Bowls (also known as Lawn Bowls or Lawn Bowling) is a precision sport in which the goal is to roll slightly radially asymmetrical balls (called bowls) closer to a smaller white ball (the "jack" or "kitty" or "sweetie") than one's opponent is able to do.
Bowls is related to bocce and ptanque. This game is most popular in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and in other Commonwealth nations.
It has been traced certainly to the 13th, and conjecturally to the 12th century. William Fitzstephen (d. about 1190), in his biography of Thomas Becket, gives a graphic sketch of the London of his day and, writing of the summer amusements of the young men, says that on holidays they were "exercised in Leaping, Shooting, Wrestling, Casting of Stones [in jactu lapidum], and Throwing of Javelins fitted with Loops for the Purpose, which they strive to fling before the Mark; they also use Bucklers, like fighting Men." It is commonly supposed that by jactus lapidum Fitzstephen meant the game of bowls, but though it is possible that round stones may sometimes have been employed in an early variety of the game - and there is a record of iron bowls being used, though at a much later date, on festive occasions at Nairn, - nevertheless the inference seems unwarranted. The jactus lapidum of which he speaks was probably more akin to the modern "putting the weight," once even called "putting the stone." It is beyond dispute, however, that the game, at any rate in a rudimentary form, was played in the 13th century. A MS. of that period in the royal library, Windsor (No. 20, E iv.), contains a drawing representing two players aiming at a small cone instead of an earthenware ball or jack.
Another MS. of the same century has a picture - crude, but spirited - which brings us into close touch with the existing game. Three figures are introduced and a jack. The first player's bowl has come to rest just in front of the jack; the second has delivered his bowl and is following after it with one of those eccentric contortions still not unusual on modern greens, the first player meanwhile making a repressive gesture with his hand, as if to urge the bowl to stop short of his own; the third player is depicted as in the act of delivering his bowl. A 14th century MS. Book of Prayers in the Francis Douce collection in the Bodleian library at Oxford contains a drawing in which two persons are shown, but they bowl to no mark. Strutt (Sports and Pastimes) suggests that the first player's bowl may have been regarded by the second player as a species of jack; but in that case it is not clear what was the first player's target. In these three earliest illustrations of the pastime it is worth noting that each player has one bowl only, and that the attitude in delivering it was as various five or six hundred years ago as it is to-day. In the third he stands almost upright; in the first he kneels; in the second he stoops, halfway between the upright and the kneeling position.
As the game grew in popularity it came under the ban of king and parliament, both fearing it might jeopardize the practice of archery, then so important in battle; and statutes forbidding it and other sports were enacted in the reigns of Edward III, Richard II and other monarchs. Even when, on the invention of gunpowder and firearms, the bow had fallen into disuse as a weapon of war, the prohibition was continued. The discredit attaching to bowling alleys, first established in London in 1455, probably encouraged subsequent repressive legislation, for many of the alleys were connected with taverns frequented by the dissolute and gamesters. The word "bowls" occurs for the first time in the statute of 1511 in which Henry VIII confirmed previous enactments against unlawful games. By a further act of 1541 - which was not repealed until 1845 - artificers, labourers, apprentices, servants and the like were forbidden to play bowls at any time save Christmas, and then only in their master's house and presence. It was further enjoined that any one playing bowls outside of his own garden or orchard was liable to a penalty of 6s. 8d., while those possessed of lands of the yearly value of £100 might obtain licenses to play on their own private greens.
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