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Battledore and Shuttlecock

Updated on January 26, 2015
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Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

1621 painting of a 3 year old girl from Flanders holding a battledore and shuttlecock.
1621 painting of a 3 year old girl from Flanders holding a battledore and shuttlecock. | Source
A period reproduction of a Battledore and a Shuttlecock made by Wenyeva atte grene from An Tir
A period reproduction of a Battledore and a Shuttlecock made by Wenyeva atte grene from An Tir | Source

A history of badminton

In the 5th century B.C.E. China a game was played called ti jian zi, which was played using shuttlecocks (birdies) very similar to the ones used in badminton today. The game did not have any rackets, but the idea was to keep the shuttlecock in the air without the use of hands. Eventually the use of paddles called battledores evolved. It is hard to say where or when the use of battledores developed, but they were widely used throughout China, India, Japan and Greece by the 1st century C.E..

By the 16th century the game was well known in England as either jeu de volant or battledore and shuttlecock.

This is a basic representation of a shuttlecock, made with a campaign cork and some craft feathers.
This is a basic representation of a shuttlecock, made with a campaign cork and some craft feathers. | Source

The Shuttlecock

Shuttlecocks are fairly simple things, usually made out of cork and feathers. In medieval England often the cork end would be a cork ball, but after considerable experimentation wine corks work just as effectively, and champagne corks are the easiest option. The process is simple use a large needle to bore a hole for each feather you plan on adding to your shuttlecock and stick the feather into the hole. I find that adding a little wood glue to the end of the feather makes the shuttlecock last longer, but it not strictly necessary.

Extant Battledore from 1880
Extant Battledore from 1880 | Source

The Battledore

The battledore or racket was introduced sometime in early history, almost nothing is known about the origins other than the fact that it was common throughout Asia and India in the 1st century C.E.. Early battledores were either wooden paddles, somewhat like oversized ping pong paddles, or rackets made of wood with velum stretched over the open hole to produce a striking surface.

My daughter playing Battledore and Shuttlecock
My daughter playing Battledore and Shuttlecock | Source

Playing Medieval Battledore and Shuttlecock

Battledore and Shuttlecock in medieval England was basically just a game of keep the shuttlecock in the air. The idea was count how many times you hit the shuttlecock into the air and see if you could beat your record. Legend has it that in 1880 the Sumerset set the all time record of 21,117 hits into the air.

The game was usually a children's game more than anything, and it was rarely played as any sort of sport where there'd be a winner or loser, but rather just strictly done for the fun of it. Often games would be played with large groups of children hitting multiple shuttlecocks into the air simultaneously.

Cartoon showing early badminton game. Published 1854 from Punch magazine
Cartoon showing early badminton game. Published 1854 from Punch magazine | Source
Badminton House as it was in the 19th century
Badminton House as it was in the 19th century | Source

Badminton House Rules Battledore and Shuttlecock

In the 1850s a new version of the classic game of battledore and shuttlecock was developed. The game was devised at Badminton house by the family of the Duke of Beaufort. The game was called Badminton House Rules Battledore and Shuttlecock, but soon became known around the world as badminton. The original game of battledore and shuttlecock faded into history while the badminton variant took the world by storm.

This article was written for the Games Guild of Avacal
This article was written for the Games Guild of Avacal | Source

© 2015 Jeff Johnston

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    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Such interesting history on a favorite game of mine. I used to play badminton till my arms were ready to fall off. I still love the game. Thank you for sharing this history.

      Voted up, U, I and H+