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Monarchy, love and war: Waddesdon’s collection of French board games

board game with romantic scenes of love printed in numbered squares with instructions in French

Game of Love and Hymen (Jeu de L’amour et de l’Himenée), late 18th, -early 19th century. Etching and engraving on paper, hand-coloured in watercolour and bodycolour, 460 x 606 Accession number 2669.2.23

As Waddesdon Manor prepares to share its remarkable collection of eighteenth century board games in an online talk we take a closer look

Most of the games in the Waddesdon collection are variants of the ‘jeu de l’oie’ (Game of the Goose), a game of chance thought to have originated in Italy in the late 16th century, which is very similar to Snakes and Ladders, which in turn claims a lineage back to ancient India.

Both games are about luck and the roll of the dice, which can propel the player along the board’s helpful squares, which double the player forward, or obstacles which incur punishments such as fines, missed turns or even going back to the start.

The winner is the first to land on the last square, winning the tokens put into the pot throughout the game.

Today the Game of Goose may not have endured like its Indian precursor, but in the 18th century it held sway, and was adapted to all sorts of themes, from educational games for children to recreational fun with themes exploring history, warfare, theatre, fashion, military architecture, the Platonic model of the elements and love. Its popularity spread throughout Europe, reaching its height in 18th-century France.

The French Monarchy

a printed game in a circular design with words and pictures of eighteenth century French royalty

New Historical and Chronological Game of the French Monarchy (Nouveau Jeu Historique et Chronologique de La Monarchie Française). Paris, France, 1815. Accession number 2669.1.2.

After the tumult of the French revolution, the republic and Bonaparte what better way to celebrate the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy than with a family board game?

New Historical and Chronological Game of the French Monarchy (Nouveau Jeu Historique et Chronologique de La Monarchie Française) was published by Paul André Basset in 1815 and its 63 spaces arranged in a spiral illustrated events from the reigns of the Kings of France.

Emphasising the restored monarchy’s continuity, the squares show all the French kings from Clovis to Louis XVIII, portrayed in medallions above an event from their reign. The victorious final square illustrates Louis XVIII – ‘le désiré’ (the desired) – entering Paris on May 3, 1814.

The Island of the Heart

printed map showing an island with mountains seas and palaces

The Empire of the Heart (L’Empire du Coeur), 1752. Published by Longchamps et Janvier, Paris. Etching and engraving on paper, 490 x 687 Accession number 2669.2.26

The Empire of the Heart (L’Empire du Cœur), published in 1752, revealed a complex landscape. Beyond the manicured gardens where male and female figures are shown together, is a treacherous landscape into which starry eyed couples will venture at their peril. Various paths lead towards two temples representing true and false love. Beyond these temples are the ever more treacherous ‘Terres Inconnues’ (Unknown Lands) and ‘Mer Dangereuse’ (Dangerous Sea).

This map recalls one of most popular allegorical maps of the time, by the writer and salon-hostess Mademoiselle de Scudery (1607-1701), who devised the Carte de Tendre with her friends. Discussions on friendship and relationships led to the development of the idea of the land of Love (Tendre), with de Scudery as its monarch and her friends moving throughout the allegorical landscape with the aim of becoming citizens of the country.

The Island of Marriage

drawn and engraved printed map wit various small symbols surrounded by a sea

Map of the Island of Marriage (Carte de L’isle du Marriage), 1732 Probably by Gérard-Jean-Baptiste Scotin II (b. 1698, d. after 1745), published by Laurent-Charles Guillaume (d.1778), Paris. Etching and engraving on paper. Accession number: 2669.2.15

Unlike the Empire of the Heart, with its far reaching unknown lands and dangerous seas, the Map of the Island of Marriage (Carte de L’isle du Mariage) from 1732, reveals a contained environment. The journey leads by river from the ‘Virgin Lands’ through the ‘Kingdom of Freedom’ and the ‘Kingdom of Pleasures’ out into the ‘Ocean of Melancholy’ or the ‘Grand Sea of Marriage.’

The central island representing marriage is split into domains that include ‘Lands of Courage’, ‘Boredom’ and ‘Dependence’. On the outskirts, the ‘Land of Conjugal Love’, is bordered by ‘Suspicion’. Smaller islands invoke the progress of a romantic relationship, beginning with the first encounters, ‘Island of Occasion’, then the ‘Island of Madness’ and finally ‘Divorce’ and ‘Old Age’.

The Game of War

a printed board game consisting of squares with illustrations of military operations and soldiers

The Game of War (Le Jeu de la Guerre).Paris, France 1698. Accession number 2669.1.1

This instructive game taught new techniques in warfare developed under Louis XIV in the 1690s. Like another martial themed game of the period, the Game of Fortifications, it can be played either as a jeu de l’oie, with dice, or as a card game, in which each square could be cut out to form a deck of cards.

The Jesuit Claude-François Ménestrier (1631-1705) wrote about the use of games as learning tools. He stated that board games were better for teaching as all the squares were visible and thus the information provided could be taken in by all the players whilst playing. The dedication to the Duc de Bourgogne (1682-1712) explains that this game was well suited to the nobility and insists on its serious nature, emphasising its pictorial accuracy.

The Game of Nations

circular printed game with faces around a central circle divided into section representing different countries

The New Game of Geography of Nations (Le Nouveau Jeu de Geographie des Nations). Desmartins, Charles François Henry (active 1673-1688) Brissart, Pierre (b.1645, d.1682) published by Alexis-Hubert Jaillot (French, b.c 1632, d.1712). 1675 Accession number 2669.1.7

This printed board game published in Paris in 1675 was another circular game played with two kinds of dice. The central roundel contains a map of France, with eight sun rays and fleurs-de-lys projecting outwards.

In between each of the undulating rays are eight smaller roundels containing maps of European countries. Clockwise from the top: Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, England, and Holland.

The game is enclosed with a border made up of mascarons (faces) personifying each of the European countries, with objects and animals representing their attributes. The names of the countries are printed below them.

Each corner of the sheet contains framed text, describing the title of the game, royal privilege and publisher information.

The Little Game of Love

circular game with marked out boxes illustrated with romantic or courtly scenes

Game of Love and Hymen (Jeu de L’amour et de l’Himenée), late 18th, -early 19th century. Etching and engraving on paper, hand-coloured in watercolour and bodycolour, 460 x 606. Accession number 2669.2.23

The Gifts of Youth, The Little Game of Love was first printed in 1713 with this copy dating from between 1814 and 1829, an example of how the ideas explored in the allegorical maps are reflected in new games involving both sexes.

Here we find a game in which young men and women are encouraged to play together. Each have their respective circles and are partnered up with a member of the opposite sex. This is a participatory game, not only does the player encounter setbacks and helpful spaces on the board but the rules stipulate that the partners must act out punishments on each other, such as a woman tying her partner to his chair with her garter.

The game’s rules state that never before has there been a game that has provided so much joy and pleasure to the young. Despite all of the flirtatious activities encouraged by the games forfeits, the goal is once again marriage. The game is won by a couple when they respectively land on the final square with the two crowned hearts. Both players are united and share their winnings evenly representing the virtuous union of marriage.

This article includes information drawn from a 2012 exhibition and a recent blog about love themed board games at Waddesdon by Rachel Jacobs, Curator (Books and Manuscripts). 

Waddesdon’s famous collection of treasures amassed by successive members of the Rothchild family can be explored online at waddesdon.org.uk/the-collection/about-the-collection-and-archives/

Rachel Jacobs gives an online talk about the collection of rare 18th-and 19th-century board games live at 6pm on May 20th. Tickets cost £10. Book via eventbrite


Waddesdon Manor - National Trust

Nr Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Waddesdon Manor is a magnificent French Renaissance-style château housing the Rothschild Collection of art treasures. The garden is renowned for its seasonal displays, colourful shrubs and mature trees. There is an ornate Rococo-style Aviary housing rare and exotic birds, a superb cellar of wines, licensed restaurants, gift and wine shops.…

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