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Where Does Tennis Originate From?

Updated on April 22, 2008

What Are the Origins of Lawn Tennis?

It's Origins

As the major USA and English championships are upon us, or soon will be I thought that you might like to learn where the game originated from. Lawn tennis has many theories as to its origins dating as far back as 5th century AD. This theory refers to a ball game played between Archistrates and Apollonius. The rules for this game were tossing the ball to one another but not allowing the ball to fall to the ground. If the ball fell then points were awarded to one’s opponent.

The Romans had a ball game called ‘plia trigonalis’ that included three people standing in a triangle and throwing the ball to each other while at the same time trying to catch each other out.

Fertitity Rituals

William Henderson, Librarian in the New York Library after World War II wrote a book titled ‘Ball, Bat and Bishop’ where he put forth his theories that ball games were first played at weddings and therefore that their origin could be found in the fertility rituals of the ancient Egyptian Gods.

What is known is that ball games played an important role at weddings. Their purpose was to imprint on the minds of those concerned the agreements that had been made during the marital vows and thus stand as a safe guard for the benefit of the whole community.

During the 12th and 13th Centuries

Tennis has also been traced back to the middle ages as the ‘game of monks' who played it in monastery cloisters. This also led to the design of the early tennis courts. There was two major differences with the way the game was played; the ball was struck with the palm of the hand and the game was played in teams. The game was also known as ‘jeu de la paume' (game of the palm) and it is from these early beginnings (medieval or real tennis) that lawn tennis evolved.

During the 2nd half thirteenth century medieval or real tennis was played in France in the market squares of Artois, French Flanders and Picardy after the manner of the Prince of Tyre. And it was only during the 16th century when tennis racquets were first used in playing the game. During this time the game had moved to an enclosed area, rather than open spaces and the rules of play were written by a professional named Forbet and published in 1599. This enabled the game to thrive and to spread throughout European royalty as a favourite pastime.

Tennis During the 16th Century

King Louis X was the first victim on tennis after catching a severe chill after playing a game and Charles VIII died after being struck by a tennis ball. Other royal enthusiastic players included François I (1515-47) who was a strong promoter of the game building courts and encouraging both courtiers and commoners to play.

During the reign of Henri II (1547-59), who was also another excellent tennis player, Antonio Sacaino da Salo, an Italian priest wrote the first known book about tennis called, Trattato del Giuoco della Palla.

The first pro-tennis tour was established during the reign of King Charles IX who granted a constitution to The Corporation of Tennis Professionals. This first tour established three levels of professionals: apprentice, associate, and master.

Tennis in England

Henry V (1413-22) was the first English monarch to take up playing tennis but it was Henry VIII (1509-47) who made the biggest impact to the game in England. He played the game with gusto on a court he had built in 1530 at Hampton Court, and on several other courts in his palaces. It is believed that Anne Boleyn, his second wife was watching a game of real tennis when she was arrested and that Henry was playing tennis when news of her execution was brought to him. Tennis had taken on such popularity in England during the 16th century that by the time James I (1603-25) came to the throne there were 14 courts in London.

In his play Henry V William Shakespeare mentions real tennis by who "tennis balles", when a basket of them is given to the King as a mockery of his youth and playfulness.

Modern Lawn Tennis played at Wimbledon

The Birth of Lawn Tennis

The game thrived during the17th century amongst the nobility of France, Italy, Spain, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it suffered under English Puritanism. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, in England, racquets, squash racquets, and lawn tennis (the modern game) emerged as real tennis died out.

The oldest real tennis court still in use today was built for James V of Scotland in 1539 - 1541 and is located in the gardens at Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland.


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    • profile image

      Brett 5 years ago

      no gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg

    • AnkushKohli profile image

      Ankush Kohli 6 years ago from India

      Can't believe it! Never thought that tennis would have been played even in medieval times. Amazing story you have shared here my friend.

      Thanks a lot.

    • Sorrel profile image

      Sorrel 8 years ago from France

      Intersting look at where tennis came from, I've just done research on a similar subject and posted a hub, but will link back to this as I did not go as far back, and didn't even know there were links as far back as the Romans or Egyptians before.Thanks for educating me on this point