The ‘Declaration of Sports’.

The Controversial Role of Sunday Sports in Early Modern England.

Term Paper 2008 29 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography




2.1 JAMES I (SCOTLAND, 1537-1625; ENGLAND, 1603-1625)
2.2 CHARLES I (1625-1649)







1 Introduction

The reigns of James I and Charles I were accompanied by great upheavals within the English society, the Anglican Church and the entire European balance of power. There were issues concerning marriage, foreign wars and religion. In so far the period does not vary so much from the reigns of other English monarchs. However, both kings had to deal with an issue that seemed to become stronger and stronger in the course of their power: the growing Puritan influence in the country and the resulting grievance and dissatisfaction within the English people. One of the characteristic features of the Puritan movement was an insistence on a strict keeping of the Christian Sabbath on Sundays. Of all the reformed movements on the Continent, none ever came anywhere close to the Puritans' extreme Sabbatarianism. It had long been a custom in England that Sunday mornings were dedicated to Christian worship, and were then followed by sports and games on Sunday afternoons. Sports always had an extraordinary importance in the lives of the English people. Already in the medieval time, around 1190, there are documents to be found stating that there had been a real enthusiasm about sports in England.1 Amongst these sportive activities were: jumping, archery, wrestling, throwing stones and fencing but also the annual rowing regatta on the river Thames.

The Puritans loudly objected to the practice of Sunday sports, believing that playing games on the Sabbath constituted a violation of the Fourth Commandment. In the early seventeenth century, Puritans came to dominate several localities and managed to succeed in banning Sunday sports. In 1617, in Lancashire, there was a particularly intense quarrel between the Puritans and the local gentry over the issue of Sunday sports. In response to the controversy raging in his diocese, Thomas Morton, Bishop of Chester, asked the king for a ruling on the propriety of Sunday sports. In response to Bishop Morton's request, King James issued the ‘Declaration of Sports’, a declaration claiming that it was lawful to play some sports on Sundays, but not others. Of course, the document was very controversial among the Puritans. The king commanded all Anglican ministers to read the ‘Declaration of Sports’ to their congregations. Only a few years afterwards, James’ son, Charles I, reissued the declaration which shows that the conflict concerning Sunday sports had not yet been solved.

This paper is concerned with the ‘Declaration of Sports’, its place in the particular period of English history and its intentions. Firstly, the historical period of Early Modern England in the reigns of James I and Charles I will be examined in order to have a general look at the political situation of the country and to already find some of the triggers for the controversy between the kings and the Puritans. Secondly, the Puritan movement in England will be analysed. Here, there are already tendencies within the congregation that might explain the background of the ‘Declaration of Sports’. Thirdly, the document itself will be investigated and questions such as: ‘What exactly does it say concerning sports on Sundays?’ will be examined. Following that the background of the document is going to be looked at. Here, the meanings of Sunday within the Puritan movement as well as the special role of Lancashire and the “lawful” and “unlawful” sports, respectively, are being investigated.

Concerning the issue of the ‘Declaration of Sports’ there is only a little and often not satisfactory offer of literature. The greater part of it is rather concerned with the broad English history of these decades so that the controversy on Sunday sports has been neglected. Many articles or essays are only dealing with one particular issue of the document rather than putting all influences together in order to explain the real nature of the ‘Declaration of Sports’.

2 Early Modern English History in the Times of James I and Charles I: An Overview

2.1 James I (Scotland, 1537-1625; England, 1603-1625)

Elizabeth left her to her successor a kingdom in most respects unlike that which she had received from her sister Mary. The English people had passed through the great religious crisis and had maintained its peculiar reformation against all attacks from within and without. It had waged successful war against the mightiest of European kings. It had recruited its industry with thousands of the most skilful artisans of the continent. The common people enjoyed more abundance and lighter taxation than in other country of equal extent.2

James IV of Scotland, I of England, and later to call himself King of Great Britain, succeeded to the Scottish throne when he was only one year old. He was crowned at Stirling on 29 July 1567. His mother having fled to England, he was put in the care of the Earl and Countess of Mar, the most ancient Scottish titles, said to be ‘lost to its antiquity’.3 His tutor was the Presbyterian divine George Buchanan. While James respected Buchanan’s learning he later expressed detestation of his doctrines. By the age of ten he was remarkable for his learning. James was able to read a chapter out of the Bible in Latin, translate it into French, and then into English. Buchanan wished to make James a constitutional king, the servant of the people, which was not in the king’s temperament. The Scottish Parliament was a single house in which Lords of Parliament sat with Commons. A ‘constitutional king’ would have been the mere servant of the nobility.

James was early conscious that, as the great grandson of Henry VII of England, he was heir to the throne of England. He had sent several missions to England until, in 1603, his accession passed smoothly, although he had to pause at York for funds to enable him to make his way south with suitable pomp. Elizabeth I had died virtually penniless, but to James England had seemed ‘Eldorado’.4 His lavish generosity and extravagance always left him short of money. In Scotland he had exerted power by force of character. He was highly conscious of his intellectual attainments and superiority and had developed a high concept of kingship, the Divine Right of Kings’, which, in 1611, he explained to the English Parliament. He sowed future trouble by saying:

The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God’s lieutenant to sit upon a throne, but even by God Himself they are called gods; as to dispute what God may do is blasphemy, so it is sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power.5

James, indeed, was prolix and pedantic, as well as tactless in a country in which Parliament, and in particular the Commons, was beginning to be conscious of his powers. So, in 1604, in the case of Godwin, when James intervened in disallowing the election of an outlaw, and again in the case of Bate, where a merchant had refused to pay dues, he involved himself with quarrels which would best have been left to the courts. His first Parliament sat from 1604 to 1611, managed largely by Elizabeth’s great minister Lord Salisbury. A second Parliament met for six weeks in 1614; it passed no laws, and is known to history as the ‘Addled Parliament’. Between 1612 and 1625 James ruled either alone or through his catamite favorites, Robert Carr and Lord Buckingham.6

The issue of religion arose early in his reign. There were three Catholic plots. The ‘Bye Plot’, in 1603 raised by a single Catholic, who was delated by another, intended to kidnap the king. More serious was the ‘Main Plot’, whose object was to put Lady Arabella Stuart, the granddaughter of Henry VII, on the throne with Spanish aid. The third plot, in 1605, was the ‘Gunpowder Plot’, organized by Robert Catesby, who sent a Yorkshire soldier of fortune, Guy or Guido Fawkes, to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, when the Commons would be present in the Chamber, as well as the king. None of these plots had any popular support, but laws of extreme severity were passed: Catholics were excluded from all professions; they could not appear at Court or within ten miles of London unless employed there; fines were increased. Neither James nor his successors took much trouble to enforce them.7

At a different level from James’s relations with Parliament were his relations with the Church of England, itself of very complex character. Aside from the Catholics, the official Church, with its royally appointed archbishops and bishops, hat not yet lost what had been reckoned at no less than 170 sects by 1649.8 It is simplest to define these divisions as Anglican, and, on the other hand of the divided, bodies known as Puritans, a term they did not use themselves; rather it was a term of abuse used by their opponents. Their principal divisions included Independents, Presbyterians, whom James privily hated, and Congregationalists, although these terms did not emerge in any organized manner until the next reign. On only one point could all these be said to be united, namely in detestation of Catholicism and of the papacy. Even so, the Anglicans themselves were not solid, but covered a spectrum, what later would emerge in terms difficult to define, High Church, Broad Church and Low Church.9 It was in the interest of national unity that James had to confront them all and not less as supreme governor of the Church within the terms of the monarchy that he had defined in Parliament. With the king as supreme, James saw the Anglican episcopate as part of the social order: ‘No bishop, no king’ was his maxim. If the episcopate were overthrown, the monarchy would be also.

One of the most significant events in the reign of James was the translation of the Bible known as the ‘Authorised Version’. It was the king himself who fleshed out the form of the original proposal that had been prepared by the President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The work was carried out by sixty scholars divided in committees of ten. Each man made his own version, and then the versions were compared and revised into a single form. It was further to be revised by the bishops, then by the Council, and finally be presented to the king for his approval. It took until 1611 before the first edition could be published.

As part of his policy of moving the English and Scottish churches closer together, in 1618, King James proposed the ‘Five Articles of Perth’, which imposed English practices on the Scottish church. The ‘Five Articles’ required kneeling at Communion, provisions allowing for private baptism, provisions allowing reservation of the sacrament for the ill, that only a bishop was allowed to administer the rite of confirmation, and that the Church of Scotland, which had previously abolished all holy days, was obliged to accept some of them. The ‘Five Articles of Perth’ were ultimately accepted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, though a sizable minority of Scottish Presbyterians objected. The articles were also distressing for English Puritans as they had hoped that the Church of England would be reformed to be brought in line with the practice of the Church of Scotland. Instead, the ‘Articles of Perth’ appeared to English Puritans to be heading in the wrong direction, by forcing English errors on the Church of Scotland.10

For all this, James was given to hesitancy and inconsistency. This was most marked in his foreign policy, in which he veered from one line to another. In spite of his high Anglican attitude, and in the face of Parliament, he had not only cherished the hope of a Spanish marriage for his first son Charles, but eventually moved him towards a marriage with a French princess, which took place early in the latter’s reign. This could not please the Anglican hierarchy, nor the people at large.

At the end of his reign James was showing signs of senility. He had always shambled, and always overindulged in drink. He was coarse in speech and obscene, and shameless in hugging and fondling his catamites. Taken together his reigns in Scotland and England amounted to some fifty-eight years out of a life of fifty-nine. He had always been isolated, first as an orphan, then by his inheritance. In any sober assessment he must be accounted a wholly remarkable man.11

2.2 Charles I (1625-1649)

At noon on Sunday, 27 March 1625 James I died. The king’s death was a relief for the whole kingdom. James was old and pathetic: Charles seemed to be young, energetic and exciting, promising, like all new administrators, a better future. Thus the news of his accession was greeted everywhere with enthusiasm. The only persons who refused to take part in the celebrations were the papists. In a sense the heralds were proclaiming the wrong man for three years after James’s death the Duke of Buckingham in many ways ruled the country, making the period from Charles’s accession to Buckingham’s assassination a whole. Working with the king, Buckingham pushed England into war, first with Spain and then with France, and into military expeditions and try and loot Cadiz, occupy the Isle of Ré off the French coast, and relive the Huguenots in La Rochelle. If in the first three years of his reign there were any milestones for Charles, they were not his parliaments, but the military expeditions that made those parliaments necessary.12

When he was brought to England in 1604 many ladies refused to look after him. He was so weak, and especially in his ankles; he had a speech defect that he never wholly outgrew. He was intensely shy and retrospective, wholly unreceptive to the opinions of others and lacked all imagination. He was untrustworthy, not out of ill will, but out of thoughtlessness. As he grew up, he learnt to ride well, to enjoy tennis and tilting. Morally he was irreproachable, and even blushed if an immodest word was uttered in his hearing.

His father James sent him to a trip to Spain in order to find his son a wife. This meeting which was led by Buckingham was in every way a fiasco. Having failed to get a Spanish wife, he determined on a French one. The Commons had already voted, urging him to marry a Protestant. He ignored their wishes. Even the French ambassador was baffled by him. When James I died in 1625, he said that either he was an extraordinary man, ‘or his talents are very mean’.13 Charles then married Henrietta Maria on 1 May 1625, after his father’s death. She was strongly Catholic, without any sympathy for Protestants, and wholly ignorant of England.

Between 1625-1629 Charles called three Parliaments. He quarreled with them all. Parliament was Puritan and anti-Catholic. Charles was High Anglican, and inclined to be tolerant of his wife’s co-religionists. He quarreled likewise over money, over Buckingham and his hot-headed expedition to Cadiz. From 1629 until 1640 the ‘Eleven Years Tyranny’ followed. He governed without Parliament, as indeed Elizabeth I had done. His two principal advisers were Thomas, Earl of Strafford and William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Strafford was being described as ‘The First of the Rats’ as he was arbitrary and inconsistent. Laud was devoted to the king.14 When, in 1633, George Abbot, the so-called "Puritan Archbishop" died, Charles chose William Laud as his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury. George Abbot had been basically suspended from his functions after he refused to order his clergy to read the ‘Declaration of Sports’. As a sign of the loyalty of the new archbishop, Charles now re-issued the declaration in October 1633. Unlike Abbot, Laud ordered his clergy to read the ‘Declaration of Sports’ to their congregations and suspended any Puritan minister who refused to read the Book to their congregation. Laud had distinguished himself as President of St John’s College, Oxford. As Archbishop he was constant in visiting all the dioceses under him. His motto ‘Thorough’ applied equally to his theological views, being an unbending High Churchman. Remarkably, he also inclined to Rome that the Pope even offered him a Cardinal’s Hat. He introduced a regime of fines even for the smallest infringements on the part of the laity, and flogging, branding and the cutting off of the ears for disobedient clergy. A system like that could only lead to trouble. Laud probably saved the Church of England from Calvinism, but undoubtedly it drove moderate Protestants into the Puritan camp.15 In 1637 an extraordinary scene took place in Palace Yard, Westminster, where the Courts of Justice were then situated. A lawyer, a clergyman and a doctor had their ears removed, for scurrilous attacks on bishops. Admittedly, one had written that the bishops were the enemies of God and the king, and that the Church was too full of ceremonies. They were further sentenced to fines of £5000 and imprisonment for life.


1 Cf. Schöffler, Herbert. England als Land des Sports: Eine kultursoziologische Erklärung. Leipzig: Verlag von Bernhard Tauchritz, 1935, p. 9.

2 Montague, F.C. “The History of England: From the Accession of James I. to the Restauration (1603-1660).” The Political History of England. Vol. 7. Ed. by Hunt, William and Reginald L. Poole. London: Wordsworth Reference, 1997, p. 1.

3 Freeman-Grenville, G.S.P. The Wordsworth Book of the Kings and Queens of Britain. A Pageant of Royal History from the First King of Wessex to the House of Windsor. London: Wordsworth Reference, 1997, p. 140.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., p.141.

6 Cf. ibid.

7 Cf. ibid., p.142.

8 Cf. ibid.

9 Ibid., p. 142f.

10 Cf. ibid.

11 Cf. ibid., p. 143f.

12 Cf. Carlton, Charles. Charles I.: The Personal Monarch. London: Routledge, 1995, p. 59f.

13 Freeman, p. 145.

14 Cf. ibid., p. 146.

15 Cf. ibid.


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Sports’ Controversial Role Sunday Sports Early Modern England




Title: The ‘Declaration of Sports’.