may have been a matted lump of sheep’s wool (or even a stone or a small lump of wood) as the ball; a stick or a crook or another farm tool as the bat; and a stool or a tree stump or a gate (e.g., a wicket gate) as the wicket. The invention of the game could have happened in Norman or Plantagenet times anytime before 1300; or even in Saxon times before 1066.
I remember reading somewhere an idea about the development of the game’s name which suggests that "creag" evolved into "creag-a-wicket" and then into the rhyming "cricket-a-wicket" (see 1598 re Florio), but this must have been much later and is in any case speculation. It seems more likely that the sport's name derived from words that were in use, probably imported, after the Norman Conquest in 1066. In old French, the word "criquet" seems to have meant a kind of club or stick; and it might have given its name to croquet. Some believe that cricket and croquet have a common origin but there is no evidence to substantiate that view. There were strong Flemish connections with early cricket, as will be explained, and in Middle Dutch, the language of medieval Flanders, "krick(e)" meant a stick; in Olde English, "cricc" or "cryce" meant a crutch or staff.
If cricket in the form of creag or some other bat and ball game was around in 1300, it would be as well to think about the sort of society England was at the time. Feudal, medieval, agricultural and cottage industry, to be sure; but also the most aggressive and expansionist nation in Europe.
Known as Longshanks because he was very tall, the ruthless and tyrannical King Edward I (1239 – 1307) succeeded his father Henry III in 1272. In the first dozen years of his reign, Longshanks sought the subjugation of Wales, which was then an independent land. Having killed the Welsh leaders and overrun the country, Longshanks had achieved his aim by 1284, when his Statute of Wales declared the annexation of the country by England. The first English Prince of Wales was Longshanks' son, the creag player who became Edward II. The many castles of North Wales such as Beaumaris, Caernarvon, Conway, Harlech, etc. were built by Longshanks as centres of power.
Eleanor of Castile.
Here depicted in Cassell's History of England (c.1902), Eleanor of Castile was the devoted wife of "Longshanks" and the mother of creag player Edward II.
One of the few redeeming features that Longshanks had was his devotion to his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile. She died in 1290 at Nottingham and the famous Eleanor Crosses were erected at nine places along her funeral route to Westminster Abbey. Three still stand at Northampton, Geddington and Waltham Cross. The one at Charing Cross is a replica.
Longshanks turned his attention from Wales to Scotland. He began by intrigue and this was soon followed by open aggression designed to subjugate Scotland to English rule. He is remembered for his Model Parliament which was enacted in 1295 and was significant for including two knights and two burgesses from each shire as well as the clergy and nobility. It passed no legislation, having been summoned by Longshanks to raise revenue for his military campaigns in Scotland. Longshanks completed his conquest of Scotland in 1296 when he defeated his former vassal John de Balliol, who had turned against him with French support, at the Battle of Dunbar. In a symbolic gesture, Longshanks seized the ancient Stone of Destiny from Scone Palace and took it to Westminster Abbey. It has only recently been returned to Scotland. Scotland was placed under military occupation. For most of the next ten years, William Wallace carried on his brave and finally vain fight against Longshanks but paid a terrible price for it when he was barbarously executed in 1305. In 1306, Robert Bruce began his fight against Longshanks. He was unsuccessful while Longshanks still lived and his eventual victory came against the inept Edward II.
Longshanks died at Carlisle in 1307, still campaigning, for he was on his way north to lead another expedition against Bruce’s rebels. He is buried alongside his beloved Eleanor at Westminster with the inscription Scotorum Malleus (Hammer of the Scots) on his tomb. Rarely has there been an English ruler to match the ambition of Longshanks, a coldly efficient man noted for sheer ruthlessness, naked aggression and an insatiable lust for absolute power.
And yet, it may have been in his lifetime that cricket was born. He may even have played it himself......
There is little doubt that the long-term policy of Longshanks was to unite all of Great Britain under English rule and then to expand into Europe. His grandson Edward III (1312 – 1377) resurrected the cause in 1337 by claiming the throne of France. This began a long series of conflicts that is collectively known as the Hundred Years War, which did not end until the English were finally expelled from most of France (i.e., except Calais) in 1453.
Certain references have been found which some writers have interpreted as a "French Connection" in the origins of cricket, but they have missed a key historical point. As the Hundred Years War progressed, large parts of France including great cities like Paris and Bordeaux were subject to long-term English occupation. Paris, when François Villon was born there in 1431, was described as "an English town". Calais remained an English possession until 1558, a whole century after the end of the Hundred Years War. So there may well be cricket references in France but they do not indicate a movement of the sport from France to England; they indicate that English soldiers and settlers brought their culture with them across the Channel during the long period of occupation.
Cricket is the quintessential English game that has followed the English everywhere. If the English had colonised Mars, the Martians would now be members of the ICC!
A statute of King Edward IV (1442 – 1483) banned certain games, including one called "handyn and handoute", on the grounds that they distracted his subjects from their compulsory practice of archery. There is no evidence to suggest that "handyn and handoute" was a form of cricket, as proposed by James Pycroft in The Cricket Field (1851).
Charles the Bold.
Duke of Burgundy when its territory included Flanders and the great Flemish cities of Antwerp, Brugge and Ghent enjoyed extensive trade with south-east England.
Edward IV was another warlike king from the Longshanks mould. He was ostensibly the son of Richard Plantegenet, the Duke of York who started the so-called Wars of the Roses against Henry VI. After his father was killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, Edward assumed command of the Yorkist forces and secured the throne for himself by winning the appalling carnage at Towton in 1461. But it is widely believed that he was the bastard son of a Norman archer who had an affair with the Duchess of York while she was living at Rouen in the 1440s!
England was itself peaceful in 1477 and Big Edward (like Longshanks, he was very tall) was probably more concerned with foreign policy at the time. This was the year in which Charles the Bold, the militant Duke of Burgundy, was killed at the siege of Nancy by Swiss mercenary forces working for his mortal enemy, King Louis XI of France. Burgundy is now a province of France that is famous for its wine but, in medieval times, it was a powerful state in its own right that held territory including modern Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands as well as much of north east France. It owed its wealth to trade, especially in the great cities of Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent and Amsterdam which were the main centres of European commerce at the time.
The death of Charles the Bold enabled Louis XI, the notorious "Universal Spider" and the man who invented Cold War, to redraw the map of Europe. Charles was succeeded by his daughter Marie (1457 – 1482) as Duchess of Burgundy and she married the Austrian Habsburg archduke Maximilian (1459 – 1519) who later (in 1493) became Holy Roman Emperor. Louis XI took advantage of the confused situation following Charles’ death to seize Burgundy itself and its territory in Artois and Picardy. A revolt in the Netherlands was suppressed by Maximilian. The remaining Burgundian lands in Franche-Comte, Luxembourg, Flanders, Belgium and the Dutch Netherlands became Habsburg territory.
The suppression of Flanders and the Netherlands under the dead hand of Habsburg autocracy caused many Flemish and Dutch traders to migrate to England, where they seem to have had an impact on the development of cricket. Unfortunately for the development of the game in their own lands, it is reasonable to assume that it could not thrive under Habsburg rule.
The "New World" was discovered by a Spanish naval expedition under Columbus which reached the Caribbean Sea and found the Bahamas; and hence the West Indies. Despite the honours that have been heaped on Columbus in the naming of cities and even states, he was responsible for the introduction of slavery into the Caribbean; he precipitated the "El Dorado" gold lust of the Conquistadors through his own personal greed; he ordered the first wholesale massacres of Amerindians. He was acting, he claimed, in the name of Christianity.
The New World would have been discovered eventually. It is a pity it could not have been discovered by someone like Captain Cook in a later time when rational thought had overtaken ignorance.
Reference to stoolball found re a designated field in Oxfordshire (see Bowen, p.261). Stoolball was sometimes a generic term for any game in which a ball is somehow hit, although it still exists today as a game in its own right. 18th century references (see McCann, paragraphs 98, 361 and 377) to stoolball in conjunction with cricket clearly indicate that it was a separate activity. The modern sports of baseball and rounders are almost certainly derived from stoolball.
England in 1523 was ruled by King Henry VIII, who had two years earlier been granted the title of Defender of the Faith by the Pope for stating his opposition to Luther’s Reformation (which began in 1517 with the publication of his 95 Theses). As with anything else concerning Henry VIII, that policy lasted as long as it suited him and it was only another few years via divorce, excommunication and dissolution of the monasteries before he was extending a warm welcome to Protestantism. Naturally, he continued to call himself the Defender of the Faith!
On a global theme, the first circumnavigation was completed the previous year when the survivors of Magellan’s expedition made it back to Portugal.
A poem called The Image of Ipocrisie, attributed to John Skelton (c.1460-1529), was apparently published in 1533 and it contains a few lines that could be a reference to early cricket being played by Flemish weavers in southern England. It is an interesting and possibly significant find but really it adds little to the existing theory (see 1597) that there was a Flemish involvement in the sport's development and particularly in the origin of its name.
Evidence in a 1597 court case confirms that "creckett" was played by schoolboys on a certain plot of land in Guildford around 1550. This is the earliest definite reference to cricket being played in Surrey (and indeed, anywhere).
Henry VIII had died in 1547, only two years after the Mary Rose sank in the Solent, and had been succeeded by his son Edward VI, who was still a boy. He died young in 1553 and the episode of Lady Jane Grey took place before Henry’s eldest daughter Mary I (known as "Bloody Mary") succeeded. Her reactionary rule was ended by cancer in 1558 and she was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603).
Using the execution of Mary I Queen of Scots as a pretext, the militant King Philip II of Spain launched his Armada against Elizabethan England. The Armada was famously defeated by a combination of the English weather and the English fleet, the latter commanded by Hawkins, Howard and Drake.
Everyone knows the legend of Sir Francis Drake finishing his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe as the Armada hove into view. Was he playing bowls or was he perhaps bowling? We shall never know.
John Derrick (born c.1538, probably at Guildford, Surrey; date of death unknown) was a Queen's Coroner for the county of Surrey who, in 1597, made a legal deposition that contains the earliest definite reference to cricket being played anywhere in the world. The case concerned a dispute over a school's ownership of the plot of land in question. The school (pictured) was the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, which was founded in 1509.
Derrick's deposition is preserved in the "Constitution Book" of Guildford. On Monday, 17 January 1597 (Julian date), he bore written testimony as to a parcel of land in the parish of Holy Trinity in Guildford which, originally waste, had been appropriated and enclosed by one John Parvish to serve as a timber yard. This land, said Derrick, he had known for fifty years past and, when
"a scholler of the Ffree Schoole of Guildeford, hee and diverse of his fellowes did runne and play there at creckett and other plaies".
John Derrick was then aged 59 and his testimony confirms that cricket was being played by children in Surrey c.1550 and it is perhaps significant that cricket is the only one of the "plaies" referred to by name (see Altham, p. 21.).
Monday 17 January 1597 (a Julian date which is 1598 in the Gregorian calendar). The court case in Guildford concerned a dispute over a school’s ownership of the plot of land in question. A 59-year old coroner, John Derrick, testified that he and his school friends had played creckett on the site fifty years earlier. This is generally considered to be the first definite mention of cricket in the English language. The school was the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, and Mr Derrick’s account proves beyond reasonable doubt that the game was being played c.1550 and, perhaps significantly, that it was played by children.
This is the first definite mention of the sport and it proves conclusively that cricket did exist in about 1550. Although some of the speculation about an earlier origin is probably plausible, it should be noted that there are many people who insist the game was invented by the Guildford children because there is no proof whatsoever that it existed before they started playing it. Whatever may have gone unrecorded before 1597, we now have a historical startpoint.
An interesting aside here is that John Eddowes in his The Language of Cricket (1997) points out that Mr Derrick’s surname was derived from the Flemish name Hendrik. In David Terry's account, he mentions that Heiner Gillmeister of Bonn University, a European language expert, derived "cricket" from the Middle Dutch met de (krik ket)sen, which may indicate a possible Flemish connection in the game’s origin, but it is more likely that the terminology of cricket was based on words in use in south east England at the time and, given trade connections with Flanders, especially in the 15th century when it belonged to the Duchy of Burgundy, many Middle Dutch words will have found their way into southern English dialect. Equally, it cannot be surprising if Mr Derrick did have Flemish or Burgundian antecedents as there was a considerable influx of Protestant Flemings into south-east England to escape the religious persecutions of the 16th century.
John Ogilby’s Britannia (1695) includes road maps of his time and the known areas in which cricket was popular can broadly be described as Sevenoaks and Maidstone in Kent, the Guildford area in Surrey, and Chichester in Sussex. Ogilby’s road maps show that these places formed a distinctive pattern (see The 17th century Game of Cricket: A Reconstruction of the Game by David Terry). They are located around the perimeter of the Weald and represent 17th century trade routes. The game can be traced along the road from London to Rye in Kent with a spur off to Maidstone; the Guildford to Chichester road; and along the river Wey from Farnham to Weybridge. There are several hills named Cricket Hill along the route of the river Wey. While "Cricket Hill" could be interpreted as "crooked hill", it is unusual to find a cluster of four hills so named in such a small area. The one at Weybridge is recorded in the late 16th century in local manorial court records, while others are in the parishes of Bramley, Send and Seale, which are all places where early cricket was played, as given by JEB Gover, A Mawer and FM Stenton in The Place Names of Surrey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934).
The Flemings were active in the cloth trade in all the areas where cricket was played during the 17th century. Some Flemings had been in Kent from as early as 1328 and it is known they were well established in the south east by the end of the 15th century, as they largely controlled the cloth trade. The religious disturbances in western Europe saw some 5,000 Flemish and French Protestant refugees land at Sandwich and make their way to Canterbury in 1566, and as many again in other years entered Kent, Surrey and Sussex. These immigrants were eventually absorbed into the hinterland, and many probably joined their countrymen in the clothing trade, brewing or glassmaking.
For details of Flemish immigrant trades, see:
Journey Through the Weald by Ben Darby (London: Robert Hale, 1986);
The History of the Woollen and Worsted Industries by E Lipson (London: A & C Black, 1921);
The Wool Trade in Medieval History by Eileen Power (London: Oxford University Press, 1965);
The Wool Trade in Tudor and Stuart England by Peter J Bowden (London: Cass, 1971)
With the Flemish came their language and perhaps their sport. No evidence has been found of playing a game of cricket in Flanders, but they did play a hockey game which appears to have been known as met de krik ketsen, meaning "with the stick chase", which gave rise to Gillmeister's theory (see above) that krik ketsen was foreshortened to "cricket". Gillmeister believes that cricket originated in Flanders and was imported by the Flemish immigrants. This view obtained a bit of publicity in 2009 when an Australian researcher claimed to have found a reference to Flemish cricket in the 1533 poem mentioned above, but the jury is still out on that one. Personally, I think the name of the sport was derived from the Middle Dutch but I think it originated in south east England and was eventually taken up by Flemish immigrants.
The cloth-working fringe area of the Weald was poorly populated in the 15th century with villages being small but Flemish migration increased their populations, particularly in the middle years of the 16th century. It has been surmised that the Flemings moulded the traditional game of stoolball into something we would recognise as cricket, but the evidence indicates that it was a children’s game until the end of the 16th century, though there seems little doubt that Flemish children did play it.
Altham and others have recorded a reference to cricket in an Italian-English dictionary produced in 1598 by Giovanni Florio who defined the word sgillare as: "to make a noise as a cricket, to play cricket-a-wicket, and be merry". Some people think the reference is spurious and relates only to the neek! neek! neek! insect variety of cricket but "to play cricket-a-wicket" hardly suggests insect activity. Given the reference to cricket as a boys’ game in another dictionary only 13 years later, it would seem that Florio does have both an insect and a game in mind.
Florio's reference may be seen at Italian/English Dictionary: A Worlde of Words. In a later edition of his dictionary in 1611, Florio infers that "to play cricket-a-wicket" has sexual associations with references to frittfritt, defined "as we say cricket a wicket, or gigaioggie", and dibatticare, defined as "to thrum a wench lustily till the bed cry giggaioggie"! See Queen Anna's New World of Words, f.144 and f.198. All of which means that "cricket-a-wicket" was a euphemism for sex in the same way that "rock 'n' roll" originally was.
These mentions of literature cannot pass without reference to the most famous writer of them all, William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616), who was flourishing at the time. He produced the two parts of King Henry VI in 1597 and 1598, as well as Much Ado About Nothing in 1598. Some enthusiasts have tried to find cricket connections in Shakespeare’s work but, although a few possibilities exist, they are tenuous only.
The nearest to an authentic reference is probably in Coriolanus :
What work’s, my countrymen, in hand? Where go you
With bats and clubs?
Elsewhere, the Bard referred to caps, bowls, slips, catches, strokes, runs and Gower! I got these from a very entertaining book called No Balls and Googlies by Geoff Tibballs.
1 January. Scotland moved the New Year to 1 January from 25 March but England did not follow suit until 1752 when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced. This meant that dates in January to March were always a year ahead in Scotland: thus 15 February 1725 in Scotland was 15 February 1724 in England!
Wednesday, 31 December. Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter to the Honourable East India Company, often colloquially referred to as "John Company". It was initially a joint-stock company that sought trading privileges in India and the East Indies, but the Royal Charter effectively gave it a 21 year monopoly on all trade in the region. In time, the East India Company transformed from a commercial trading venture to one which virtually ruled India as it acquired auxiliary governmental and military functions, until its dissolution in 1858 following the Indian Mutiny.
The East India Company was the means by which cricket was introduced into India.
|Preface | The History of Cricket: 1601 – 1700 | Index|
|Date last modified:|
© John Leach 2007.
All rights reserved.
Information on this site may be used in other published material on condition that the source is clearly acknowledged.
|top | contents | home|