Styles of Belief, Devotion, and Culture

James I/Charles I, from The King's Majesty's Declaration to his Subjects Concerning Lawful Sports to be Used

Probably partly in response to William Prynne's Histrio-Mastix, King Charles issued the so-called Book of Sports on October 18, 1633; the Book of Sports sets forth, with a short addendum, King James's 1618 declaration on that subject. Like masques, Sunday sports were a hotly contested cultural issue, not only because Puritans thought they violated the sabbath, but also because, as the declaration indicates, the king saw them as a means of controlling the populace and providing a release for discontent, under the oversight of the parish authorities. In her post-Restoration Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1664–70), Lucy Hutchinson commented on the political import of this contest over sports.


Our dear father of blessed memory, >> note 1 in his return from Scotland, coming through Lancashire, found that his subjects were debarred from lawful recreations upon Sundays after evening prayers ended, and upon Holy-days; and he prudently considered that, if these times were taken from them, the meaner sort who labor hard all the week should have no recreations at all to refresh their spirits: and after his return, he further saw that his loyal subjects in all other parts of his kingdom did suffer in the same kind, though perhaps not in the same degree: and did therefore in his princely wisdom publish a Declaration to all his loving subjects concerning lawful sports to be used at such times, which was printed and published by his royal commandment in the year 1618, in the tenor which hereafter followeth:

Whereas upon our return the last year out of Scotland, we did publish our pleasure touching the recreations of our people in those parts under our hand; for some causes us thereunto moving, we have thought good to command these our directions then given in Lancashire, with a few words thereunto added, and most appliable to these parts of our realms, to be published to all our subjects.

We did justly in our progress through Lancashire rebuke some Puritans and precise people, and took order that the like unlawful carriage should not be used by any of them hereafter, in the prohibiting and unlawful punishing of our good people for using their lawful recreations and honest exercises upon Sundays, and other Holy-days, after the afternoon sermon or service. * * * With our own ears we heard the general complaint of our people, that they were barred from all lawful recreations and exercises upon the Sunday's afternoon, after the ending of all divine service, which cannot but produce two evils: the one the hindering of the conversion of many, whom their priests will take occasion hereby to vex, persuading them that no honest mirth or recreation is lawful or tolerable in our religion, which cannot but breed a great discontentment in our people's hearts, especially of such as are peradventure on the point of turning: the other inconvenience is, that this prohibition barreth the common and meaner sort of people from using such exercises as may make their bodies more able for war, when His Majesty or his successors shall have occasion to use them; and in place thereof sets up filthy tippling and drunkenness, and breeds a number of idle and discontented speeches in their ale-houses. For when shall the common people have leave to exercise, if not upon the Sundays and Holy-days, seeing they must apply their labor and win their living in all working days?

* * *

Our pleasure * * * is, that the Bishop of that Diocese take the like strait order with all the Puritans and Precisians within the same, either constraining them to conform themselves or to leave the county, according to the laws of our kingdom and canons of our Church, and so to strike equally on both hands against the contemners of our authority and adversaries of our Church; and as for our good people's lawful recreation, our pleasure likewise is, that after the end of divine service our good people be not disturbed, letted or discouraged from any lawful recreation, such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation, nor from having of May-games, Whitsun-ales, and Morris-dances; and the setting up of May-poles and other sports therewith used: so as the same be had in due and convenient time, without impediment or neglect of divine service: and that women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the decorating of it, according to their old custom; but withal we do here account still as prohibited all unlawful games >> note 2 to be used upon Sundays only, as bear and bull-baitings, interludes, and at all times in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited, bowling. * * *

And we likewise straightly command that every person shall resort to his own parish church to hear divine service, and each parish by itself to use the said recreation after divine service. * * *

Now out of a like pious care for the service of God, and for suppressing of any humors that oppose truth, and for the ease, comfort, and recreation of our well-deserving people, His Majesty [Charles] doth ratify and publish this our blessed father's Declaration: the rather, because of late in some counties of our kingdom, we find that under pretense of taking away abuses, there hath been a general forbidding, not only of ordinary meetings, but of the Feasts of the Dedications of the Churches, commonly called Wakes. Now our express will and pleasure is, that these Feasts, with others, shall be observed, and that our Justices of the Peace, in their several divisions, shall look to it, both that all disorders there may be prevented or punished, and that all neighborhood and freedom, with manlike and lawful exercises be used: and we further command all Justices of assize in their several circuits to see that no man do trouble or molest any of our lawful and dutiful people, in or for their lawful recreations, having first done their duty to God, and continuing in obedience to us and our laws: and for this we command all our Judges, Justices of the Peace, a well within liberties as without, Mayors, Bailiffs, Constables, and other officers, to take notice of, and to see observed, as they tender our displeasure. And we further will that publication of this our command be made by order from the Bishops, through all the parish churches of their several dioceses respectively.

Given at our Palace of Westminster, the eighteenth day of October, in the ninth year of our Reign.

God save the King.

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