1520: Balinghem

I’m a bit late posting this week. I’ve been distracted, waiting for the announcement of the teams. And finally, this morning, the order was named and I am pleased to tell you that Chris Kennedy and the Reverend Rob Glenny will be opening the batting.


Haven’t you heard? The Vatican XI representing the St Peter’s Cricket Club will be playing the Church of England on the 19th of September in Kent. Whilst the batting order of the Vatican XI has not been announced, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby named his line up a few hours ago. The umpires have not be determined yet – although one wag of a journalist has suggested that he or she should be atheist, Jew or Muslim to ensure fairness.

In many ways the game has been four hundred and eighty years in the making, because it was in 1534 that the Church of England was formed. You probably remember the story – King Henry the VIII of England – devout Catholic – wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Pope Clement refused (there are lots of geo-political and theological reasons why) and so after six years of wrangling, Henry left the Church and formed one of his own.

Most of us probably have a memory of Henry as the bloated monarch who had six wives, chopped off heads and demolished monasteries. Yet when he took the throne at the age of 18 in 1509, there were high hopes of the King. He was an all rounder, smart, widely read, interested in theology, personable, a great dancer and a fairly able sportsman. The records show he was a good hunter, could throw a mean javelin, was handy with double-axe fighting (scary thought), archery, real tennis and – believe it or not – bowls. The last he played as a mixed doubles pair with his second wife Anne Boleyn.

But it seems that Henry’s favourite sport was jousting. There were different types of jousting, but the one we probably picture most readily is the tilt – two men on horseback charging at one another from opposite directions, the idea being to break their lance (which was blunted) on the armour of the opponent. Points were awarded – like in a boxing bout – for hits, broken lances and knocking someone off his horse. Tilting, the tourney (or melee) and foot combat all evolved as part of a knight’s military training in the middle ages. But as warfare tactics changed the whole close combat on horseback thing became a bit redundant. So by Tudor times, the jousting tournament was far more about display, prestige and power.

Despite its dangers, Henry VIII loved a joust. he loved the sport, but it also gave an opportunity for pomp and circumstance, to show off his court to visiting dignitaries. Which brings us to the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. The eleven day event was held just near Calais. Back then this bit of France was actually part of England, and here Henry VIII and Francis I – King of France – got together for a series of meetings, banquets, dances and sports. Each King brought about 3500 of his closest friends along for the festivities as well as their wives and all their retinue. They constructed temporary palaces – using cloths of gold – sporting arenas and stands for spectators. The purpose of the get-together was to affirm the friendship between England and France. The Kings were not supposed to compete against one another but to join in sports as ‘brothers of arms’. 

Which is a nice way of returning to the cricket game to be played in Kent next month. Whilst the Vatican XI and Church of England might be engaging in a bit of sectarian rivalry they are doing so for an ecumenical purpose. All funds raised by the cricket game will go towards the Global Freedom Network, which is an interfaith initiative against human trafficking. 

I reckon God will be on both sides, don’t you?


“Church of England picks squad for Vatican cricket match”, Anglican Community News Service August 27, 2014

Will Buckley, “Why King Henry VIII loved sports more than women”, The Observer May 3, 2009

Stephen Hardy, “The Medieval Tournament: A Functional Sport of the Upper Class”, Journal of Sport History 1:2 (1974)

Vincent Pullella, “Cricket Holy War on as Anglicans accept Vatican challenge”, (Reuters) December 20, 2013

Karen Watts, “Tournaments at the Court of King Henry VIII”, Henry VIII: Arms and the Man (date unknown)



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