Elizabethan leisure

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In the Elizabethan era (1558–1603), there were a wide range of leisure activities entertaining both the nobility and the common classes. Among these leisure activities were animal fighting, team sports, individual sports, games, dramatics, music and the arts.

Blood sports

A variety of pastimes which would now be considered blood sports were popular. Cock fighting was a common pastime, and the bets on this game could amount to thousands of pounds, an exorbitant amount of money in those days, and many respectable gentlemen lost all their money this way.[citation needed] Henry VIII had a Royal Cockpit built at one of his palaces.

Young boys on Shrove Tuesday would normally bring in their own fighting rooster and would spend the afternoon at school placing bets on which rooster would win[citation needed]. The most famous cock-pit in London was in Drury Lane, and most towns and villages had their own pit.

There were other common animal sports: bear-baiting, bullfighting, and dog fighting,[1] and cock throwing. Bowls was also extremely popular in the Elizabethan era.


Various types of hunting were popular with the nobility. The stag, boar, roe, buck, badgers, otters, hares, and foxes were also hunted. Greyhounds and Irish Wolfhounds were common for hunting.

For the upper class, hawking was a popular sport. Much time was spent on training a hawk or falcon, and keeping it in good condition, requiring many pieces of expensive, specialized equipment, making it too expensive for the lower classes. [2]

Queen Elizabeth I was very fond of both hunting and hawking [2]

Team sports

Elizabethan style football was comparable to the present day sports of rugby union or rugby league. Two teams rushed against each other, trying to get the "ball" in through the goalposts. "Cudgels" was also a popular sport among young men. [3] A type of stick fighting, it was a sport effectively training for sword fighting, but using wooden wasters or simple cudgels.

Individual sports

Running, jumping, fencing, jousting, archery, and skittles were also practiced, with fishing as the most relaxing and harmless pastime.

Children enjoyed playing leap-frog, blind-mans-bluff and buttand-seek, which are enjoyed by many children throughout Britain even today.


Elizabethans enjoyed playing cards, with a game called ‘Triumph’ (modern day Whist) being popular. Dice, backgammon and draughts were also played. Men mostly played these games as it was deemed inappropriate for a woman to gamble, however, Queen Elizabeth the first enjoyed playing cards and was an avid gambler.[citation needed]

Music and dance

Music was greatly enjoyed throughout this era, as seen through quite a few family evenings including musical performances. Children were taught to sing and dance at a very early age and became used to performing in public during such evenings. Keyboard instruments such as harpsichords, clavichords, dulcimers and virginals were played. Woodwind instruments like woodys, crumhorns, flutes and stringed instruments such as lutes and rebecs were also widely used.

Court dances included the Pavane and Galliard,[4] the Almain and the Lavolta, whilst among popular dances were the Branle, The Barley-Break (a setting by William Byrd is in My Ladye Nevells Booke), Nobody’s Jig (of which a version was set by Richard Farnaby) and the Shake-a-Trot.


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The plays were an extremely popular pastime, with William Shakespeare's plays taking the lead in audience.[citation needed] Quite a few theatres were built in and around London at this time including "The Globe", "The Swan" and "The Fortune". Little scenery was used but props were used widely. The props were quite realistic, with innards of pigs being strewn across the stage when a man's body was shown to be cut open.[citation needed]


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External links

Secara, Maggie. "filling the time." . MaggiRos, March 13, 2010. Web. May 29, 2013. <http://www.elizabethan.org/compendium/45.html>.