Who invented tennis?

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History of tennis

Here you can find information about the origin and development of tennis.

Source: Theo Stemmler, Brief history of the tennis game

 The history of tennis
(until the end of the 19th century)

Tennis is not an English invention, as is generally assumed, but arose in the 13th century in monasteries in northern France. The pre-form of today's tennis, widespread in northern France, was called "cache" - a Picard dialect from the Latin "captiare" meaning "hunt, catch". From northern France, the game spread to the rest of France, on to Flanders and as far as Scotland. "Cache" was played by hand until the end of the 15th century, with a glove sometimes protecting against the hard balls. Rackets are not mentioned until 1495. This is where the name "jeu de paume" - playing with the palm of the hand - initially used in France - except in the north of the country - comes from.

The medieval monasteries included a cloister with an inner courtyard, the sloping roof of which was supported by columns. What is certain is that the service had to be placed on the roof of one long side of this cloister. After the nobility had also succumbed to the fascination of the game, a roof was put in as a play area or it was built in different variations.

The ball-playing monks were imitated by the other estates. Citizens and peasants played "cache" in the flat and solid churchyards, which caused quite a bit of annoyance to the clergy. Panes broke in two and the "sports noises" disrupted the service. The aristocracy, on the other hand, worried about their subjects' morality and passion for betting, because large sums were placed on the winner. You would have preferred to have seen these people doing supposedly "meaningful weapons exercises". While the citizens were dependent on public spaces for their passion for gaming, the aristocrats who were obsessed with games had their own playgrounds. Initially it was the dry castle moats, later specially created squares on the castle grounds, which, however, were inaccessible to the rest of the population. But some wealthy citizens resisted the supremacy of the aristocrats and founded "tennis clubs" in various Flemish cities in 1405, whose members could play the "jeu de paume" indoors and outdoors.


Villers-Cotterêts Castle
(after an engraving by J. A. Ducerceau)
The whole inner courtyard becomes a playing field.


In 1464, citizens of Bruges organized the first tennis tournament in history, in which two teams took part. In France and England these bourgeois "activities" were severely punished. The first royal tennis player mentioned by name was Louis X of France (born 1289). However, he paid for his sport with his life because he caught a cold after a match and died of pneumonia. Other crowned heads who did not lose their lives on the battlefield but lost through tennis were Philip the Fair, King of Castile and Charles VIII, who, however, ran into his skull on a door post on the way to the tennis court. Other rulers played tennis until they were completely in debt.

The middle-class Margot from Hainaut, born in Mons in 1402, was the first professional tennis player. At the age of 20 she was so well known as a tennis player that Philip the Good, who was also a passionate tennis player, obliged her to play at his court for a fee. She returned to Hainaut with a considerable sum of money, later played tennis in Flanders and Brabant and finally became a nun in a convent near Naumur, from where she taught the residents in the "jeu de paume".


The 16th and 17th centuries are the "golden ages" of tennis. "jeu de paume" is developing into a popular sport. Despite the still existing bans, tennis is increasingly played by citizens, farmers and students. More and more open and covered playgrounds are emerging in cities. Every social class indulges in passion in its own way, in the castle courtyard, in a specially constructed building or on a meadow.


 The two "jeux de paume" in the
Fontainebleau Castle. The
Number "8" indicates the "open air
Platz "and the covered tennis court.


The French King Franz I (born 1494) even had a tennis court built on the sun deck of his ship "La Grande Francoise" in 1533. Shade sails protect the royal player from the sun. Tennis also affects the rest of life. Katharina de Medici created a hair fashion (coiffure en raquette) that is reminiscent of the diagonal strings of the tennis rackets of that time.

In England too, enthusiasm for tennis reached its peak in the 16th century. Henry VIII (born 1491) is a keen player. He owns at least eight tennis rackets and numerous tennis courts, including in Richmond, Greenwich, Windsor and Hampton Court. He often plays for high stakes and pays over £ 3,000 in gambling debts from his private box in just under three years. On the other hand, he restricts his subjects from playing tennis. Nobles and citizens with an annual income over 100 pounds are allowed to own a tennis court - the others need a license.


Royal tennis player on Whitehall Court:
The later King James II at the age of eight


With the reign of Oliver Cromwell and the exile of the English royal court, tennis was restricted in England. With the return of the English royal family from exile in France in 1660, tennis flourished again. The number of tennis courts in castles and aristocratic residences is constantly growing. Ball houses, now tennis halls, are built. Duke Johann Casimir of Saxony completed a ballroom in Coburg based on the French model in 1629.

The students also discover tennis for themselves. In Oxford, Cambridge, Poitiers or Orleans, some colleges and universities have their own places. In 1594 a ballroom was built in Ingolstadt for the students "for entertainment and practical physical exercise".


 The ballroom in Coburg, built
for Duke Johann Casimir of Saxony,
after an engraving by Johann Dürr, 1632)


At the same time, playgrounds are being created in France and England that are open to everyone. According to various sources, there were between 250 and 1,800 places in Paris at the end of the 16th century, sixty in Orleans and fourteen in London. The necessary pitched roof is often replaced by a roof that is subsequently attached to the front of a house or by an inverted grain sieve placed on three wooden pegs. This construction is portable and makes tennis athletes independent of fixed places. In the 16th and 17th centuries there were only about 50 tennis courts in the German-speaking area outside of the aristocratic residences. B. in Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Halle and Leipzig.

The tennis ball in the 16th and 17th centuries cannot be compared with today's hollow rubber ball. High-quality balls made of leather contain a core made of wool, head or beard hair, inferior ones are filled with sand, earth or metal shavings. Injuries resulting in death are inevitable. At that time the French were the market leaders in the manufacture of tennis balls, much to the annoyance of the English "producers". In France, the leather cover of the balls has been replaced by one made of white cloth since the end of the 16th century.

By the end of the 15th century, tennis racquets began to be used. They are made of solid wood or covered with parchment like tambourines. In some matches up to the end of the 16th century, players with and without clubs face each other. A handicap of one point is given to those who do not play a bat. At the beginning of the 16th century rackets were strung with gut strings for the first time. Today the handles of tennis rackets are much longer, the racket head is oval and the strings are no longer strung diagonally to the handle.


 "jeu de paume" - with wooden clubs
(16th Century)


As early as 1300 there were more than twelve "paumiers" working in Paris, who initially belonged to the brushmaker's guild. They are tennis professionals who make balls and look after playgrounds. In the middle of the 16th century they found the "paumiers-raquetiers" guild. An apprenticeship takes three years. After a traineeship, the master craftsman examination can be taken. The future master must make tennis balls and rackets and defeat two recognized professional players in one match. Special tennis shoes were also made in the 16th century. They have no heels and mostly felt soles. At the same time, the first textbooks are published. The most important come from the Italian Antonio Scaino, a doctor of theology. In his "Trattoto des gioco della palla" (1555) he describes the "jeu de paume" as well as other ball games. He deals with the nature of the court, the balls, the racket, the rules and tactical questions. Monsieur Gosselin, the librarian of the French king, wrote in 1579 the "Declaration de deux doubtes qui se trouvent en competant le jeu de paume", the "Declaration of two dubious cases in counting the" jeu de paume ".


After the "jeu de paume" developed into a popular sport in the 16th and 17th centuries, criticism of the sport became louder and louder. The nobles use the ballrooms to flirt and to play high stakes. All kinds of games of chance are operated in publicly accessible ballrooms. Fraud is rampant. Furthermore, the game is still played according to inconsistent rules on courts of different sizes. The number of ball houses in the late 17th and 18th centuries fell dramatically. They are being converted into theaters and ballrooms. The French Revolution (1789) did one more thing to accelerate the demise of tennis in France.


 Illustration for making tennis balls
and thugs in the 18th century
(from Garsault's treatise on tennis from 1767)


In England the traditions of the "jeu de paume" can be better preserved, even if the number of places and players is also drastically reduced here. In the 19th century, tennis increasingly became the sport for the exclusive gentry. In 1878 there are still around twenty seats where the traditional "jeu de paume" is played with the service on the roof of the gallery. The "jeu de paume" is named "real tennis", "royal tennis" or simply "tennis".

At this time Major Walter C. Wingfield developed lawn tennis from elements of field tennis (played outdoors, without a specially constructed space and without fixed rules), rackets (predecessor of squash), "real tennis" and badminton, the one he named "Sphairistike´" "or" lawn-tennis ". As the name suggests, it was originally only played outdoors. The Greek term" Sphairistike "(referring to the ball game) is soon forgotten because of its simple way of playing and because it can be played on any level lawn, the "lawn tennis" begins its triumphant advance in England. Instead of a wall, a roof or a gallery, only a net and a trapezoidal playing surface are required. Major Wingfield has his net patented, the He took over from badminton and designed it in three parts for his "lawn tennis". The side wings are reminiscent of the side walls of old tennis. Hollow rubber balls made in Germany are used. The serve is always from one side from a square, whereby only the person serving can score.


Major Walter Clopton Wingfield
at the age of 40 with his racket,
which he priced at one pound sterling
sold per piece.

He died on April 18, 1912. In his funeral oration
the word "tennis" was never mentioned once.


In 1877 the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club hosted the 1st major lawn tennis tournament. The rules of the game are roughly the same as those of today. So the serve is now from the baseline and the points are counted as in the old "jeu de paume": 15 30 40 (or 45). The playing field is rectangular, the net is lower and the tennis ball is covered with white flannel.


 "Crowds" at the
1st tennis tournament at Wimbledon


Women also had access to the new "lawn tennis" very early on. In 1879 they were allowed to play in Ireland and from 1884 in Wimbledon. The ladies wear long white dresses, hats and often high-heeled shoes.

(from: Theo Stemmler, Brief history of the tennis game)