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 Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850

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The Man From Devana
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PostSubject: Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850   Sun 10 Jun 2012, 11:56

While researching the history of the Olympic Games for my childern (the Torch will be going past their school next Tuesday), I came upon the picture below, and have started to do some research on the event to which it refers. I post now, because I fear that I might get lost in my researches which are taking me to all sorts of places; as the "Annalia Dubrensia" below shows, the event seems to have inspired many, including one Ben Johnson, and I have found a reference to Shakespeare on my travels. Please indulge me because. We all know of the Much Wenlockian Olympics, and probably about the Liverpool Olympics, but I was fascinated to see that , in 1612*, one Robert Dover (often later described as Captain Dover), an attorney from Warwickshire started - with the knowledge and approval of King James I, what has been described as an "Olimpick Games" which ran unbroken except for during the Commonwealth, on Whitsun week, for 250 years on a hill in the Parish of Weston-sub-Edge, in Gloucestershire. From what I can see of contemporary accounts it involved a variety of sports (for want of a better word). These included cudgels, wrestling, leaping, pitching the bar, throwing the iron hammer, handling the pike, leaping over the heads of men, women dancing, hunting and coursing with hare and hounds. Later games involved different events.
I am by no means trying to suggest that this, rather than Much Wenlock, should be seen as the true root of the modern Olympics. So far, I have seen nothing to suggest it, though the latter end of "Robert Dover's Olimpicke Games" did just about overlap the beginnings of the Much Wenlock games by one year as far as I can see. I will just see where things take me, and in this, I beg your indulgence.






*The precise year is disputed by some.
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PostSubject: Re: Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850   Sun 10 Jun 2012, 12:31

Fascinating stuff, TMFD.

It appears that Dover's "games" might have been a reincarnation of the traditional Whitsun games in the area, a tradition which had long roots in England and parallels in much of Christian Europe. During the Reformation these games came under severe scrutiny and became a casus belli in many districts, mainly because they were identified with the "old" church, but since they also retained a very real community function (they were also hugely important fairs) were also extremely difficult to stop.

What makes Dover's version interesting is his decision to promote their "Olympic" stature. This fits in with what was happening elsewhere. The religious identity behind the Whitsun games, a very Catholic one, was being replaced with other justifications more politically palatable, and in most cases they became secondary diversions to the fair itself, the economic justification being actively promoted in their stead. However what still caused ructions was the public's adherence to the celebration of The Green Man as part of these rites and as England moved closer to puritanical worship this devotion to a superstitious character was increasingly viewed in a very bad light.

In the 16th century there was a tendency to explain The Green Man as an extension of Dionysian worship in classical times, an explanation that lent it some dubious classical pedigree but would not in itself have saved it from later puritanical objection (they disliked all such superstition, regardless of source). I wonder if Dover's "solution" was simply to take the Greek connection and run with it, as it were? By promoting the local games as representative of Olympic ideals rather than having any devotional ingredient connected with any individual Greek deity I wonder was he actually pulling off quite an impressive publicity coup and attempting to forestall their demise through that tactic? He most definitely raised their profile in the general area through the tactic and ultimately ensured that a version of the Whitsun games survived long after his intervention.
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PostSubject: Re: Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850   Sun 10 Jun 2012, 13:46

From what I can see, Dover was reinventing the already existent Cotswold Games as an annual 'Olimpick' celebration of sport and culture. He knew about, and maybe was involved in the Gog and Magog Games at Cambridge which at some point, and definitely by 1620, were known as the Gog and Magog Olimpicks, so there might be a connection, there.
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PostSubject: Re: Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850   Sun 10 Jun 2012, 14:13

Indeed - if he was a student in Cambridge he would have known about them as they were essentially organised by and for the students themselves. It may well be that this is where he learnt to associate the term "Olympic" with the activity, as you say.

The Cotswald Games, held at Whitsun, must have been one event of hundreds at one time with such a local appellation that had carried on Whitsun Games as a tradition, though it may well have outlasted them even before Dover came along. We don't really know if Dover restarted them after an absence or reinvented them on the fly. We do know that "gaming" at Whitsun was increasingly forbidden by local statute from the Reformation onwards but that this alone reveals its durability as a tradition, one that the great unwashed weren't going to relinquish lightly. I imagine the importance of a fair at that time of the agricultural year (and there was always one of those too) was what led to such obdurance. It is likely, I imagine, that Dover took over an event on its last legs and breathed new life into it with its rebranded image. This would have been immensely popular with agricultural producers and tradesmen in the whole of the Cotswalds, I assume.
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PostSubject: Re: Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850   Sun 10 Jun 2012, 14:56

One thing that IS interesting is that these games had support in high places. It is reported that members of the nobility, and Gentry travelled as much as 60 miles to attend; and he seems to have gained support from Endymion Porter who after working in the employ of Edward Villiers and the Duke of Buckinghamshire, worked for both King James I and King Charles I, in the case of the latter, being groom of the Bedchamber, and diplomat on a number of missions. Porter gave Dover some of King James' old clothes for him to wear as Director of the Games, to increase the Solemnity of the event (he is the one on horseback):

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PostSubject: Re: Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850   Wed 13 Jun 2012, 17:59

If you want to visit, here's how to get there:

http://www.chippingcampden.co.uk/contentok.php?id=177



And, the BOA said in their bid for the Olympics that:
Quote :
"In 1612 in the tiny village of Chipping Campden, Robert Dover opened the first 'Cotswold Olimpicks', an annual sporting fair that honoured the ancient Games of Greece. Those early 'Olimpick' competitors were as remote as you could imagine from the Olympic stars of today, and the 'sports' included singlestick, wrestling, jumping in sacks, dancing and even shin-kicking. But whatever the eccentric nature of the event, this was the pre-dawn of the Olympic Movement, and the Cotswold Games began the historical thread in Britain that was ultimately to lead to the creation of the modern Olympics."
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PostSubject: Re: Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850   Thu 14 Jun 2012, 00:49

I had no idea there were all these reconstructions of the Olympic games. Would it have been the same in other countries, do you think?

I liked your comment, TMFD, that 'we all know of the Much Wenlockian Olympics'. I do happen to, but only by the good luck of having stayed nearby on our last trip to England in 2011. I hope they up their game a little during these Olympics as regards their eating establishments. We went for a pub meal there one Wednesday (or Tuesday?) and called into four pubs before we got a meal. First one, the manageress took not the slightest interest in us beyond serving us a drink and there was no one else there; her dog and friend got a lot more attention than us, the second one was having a quiz night, the third one was overflowing with people, and the fourth we got a decent meal at.

But Much Wenlock itself was worth a visit, for us partly because of this Olympic history that we didn't know of, and the man who led this campaign and was so highly thought of in its historic stories at least. And it had nice buidling - the pubs were fine if you weren't needing to eat.

Caro.
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PostSubject: Re: Robert Dover's Olimpicks 1612-1850   Wed 31 Aug 2016, 18:32

The Man From Devana wrote:
the history of the Olympic Games



The 1916 Berlin Olympics would have been held 100 years ago this month.

Amsterdam (which had also bid) held an unofficial games instead:

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