Everyday Life

Games and Pastimes in Medieval Britain

The medieval period, spanning from the 5th to the 15th century, was a vibrant era filled with various forms of pastimes and entertainment. Throughout Great Britain people engaged in a wide range of games, pastimes, and hobbies that provided amusement, social interaction, and a means to escape the challenges of everyday life.

Here we’ll look at the diverse world of medieval games and pastimes in England, Scotland and Wales,, including the traditions of ball games, storytelling, mock combat, and the influences of the Saxons, Normans, and Vikings.


Medieval England was a vibrant and lively society, and its people engaged in a wide range of games and pastimes for entertainment and leisure.

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From the common folk to the nobility, various activities provided amusement, social interaction, and a means to escape the challenges of everyday life. Let’s look at some of the popular games and pastimes enjoyed in medieval England.

Ball Games

Ball games were a common pastime in medieval England, enjoyed by both adults and children. One such game was “mob football,” which was a rough and chaotic game played in the streets and fields between rival teams.

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The objective was to get the ball to the opposing team’s goal, with minimal rules or boundaries. It was a highly energetic and competitive game, often played during festivals and holidays.

Archery Contests

The bow held immense cultural significance in medieval England, particularly due to the longbow’s prominence. Archery contests were popular events where participants showcased their skills with the longbow.

These contests served not only as entertainment but also as a means to maintain and improve the country’s archery skills for military purposes.

Storytelling and Music

Storytelling and music played a vital role in medieval English society. Bards and minstrels entertained audiences with epic tales, legends, and folklore. They travelled from village to village, court to court, captivating listeners with their stories and songs. These performances often portrayed heroic deeds, romantic tales, and moral lessons.

Board Games

Board games were enjoyed by the nobility and the wealthy in medieval England. Chess, which had been introduced to England during the Norman Conquest, became increasingly popular.

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It was a game of strategy and intellect, played on a chequered board. Other board games, such as backgammon and draughts, were also played, providing entertainment and mental stimulation.

Dice Games and Gambling

For the lower classes, dice games and gambling provided an avenue for entertainment. Dice games like “hazard” and “tables” were played in taverns and alehouses. Gambling on various outcomes, including dice rolls, card games, and animal races, was a common pastime among the working-class population.

Morris Dancing

Morris dancing was a traditional folk dance that originated in medieval England. It involved dancers dressed in elaborate costumes, often adorned with bells, ribbons, and garlands.

The dancers performed intricate patterns and synchronised movements to lively music, adding a festive and celebratory atmosphere to village gatherings and festivals.

Hunting and Hawking

Hunting was a popular leisure activity among the English nobility. Lords and knights engaged in falconry, a sport that involved training and flying birds of prey, such as falcons and hawks, to catch game birds. Hunting with hounds, particularly for deer and boar, was also a favoured pastime among the aristocracy.

Tournament Games

Tournaments were grand events that showcased chivalry, martial skills, and courtly romance. Knights participated in jousting tournaments, where they engaged in mock combat on horseback, attempting to strike their opponents with lances.

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Other tournament games included sword fighting, wrestling, and archery contests, all of which entertained the noble audience and displayed the participants’ physical prowess.

Maypole Dancing

Maypole dancing was a popular springtime activity in medieval England. It involved erecting a tall pole decorated with colourful ribbons and flowers. Villagers, holding onto the ribbons, would dance and weave intricate patterns around the Maypole, accompanied by music and merriment. Maypole dancing symbolised the arrival of spring and the rejuvenation of nature.

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Medieval England was a society that valued both physical and mental recreation. Games and pastimes provided not only entertainment but also a sense of release from the day to day grind of work and hardships.


In medieval Scotland, various pastimes and leisure activities were enjoyed by people of different social classes. From the common folk to the nobility, these pastimes provided entertainment, social interaction, and a means to celebrate Scottish culture and traditions. Let’s explore some of the popular pastimes in medieval Scotland.

Highland Games

The Highland Games emerged as a significant cultural event in medieval Scotland and continue to be celebrated to this day. These games showcased traditional sports and athletic competitions, emphasising strength, agility, and endurance.

Events such as caber tossing (throwing a large wooden pole), hammer throwing, stone put (throwing a heavy stone), and tug-of-war demonstrated the physical prowess of the participants. Bagpipe music, traditional dances like the Highland fling, and clan gatherings were also integral parts of the Highland Games.

Storytelling and Poetry

Storytelling and poetry played a crucial role in medieval Scottish society. Bards and storytellers, known as “seanachies,” would entertain listeners with epic tales, legends, and heroic stories.

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These tales often celebrated Scottish history, myths, and folklore, preserving the country’s cultural heritage. The seanchaís travelled from place to place, captivating audiences with their mesmerising performances.

Music and Dance

Music and dance were central to medieval Scottish pastimes. The bagpipes, a traditional Scottish instrument, accompanied many gatherings and celebrations. People would gather to dance traditional Scottish dances such as the reel, jig, and strathspey. These dances involved lively footwork, intricate formations, and energetic music, bringing people together in joyous revelry.

Horse Racing

Horse racing was a popular pastime in medieval Scotland, particularly among the nobility. Competitive horse racing events were held, showcasing the speed and endurance of the horses and the skill of the riders. These races often took place during fairs and festivals, attracting large crowds and fostering a spirit of friendly competition.

Archery Competitions

Similar to England, archery contests were also prevalent in medieval Scotland. The art of archery held great importance as a skill for warfare and hunting.

Archery competitions allowed participants to showcase their accuracy and skill with the bow and arrow. These contests served as both entertainment and a means to maintain and improve the archery prowess of the Scottish population.


Ceilidhs, meaning “gatherings” in Scottish Gaelic, were social events where people came together for music, dance, and storytelling. These gatherings were informal and included various activities such as singing, dancing, reciting poetry, and playing musical instruments.


In medieval Wales, a rich tapestry of pastimes and leisure activities offered entertainment, social interaction, and a celebration of Welsh culture. From the common people to the Welsh nobility, various pastimes were enjoyed throughout the country. Let’s delve into some of the popular pastimes in medieval Wales.


Eisteddfodau were poetic and musical gatherings that celebrated Welsh culture and talent. These events provided a platform for bards, poets, and musicians to showcase their skills and compete in various artistic disciplines. Eisteddfodau encompassed poetry recitals, harp playing, singing, storytelling, and other creative performances.

They promoted the preservation of Welsh language, literature, and traditions.


Hunting played a significant role in medieval Welsh pastimes. The Welsh nobility, including princes and their retinues, engaged in hunting activities, such as deer hunting and boar hunting. These pursuits demonstrated their prowess as skilled hunters and provided opportunities for socialising and camaraderie.

Storytelling and Folklore

Storytelling was a cherished tradition in medieval Wales, with tales of heroes, legends, and ancient folklore passed down through generations. Bards and storytellers captivated audiences with their oral narratives, preserving Welsh history and mythology.

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These stories often celebrated the bravery and noble deeds of Welsh heroes and mythical figures.

Music and Dance

Music and dance held a special place in Welsh culture. Folk dances, such as the lively twmpath and the elegant gŵyl werin, brought communities together in joyous celebration.

Instruments like the harp, crwth (a type of bowed lyre), and pibgorn (a traditional hornpipe) accompanied these dances, creating a lively and rhythmic atmosphere.

Board Games

Board games were enjoyed in medieval Wales, offering intellectual stimulation and entertainment. Tawlbwrdd, a strategic game similar to chess, was popular among the Welsh nobility. The game involved moving pieces on a chequered board, aiming to capture the opponent’s pieces. It required strategic thinking and careful planning.


The Welsh bowmen and medieval Britain go hand in hand. Archery contests were prevalent in medieval Wales, reflecting the importance of archery in warfare and hunting. These competitions provided an opportunity for archers to demonstrate their skill and accuracy with the bow and arrow. Archery also played a crucial role in defending Wales and its independence.

Festivals and Fairs

Medieval Welsh society cherished festivals and fairs, which brought communities together for merriment, entertainment, and trade. These events featured music, dancing, storytelling, feasting, and various games and competitions. People would gather to celebrate seasonal harvests, religious holidays, and significant cultural milestones.

Mock Combat and Games

Mock combat, such as sword fighting and wrestling, entertained audiences and allowed warriors to display their martial skills. These displays of physical prowess often took place during festivals and gatherings, creating a sense of excitement and competition.

Jousting was popular in the medieval era. It continues to draw crowds today.

Medieval Wales fostered a rich tradition of cultural expression and communal celebration. Through poetry, music, storytelling, and various physical activities, the Welsh people found ways to preserve their heritage, entertain one another, and revel in the spirit of their vibrant culture.

Medieval Britain was a melting pot of diverse games, pastimes, and hobbies that entertained people from all walks of life. From ball games to storytelling, mock combat to board games, each country played similar games or had similar pastimes.

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Each however also had their own unique versions which were fiercely practised.