King Louis XII of France and the Game of Jeu de Paume (Tennis)

Drawing of a game of jeu de paume from the 17th Century

Drawing of a game of jeu de paume from the 17th Century

Louis d’Orléans was a member of a cadet branch of the House of Valois which put him on a course to inherit the throne of France if certain conditions were met. While he was young, he was trained in the essential skills necessary for a nobleman such as hunting, sports and martial arts to prepare him for the rigors of war, all of which required vigorous physical exercise. Tennis was his favorite sport. As a young man, Louis was praised as being the best jumper and best tennis player in the realm.

During Louis’ time, tennis was called jeu de paume, also known as handball, and the game eventually evolved into the tennis which we know today. Early on the ball was made of leather stuffed with animal hair and hit with a gloved hand. The racket didn’t come into use until a few decades later. From the descriptions of the game during Louis’ time it is unclear if the game was played outdoors or in an enclosed area and if there was a net or a cord strung across the court. The game consisted of the players facing each other across the cord or net and hitting the ball back and forth within a designated space.

Gilded bronze medallion with a portrait of King Louis XII of France now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

Gilded bronze medallion with a portrait of King Louis XII of France now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

Competition during the game was very aggressive especially as there was a lot of wagering on the outcome. There is an interesting incident that happened during a match in Paris before Louis became king. Louis was playing and Anne de Beaujeu, eldest daughter of King Louis XI was a spectator along with the duke of Lorraine.

There was a doubtful call on the court that was being disputed by the participants and Louis asked Anne to decide the point. She gave the point to Louis’ opponent. Louis became enraged and called Anne a liar. Anne asked the duke of Lorraine if he was going to permit her to be insulted in such a manner. Being chivalrous, Lorraine promptly boxed Louis on the ear. The fight was broken up by the other bystanders but Louis and Lorraine remained enemies from that point on. Louis relationship with Anne de Beaujeu became frosty for some time.

Anne de Beaujeu, upon the death of her father, became unofficial regent of France for her brother King Charles VIII. Louis would challenge her during her entire tenure. King Charles would die in April of 1498 with no male heirs and Louis d’Orléans acceded to the throne of France as King Louis XII.

Further reading: “King Louis XII” by Frederic J. Baumgartner

6 responses

  1. I feel very sorry for Anne. That moment in time had an effect on her life for her lifetime. I wonder how many times she wished she had made another choice.

    Like

  2. Oh my goodness! Louis sounds like the world’s worst loser! Great story, Susan! Love the top illustration as well – the pavilion on the right looks remarkably (unsurprisingly!) like the court at Falkland.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought the same thing about it appearing to be Falkland Jo. My husband, who is a tennis player, laughed at this one. Arguing over line calls has been going on for centuries.

      Liked by 1 person

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