The Royal Tennis Court of Hampton Court Palace, originally built for King Henry VIII, is arguably the world's oldest indoor sporting facility still in use.

The Royal Tennis Court of Hampton court Palace
The Royal Tennis Court of Hampton court Palace

The game of royal, or real, tennis played on this vast indoor court has remained virtually the same in style and manner ever since it was conceived over 500 years ago.

Simple ballgames had been common all over Europe since classical antiquity, but for an answer to the question of how the elevation to tennis, the chivalrous exercise for the Tudor and Stuart Kings originated, we turn to the Renaissance princely courts of Italy with their marvellous palaces and villas and splendid court culture.

Renaissance humanists such as Guarino da Verona and Vittorino da Feltre were inspired by the antique (= Galen) concern to exercise the body, in particular they appealed to the ancient sphaeristerium (= walled-in ballcourt), a sporting facility most luxurious Roman villas were equipped with at the time. Ancient sources seem to be speaking of a hall or room serving this purpose, apparently fitted with a mosaic floor and possibly also gently heated by the thermae (baths) incorporated into the building.

In the second half of the 15th century the purpose-built tennis halls of the illustrious Sforza, Medici, Gonzaga, Este and Montefeltro dynasties became the setting for the revival of the ballgames of classical antiquity. The Humanist Prince experienced the game of tennis (gioco della palla) as a particularly rewarding exercise, for the recreation of the body as well as for the mind. In addition the tennis tournaments played by the court professionals provided a fascinating form of indoor spectacle; a clear manifestation of the splendour and magnificence of his court. Recent research into Italian court culture has come up with fascinating material about the "royal game of tennis":

More information on the Italian Renaissance Court (1450 - 1550) and (1550 - 1600)

Tennis as one of the Chivalrous Exercises. 
									Italian Painting (Anonymus, 1570/80)
Tennis as one of the Chivalrous Exercises. Italian Painting (Anonymus, 1570/80)
Nederlandse Real Tennis Bond