Monday, February 13, 2023

Tennis, Anyone?

The earliest version of the game now called "real tennis" (or court tennis or royal tennis) was jeu de paulme, literally "palm game," because a ball was hit back and forth with the hand. Paddles and racquets were introduced in the 16th century, and were standard by the late 17th century, but the original name stuck. "Tennis" derives from tenez, "hold," which a player would call to pause the game. The tennis that we normally think of is distinguished as "lawn tennis."

Believed to have been started by monks and villagers in the 12th century in northern France, it became the "sport of kings" when the French royalty took up the game. Louis X was an avid player, and died after a particularly vigorous game; he reportedly drank a large quantity of cooled wine and died of pneumonia or pleurisy (or poison, as is always suspected when a healthy king with potential claimants to the throne dies at 27).

Louis did not like playing outdoors, and constructed indoor courts, starting a trend for royal palaces across Europe. He is history's first tennis player known by name. King Charles V of France (1338 - 1380) had a tennis court created at the Louvre Palace. Henry VIII of England was also a fan.

The original court was very different from the modern one in use today. It had several different areas marked out. Let me give you a sense of the complexity of the game and the court:

The game is begun by a service which is always from the same end of the court (the service side). The opposite end of the court where the receiver stands is called the hazard side. The service does not alternate with each game as in lawn tennis. The server changes ends and ceases to serve only when a chase has been laid. The meaning of a chase will be explained below. To be a valid service the ball has to touch the penthouse roof at least once on the hazard side of the net and drop in the service court. If it does not touch the penthouse roof or if it hits a window or the roof it will be a fault. A second serve is available, as in lawn tennis. [Click this link if you want to be overwhelmed.]

The ball used would have been far less uniform than modern balls, and would have been prone (like Miss Climpson's eraser), to an eccentric bounce. Today's real tennis balls have cork centers, surrounded first by fabric and then string and then a hand-sewn layer of heavy woolen cloth. Traditionally white, the color has changed to the "optic yellow" of lawn tennis balls.

"Real tennis" is still played today; the century-old governing body is in France.

Poison has been mentioned in this and the previous post, as a rumor concerning the death of a king. Was poison that prevalent, or was it an "urban myth" of the time? How would someone in the Middle Ages go about poisoning someone? Let's take a look at that tomorrow.

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