The History of Pétanque

The game in its modern version is only around 200 years old however similar games can be traced back to Egyptian times.

The name Pétanque, pronounced 'petonk' actually comes from the term ‘pès tancats’ or ‘pieds tanqués’, Marseilles dialect meaning literally ‘feet anchored.’ this is because when playing Pétanque  the feet must remain close together within a small circle.

Legend has it that in 1588 Sir Francis Drake was playing Bowls on Plymouth Hoe before destroying the Spanish Armada. If one examines the contemporary paintings it can be seen that Drake's group were playing with small metal cannon balls on a gravel surface. Some paintings even show Sir Francis tossing the ball, not rolling it.

This sounds more like Boule than bowls and makes sense because bowls requires a flat, smooth playing surface, but the first lawn mowing machines were not invented until 1832 so it is not surprising that the official date for the establishment of Bowls as a game is 1856, nearly 300 years after the Spanish Armada.

The game we know as boule was in fact so popular in England within the working classes that it was outlawed by an act of parliament. Meanwhile in France, Emperor Napoleon is said to have banned gambling amongst troops in his army at which point they began using cannon ball to entertain themselves. This perhaps explains why the sport died out in England and became popular in France where they played and adapted the game to become Pétanque as it is known today. 

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