Tennis - A Renaissance Craze

Jeu de Paume was the precursor to tennis and was such a craze in the 16th century that every royal palace had at least one court and sometimes both an indoor and outdoor court. A few examples remain to this day at Fontainebleau Palace and across the channel at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) where King Francois I’s contemporary King Henry VIII was also a regular player.

The king and his sons, the Dauphin Francois, Henri duc d’Orleans and Charles d’Angouleme, played almost every day usually dressed all in white and sporting a straw hat. King Henry II particularly like to gamble on the outcome of his games, sharing his winnings with his team if they won and covering both his losses and those of his team if they were beaten.

The court was usually covered and rectangular in shape. A spectator’s gallery on three sides had a sloping roof and the remaining high wall was painted black and had niches called dedans. The leather ball, called an esteuf, was stuffed with horse or dog hair and was larger and heavier than the modern tennis ball. The term tennis possibly comes from the call made by the server before he hit the ball of ‘Tenez’ meaning play was to resume.

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