How to Dress Renaissance

Games of the Renaissance: Pastimes of the Courtly Classes

During Renaissance times, it was the courtly class who had time and circumstance on their hands to enjoy a life away from working in the fields or doing other types of menial labor to meet the demands of everyday life. Royalty developed a number of ways to entertain themselves. Dancing, sports and other games of the renaissance all flourished as a part of Renaissance life.

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A look at the young French King Francois I, who was born in 1494, shows that he and his acquaintances hunted, fenced, wrestled and played tennis together in order to while away the hours. Other beloved sports included jousting, a sport carried over from the Middle Ages in which men in armor on horseback participated in mock battles, often carrying sharp lances in attempt to unseat a rival from his horse.

Evenings would find the young king and his courtly circle of friends relaxing after dinner as they listened to musicians playing instruments such as the flute, the lute, and viols.

Frenchman and Master of the Dance Thoinot Arbeau, who was born in 1519, wrote a manual of dance instructions for wealthy patrons. He instructed fashionable clients in dances such as:

  • Pavans: Often paired with the Galliards, the pavans were slow, processional dances in which many couples paraded wearing elegant, decorative clothing. Couples often did creative movements in tandem with smaller groups within the larger procession.
  • Basse dances: A slow, gliding couples dance wherein the participants’ feet never leave the floor as they do in livelier types of dances.
  • Galliards: A favorite dance of Queen Elizabeth I, the Galliard featured a five-step rhythm and was a rather athletic dance. It contained leaps, jumps, hops and other athletic moves.
  • Lavoltas: Similar to the Galliard, a Volta involved a type of turning and lifting of the female in a rather closed position.
  • Gavottes: Based on an old French folk dance, the Gavotte was often a collection of double branles danced in a line or circle, including small springs in the steps.
  • Various types of Branles: A type of couples dance in which partners would move from side to side, the Branle often marked the beginning of a fancy dress ball.

Arbeau’s famous book, Orchesography, is often used today to teach Renaissance dances as well as to teach manners of the court.

Other games of the Renaissance included card games, which were highly popular among the women of the courts. Women also enjoyed challenging men to a game of chess or even joining them in the hunt. They participated in falconing and hare hunting while on horseback. One popular after-dinner game enjoyed by courtiers was the game of croquet.

How to Dress Renaissance

Renaissance Games and Entertainment: Not Just for the Aristocrats

Many Renaissance games and entertainment, because of their timeless appeal, have remained similar to those of today. Children played with spinning tops. They made up games using balls, following their own whims or rules they made up to suit their group of players. They played hide-and-seek, blind-man’s buff, and wrestled according to their size and strengths.

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Children and teens alike enjoyed various types of fighting with their feet. Lawn bowling was particularly popular during the Renaissance.

For the common, working masses of people, games and entertainment turned to the outdoors since their homes were seldom conducive to most types of activities. They enjoyed participating in and being spectators at events such as boxing, football games, bullfights, horse racing, and bear baiting. These events often went through complex staging to attract the general public.

Processions were hugely popular during the Renaissance era. People loved any opportunity to show off their clothing and accessories. Such entertainments included parades through the cities and towns to mark special occasions or religious holidays. Such events were held by wealthier, more prominent families to celebrate weddings and key dates within the family. Public displays of fireworks and lavish feasts were also incorporated into the celebrations.

At all such events, a number of Renaissance games, both planned and impromptu, took place for the crowds’ enjoyment.

Market days and Renaissance fairs were ideal times for people to engage in games of chance and skill. Revelers enjoyed watching traveling tumblers demonstrate their skill. Jugglers, clowns, comics, puppeteers, and widely known masked harlequins all joined the Renaissance panoply of characters. Characters such as Punch and Judy come to us today from their origins during Renaissance times.

Renaissance games and the entertainment they enjoyed provide wonderful opportunities today to revisit and reenact the revelry of those times.

For those who are looking for authentic costumes and accessories, a site such as Ye Old Renaissance Shop can be an excellent resource for young and old, male and female.