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.
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.…