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Book Review of Francis Willughby's Book of Games

Updated on August 28, 2014
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Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

"Francis Willughby 1635-1672"
"Francis Willughby 1635-1672" | Source

Francis Willughby the Scholar

22 November 1635 – 3 July 1672

Francis Willughby is a well known naturalist of the 17th century. He is best remembered for his Ornithologia published after his death by his teacher and colleague John Ray. Ray also helped get Willughby's De Historia piscium published, a book which sold so poorly that the Royal society had to back out of other publishing deals, most notably Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

Willughby's research into the past times of the common man, however, is often overlooked. His Book of Games is considered second only to the Spanish Libro de los juegos by Alfonso X.

My Interest in Medieval Games

I first got interested in medieval sports and games through the SCA, a historical reenactment group. Ever since I stumbled upon an article about a game called stoolball I was hooked, and wanted to know more about weird and interesting games people have played. At first my interest was purely to make SCA events more interesting, to bring more to the table, but eventually I got sucked into researching just to learn. Book of Games helped me with that research, and really let my obsession skyrocket. I am currently in the process of writing a book on medieval games.

The Review

Francis Willughby's Book of Games was unfinished at the time of his death, and remained in a pile of notes until some scholars stumbled across them and the book was finally published in 2003, over 300 years after it's writer died. Willughby was 37 at the time of his death, much of work unfinished, most of his papers were gathered up and kept by the Royal Society a club of sorts of scientists and naturalists. The importance of the Book of Games went unnoticed for centuries. When finally the papers were read by David Cram, Jeffrey Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston they knew the book had to be finished and published.

Games and past times is an area often overlooked by historians, but it is important to understood how people play to understand their culture. It gives a glimpse into what they consider fair, and so much more. Researching, and recreating historical games is a passion of mine, I enjoy it immensely, this is one of my all time favourite resources for games of the late medieval period. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys playing games.

The book contains details on how to play a variety of games, from board games, to card games, to sports, to a variety of children's games. Some highlights include a few backgammon variants, famous card games such as one and thirty, hannikin canst abide it, gleek.

© 2014 Jeff Johnston


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