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

The White King as a child playing with other children. Wikimedia Commons.

Older children were not immune to death by playing. Some fell asleep on the edge of ponds or roads traveled by carts. George Nycolson of Newcastle Sandgate died from smoke inhalation from sleeping in a lime kiln. Catherine Else slept under Marlow Bridge and was hit with a wave when boats came through the lock. The wave caused her to fall into the river and drown. As children began to grow though, they became exposed to the working world. During this time they started working at a much younger age than today, as young as six. In the 1550s, out of 61 children aged six or younger who died in accidents, only one died from working. The one child that died was herding pigs. 79 children aged between seven and 13, about one in four were working when they passed. Girls often fetched water or washed linen while boys drove carts, forked hay, or herded animals.

One of the dangers of the deaths of children was the fine line between work and play. Jane Nune fell into Loughton Brook in Buckinghamshire reaching out for a goose feather in the water. Was she playing, or collecting feathers for the down in pillows? Thomas Hubbard was ten-years-old when he became too eager for work. He was sent into the fields of Brundish, Suffolk with refreshments for the ploughmen. He decided to try his hand at ploughing but tripped over either a stone or clod of dirt which sent him into a passing colt. This caused him to accidentally hit the colt with the whip for controlling the plough horse, and the horse kicked him in the back of the head. He died hours later.

St. Anne painting.

Thomas Cokerell was nine-years-old driving a cart in the fields of Reymerston, Norfolk under his father’s supervision. Without consulting his father, he ran and jumped into the cart as it was moving. The horse became startled and knocked the cart over, hitting Thomas in the head. There seems to be a lot of head-related injuries causing the deaths of 16th-century children. Watching adults play wasn’t a good idea either at the time since they could be very dangerous even for the people playing them. In 1552, spectators from eight to ten years of age were killed during archery practice in Louth, Lincolnshire and at a hammer-throwing contest in Corfe, Dorset.

When adolescence came about, they allowed their participation, but it was no safer. John Tyler (15), and Thomas Wylson (16) died playing football (or soccer for you American folks) after one fell heavily on a molehill and the other stabbed in the thigh by a knife from another player’s belt. Sadly, the farther along in life a person got didn’t make avoiding death any easier. Many children died playing games and with toys, and most were not as famous or well-to-do as Lord George Dacre. But their stories reveal the horrid dangers of games during the 16th century and how easy it was for a child to lose their life.

Where did we find this stuff? Here’s our sources:

Gunn, Stephen, and Tomasz Gromelski. “Toys and games that killed in Tudor England.” History Extra. Last modified December 13, 2012.