We do not
claim that the following material represents the definitive history
of billiards. Much is still not known about this subject; and we
may have given insufficient weight to some issues and events. If
the reader has any further information which might assist with discussion
of a particular area or areas we would be very pleased if you contacted
The game of billiards has been played for so long that we cannot
trace its beginnings accurately. But it seems that the game we know
today developed long ago from a game we might call "ground
billiards". Although some believe it originated in Spain or
Italy, this game probably emerged first in England or France during
Illustrations dating from the 14th century have been found showing
"ground billiards" in action. Manuscripts have been located
documenting the equipment used for the game at the time. The earliest
of these dates is around 1300 AD. It appears, however, that some
people continued to play "ground billiards" in its changing
forms as late as the 17th Century.
The transformation of the game from one played outside on the grass
to inside on a table took place towards the end of the 1400s. Records
show that King Louis XI of France purchased a billiard table in
The Sixteenth Century
The popularity of the game which we may call at this stage, "table
billiards", spread among the noble families of France and England
during the 1500s. For example, Mary, Queen of Scots, was fond of
billiards. In 1587 she complained that her captors had deprived
her of her billiard table. Queen Elizabeth I's favourite, Robert
Dudley, Earl of Leicester, owned a billiard table.
Billiard tables became more usual in public places in London. Several
writers of the late 1500s mention the game of billiards. The best
known reference to the game from around this time is that by Shakespeare
in his play, "Anthony and Cleopatra", (written in 1609),
where Cleopatra suggests to her handmaiden, "Let us to billiards",
in Act II, Scene 5.
The Seventeenth Century
During the 1600s billiards became very popular, both among the ordinary
citizens in public places and among the nobility who tended to own
their own private tables. Indeed, the popularity of billiards among
the French nobility grew steadily up until the end of the monarchy
with the onset of the French Revolution in 1789. King Louis XIII
(1610-1643) was a keen billiards player. Louis XIV (1643-1715) was
a great adherent of the game. Louis XV and Louis XVI are also recorded
as having played billiards, the latter often being beaten by his
wife, Marie Antoinette.
Meanwhile in England, King James I (1603-1625) owned a billiard
table. Samuel Pepys, the well-known English diarist, played billiards
regularly. And books began to be written during this period explaining
how to play the game of billiards, eg, "The Compleat Gamester",
written by Charles Cotton was published in England in 1674.
Of course, the game, at this time, was quite different to modern
billiards. There were two balls, one belonging to each of two players.
Rather than cues, players used as an instrument, the "mace",
essentially a crooked stick with a sizeable head. The mace was used
to push, rather than strike, the ball through an arch sometimes
called a "pass" or a "port" which was placed
on the table. Here the player aimed to strike the opponent's ball
with his own ball so that his own ball travelled through the "pass",
(a "losing hazard); or to strike the opponent's ball with his
own ball so the opponent's ball travelled through the pass, (a "winning
hazard"). Having achieved the required number of points the
more successful player finished the game by using his own ball to
strike the opponent's ball so that it then rebounded off a small
post, also set on the table called a "pin" or "king".
Later, the pass and the king disappeared from the table, the French
dispensing with them somewhat earlier than English players did.
(To continue see A Short History of billiards, page 2.)