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1800’s guidebook reveals England’s weird and sadistic medieval games

Long before the internet, when fake tough guys couldn’t hide behind screens, Medieval folks had their amusing ways of sorting things out.

British fans of rare books have surely heard of 19th-century engraver and writer Joseph Strutt. Today we shine a light on his renowned compendium of the strange pastimes of the medieval era: Glig-Gamena Angel-Deod, Or, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1801).

The masterwork composed of 39 hand-colored, engraved plates – deemed as “the first major scholarly effort in English to chronicle games and sports” – has earned several printed editions.

The illustrations are paired with “lengthy instructions for play as well as poems inspired by the games.” However, “While his tome was likely not written as a manual, it’s possible that some of Strutt’s readers read his instructions and actually attempted to play these games,” writes Claire Voon for HyperAllergic.

Strutt was simply fascinated with the activities, and we can’t blame him. We can’t blame curious readers for wanting to try them out, too.

“Medieval life seemed strange to people in the 19th century, just like it does now. Strutt must have been equally amused, intrigued, and perplexed by some of the bizarre pastimes he discovered and documented,” said Caleb Kiffer, a specialist at Swann Auction Galleries.

“Some inclusions are expected, such as hunting, hawking, archery, jousting, and theatrical “mummeries,” also known as mummers’ plays; others are more unusual, including Strutt’s examples of Hot Cockles. One variation of the painful pastime features a woman with her face buried in another’s lap as her tittering friends slap her head; another is even more mysterious, depicting an individual who totes a chicken while balanced on a stick propped up by two players. Another man trails the peculiar procession, ominously brandishing a stick.”

Ah, the good ol’ days. We don’t do fun like they used to anymore.

No cameraphones to capture all the embarrassing moments, so they could play these games over and over again until friendships ended.

What a simple life they had.

For more photos of Strutt’s work, click the link below. (Image: Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)

Via Swann Galleries

About the author

Filipino writer who calls the road home, eager to tell the stories of the world—from sea to summit, small towns to big cities, cultures old and new. Enjoys drinking IPAs while watching his favorite sports teams lose. Minimalist.

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