Games And Toys During The Tudor Era That Were To Die For... Literally

Children playing portrait. World

Christiana Jelyan died at three-years-old playing a simple game we all have as a child. She was making mud-pies when she fell backward into a ditch. The fall killed her instantly. Children picking flowers often drowned if they were near water. So Ophelia’s drowning in Hamlet isn’t that uncommon during this time period. Nicholas Braunche was five-years-old when he picked up a knife off the table to play with it. He tripped over his younger sibling’s cradle and fell on the knife, stabbing himself in the neck. No wonder our parents always told us not to play with sharp objects or run with scissors.

During this time children were often around animals. Peasants tended to farms, and nobility also had many pets. An unnamed two-year-old girl was playing with a two-month-old fowl when it kicked her in the head. A boy, even younger than the girl, followed a gosling into a pond in his backyard and drowned. Exploring near animals is also dangerous for older children. John Watson was seven-years-old when he slipped past a colt and a mare in a barn. The colt kicked him in the ribs, and he died five hours later. Robert Craneford died after hitting a grey horse tied to a post with a small twig. The horse decided to kick him in the head.

Some children chose much safer games to play, but in the wrong place. Richard Sone and Joan Middleton were playing by Chichester’s city walls when a gale blew part of the 60-foot wall down on top of them and buried them. Robert Alcocke was playing in his father’s smithy when a scythe and large hammer fell on his head. Several boys and girls also played in carts. If they fell out of a cart, it would either fall on top of them crushing them or ran over them. Children playing on roads often were trampled by horses, run over carts, or smashed between roadside posts and traffic. Playing in an urban area often wasn’t safe for children, not that playing on rural farms was any better.

Ophelia drowning painting by Paul Albert Steck. Fine Art America.

Water was also the enemy of children. Children playing around water often fell in ditches, streams, lakes, rivers, and wells. Toddlers often drowned in full vats of water, brewing vessels, or tubs of water left out for laundry or salt fish. One such child was looking at her reflection when she fell in. Watching adults or siblings while at work is interesting, since many of us want to help or be just like them. This wasn’t always a good idea during the 16th century since it caused the deaths of some children. William Gregory’s father was repairing a cart in his barn when one wheel fell off. The wheel fell on William’s head and killed him. William Rushe followed his sister and some other children that were driving cattle to water when he tripped and fell on a knife. Adults were able to keep small children out of the way by strapping them to chairs, but sometimes the chairs would fall over into the fireplace and burned them alive.