Battledore is the frontrunner for badminton. The game of battledore and shuttlecock was described by Brittanica Encycopledia in 1911 as follows:
BATTLEDORE AND SHUTTLECOCK, a game played by two persons with small rackets, called battledores, made of parchment or rows of gut stretched across wooden frames, and shuttlecocks, made of a base of some light material, like cork, with trimmed feathers fixed round the top.
The object of the players is to bat the shuttlecock from one to the other as many times as possible without allowing it to fall to the ground.
There are Greek drawings extant representing a game almost identical to battledore and shuttlecock, and it has been popular in China, Japan, India, and Siam (Thailand) for at least 2000 years. In Europe, it has been played by children for centuries. A further development is Badminton.
The premise for the game was simple, players kept the shuttlecock in the air for as long as possible by batting it from one to another player. No net was used. The game was immensely popular amongst children and adults in the 18th century.
At Badminton House, battledore and shuttlecock were played until new rules were invented, which eventually became the foundation for what we today know as badminton. It has been said that the gentry at Badminton House was inspired by the game of Poona played by British Military Officers in India. But their inspiration probably came from a mix of battledore and Poona.
Variations of battledore and shuttlecock around the world
Several variations of battledore have been played around the world.
The Japanese play a game known as Hanetsuki (also known as Oibane). It is a Japanese traditional game, similar to badminton but without a net, played with a rectangular wooden paddle called a hagoita and a brightly colored shuttlecock, called a hane. Hanetsuki is still played in Japan. The paddles nowadays are very colorful and sold at retailers around the country.
According to Wikipedia, various traditional shuttlecock games have been played by North American indigenous peoples, including the Kwakiutl, Pima, Salish, and Zuni; they are often played with a feathered shuttle made of corn husk or twigs and sometimes a wooden battledore.
It is interesting to see the variations and qualities of “paddles” and “shuttles” used historically. Players – or the helpers – had no choice but to create new shuttles by hand, and – oftentimes – use whichever material they could get their hands on.
The French took a liking to battledore
In France, zoologist and painter François Alexandre Pierre de Garsault described battledore and shuttlecock as it was played in France during the first half of the eighteenth century (where it was known as jouer de volant) and he said feathers from pigeon’s wings were used in the shuttlecock. (Today we use mainly goose feathers).
Jean Jacques Rousseau – a contemporary of Garsault – claimed the following:
“When a child plays shuttlecock he practices hand and eye coordination; but he learns nothing.
You prefer the shuttlecock because it is harmless and less tiring? You are mistaken!
The shuttlecock is a woman’s game, but there isn’t one who hits a moving ball. The white skins mustn’t be roughened by violence; but we, who are vigorous and robust, cannot be so without sweat and how do we expect to defend ourselves if we are never attacked?“
Even if Rousseau and others thought very little of the game and how it was played at the time, it is highly likely that these gentlemen would have no complaint about the physical requirements to play badminton today.
A full historical account of battledore and shuttlecocks
If you are interested in learning more about the history of battledore, we recommend reading this fun article with lots of historic pictures and paintings depicting our forefathers involved in battledore.