Schermata 2014-10-28 alle 08.14.24

Standard tennis history books have so far focused mainly on the role that tennis played in England and France. These studies were projected in response to the diverse opinions that had developed as to how, where and when tennis originated. Royal Tennis in Renaissance Italy aims to claim that Renaissance Italy should be seen as the cradle of the royal game. The book addresses how the ball game played in the streets evolved into the game played within four walls in the fifteenth century. It shows how the cultural vigour of the court of the Este dynasty in Ferrara in particular fostered the practice of games, including tennis, and how the game came to be seen as the principal exercise in the education of sons of noble lineage at other princely courts: the Montefeltro and della Rovere of Urbino, the Medici of Florence, the Gonzagas of Mantua and among the cardinals residing in Rome. The frequent complimentary visits that the Italian princes paid to other courts, and the fierce competition that existed between them, necessitated stricter tennis rules and regulations.


By the mid-sixteenth century, after more than a century of trial and error, the game of tennis came to full maturity, culminating in the publication of the first book on the game, Antonio Scaino’s Trattato del giuoco della palla (Treatise of the Ball Game) of 1555. In the second half of the sixteenth century tennis courts were virtually automatically incorporated in the lay-out of the Italian princely residences. Of the hundreds of tennis courts Italy used to have none have survived. After his detailed study Tennis in Holland from 1500-1800 (a Dutch publication of 1993), Cees de Bondt for Royal Tennis in Renaissance Italy spent some 8 years in libraries and archives to unearth the history of the game in Italy. This book is written to appeal to both historians and to tennis players. Italy has a long history of competitive games and sports, which was to a great extent inspired by the athletic contests of Antiquity. The human educators and the Renaissance rulers attempted to recreate the grandeur of Imperial Rome. Athletic excellence became an equally strong component of Italian culture during the Renaissance as in ancient Greece and Rome. Italy was the place to be for spectators and to train to be proficient in a variety of physical exercises.


The focus of this study is mainly on how Renaissance Italy became the playground where royal tennis, the ancestor of the modern game, developed into a high cultural form of private court entertainment. The book regularly quotes from Antonio Scaino’s Trattato, which was written as an instructive manual for the ballplaying courtier. Scaino’s introduction of tennis laws enabled the aristocracy to draw a line between themselves and the populace who continued to play a crude type of the game in the streets. After the publication of the Trattato of 1555. the game went through a long civilising process, the longest in any sport, and culminated in the birth of the modern game of lawn tennis in 1874. Although it requires a great leap of the imagination to reconstruct the reality from the documentary sources and the few tangible remains of the game, Royal Tennis in Renaissance Italy aims to bring to life the appeal the royal game of tennis generated among Italy’s leading Renaissance rulers and their courtiers.


Renaissance Ferrara may be seen as the cradle of royal tennis, the precursor of the modern game. Ferrara was the breeding ground where tennis developed into a high cultural form of court entertainment, especially during the reign of Duke Alfonso II d’Este (1559-1597). The city was also the setting of the first book on tennis, Antonio Scaino’s Trattato del giuoco della palla (1555). It was dedicated to Alfonso, who came to be Italy’s principal patron of tennis. During his reign he had seven tennis courts, three at his main residence, Ferrara’s imposing Castello Estense.


The Duke, an audacious warrior and keen sportsman, built up a reputation of a fierce ballplayer, unlikely to be beaten by anyone. When Alfonso was challenged by another good tennis player, the Marquis of Pescara, the Este Duke proved far too good for him. Having played Alfonso for a few sets without taking a game from him, the frustrated marquis took off his hat and said: “I don’t want to play on. I thought I was to play a prince, not a maestro” ( By Cees de Bondt ) For more information or to oreder this book, just follow the link below.