The Book of Sports 1633

The King’s Majesty’s Declaration to His Subjects Concerning Lawful Sports to Be Used

The ‘Book of Sports’ issued on October 18th 1633 by Charles I was a re-issue of hie father, James VI and I of Scotland and England, which was issued in 1618. Charles added just an extra paragraph, and ordered the document to be read inn churches. 

The document of 1618 reflected James’ distrust and dislike of puritans, who in his view were potential separatists from the church of England, and were prepared to challenge his authority. This derived from writings from the pens of men like the Marian exile John Ponet, and the radical puritan leaders in Scotland, George Buchanan and Andrew Melville, who taught that kings who did not support the true religion, could be deposed as tyrants. In James’ reign it caused a storm from Puritans, and was used as justification for dissent towards Puritans. The Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbot persuaded James not to insist it was read from the pulpit. 

However, James; reign was marked by the king’s careful balance of both wings of the Church of England, the Puritans and the Arminians, the latter favouring a much more formal and ceremonial form of worship. In Charles’ reign, with the fear of Archbishop William Laud and the rise of the Arminians to dominance, it’s re-issue was more incendiary still. 


By the King.

Our dear father of blessed memory, 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 labour 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 applicable to these parts of our realms, to be published to all our subjects.

Whereas 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, we now find that two sorts of people wherewith that country is much infected, we mean Papists and Puritans, have maliciously traduced and calumniated those our just and honourable proceedings: and therefore lest our reputation might upon the one side (though innocently) have some aspersion laid upon it, and that upon the other part our good people in that country be misled by the mistaking and misinterpretation of our meaning, we have therefore thought good hereby to clear and make our pleasure to be manifested to all our good people in those parts.

It is true that at our first entry to this crown and kingdom we were informed, and that too truly, that our county of Lancashire abounded more in popish recusants than any county of England, and thus hath still continued since, to our great regret, with little amendment, save that, now of late, in our last riding through our said country: we find both by the report of the judges, and of the bishop of that diocese, that there is some amendment now daily beginning, which is no small contentment to us.

The report of this growing amendment amongst them made us the more sorry, when with our own ears we heard the general complaint of our people, that they were barred from all lawful recreation and exercise 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 upon 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 we or our successors shall have occasion to use them; and in place thereof sets up filthy tipplings 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 labour and win their living in all working-days?

Our express pleasure therefore is, that the laws of our kingdom and canons of our Church be as well observed in that county, as in all other places of this our kingdom: and on the other part, that no lawful recreation shall be barred to our good people, which shall not tend to the breach of our aforesaid laws and canons of our Church: which to express more particularly, our pleasure is, that the bishop, and all other inferior churchmen and churchwardens, shall for their parts be careful and diligent, both to instruct the ignorant, and convince and reform them that are misled in religion, presenting them that will not conform themselves, but obstinately stand out, to our judges and justices: whom we likewise command to put the law in due execution against them.

Our pleasure likewise 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 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 likewise we bar from this benefit and liberty all such known as recusants, either men or women, as will abstain from coming to church or divine service, being therefore unworthy of any lawful recreation after the said service, that will not first come to the church and serve God: prohibiting in like sort the said recreations to any that, though [they] conform in religion, are not present in the church at the service of God, before their going to the said recreations. Our pleasure likewise is, that they to whom it belongeth in office, shall present and sharply punish all such, as in abuse of this our liberty, will use these exercises before the ends of all divine services for that day: and we likewise straitly 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: prohibiting likewise any offensive weapons to be carried or used in the said times of recreation: and our pleasure is, that this our declaration shall be published by order from the bishop of the diocese, through all the parish churches, and that both our judges of our circuit, and our justices of our peace be informed thereof.

Given at our Manor of Greenwich the four-and-twentieth day of May, in the sixteenth year of our reign, of England, France, and Ireland; and of Scotland the one-and-fiftieth.’


Now out of a like pious care for the service of God, and for suppressing of any humours that oppose truth, and for the ease, comfort, and recreation of our well-deserving people, we do ratify and publish this our blessed father’s declaration: the rather, because of late in some counties of our kingdom, we find that under pretence of taking away abuses, there hath been a general forbidding, not only of ordinary meetings, but of the feasts of the dedication 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 neighbourhood and freedom, with manlike and lawful exercises be used: and we further command our justices of assize in their several circuits to see that no man do trouble or molest any of our loyal 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 peace, as 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.

3 thoughts on “The Book of Sports 1633

  1. Hi David, great name, great content!

    Quick question – do you have any idea what “Scotland the one-and-fiftieth” could mean, or (at least) point towards?!

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