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Shakespeare & Beyond

The Cotswold Olympicks

Photo illustration by David Dilworth
Photo illustration by David Dilworth


The Ancient Greeks may hold the franchise on Olympic wrestling—but how would they have fared against a 17th-century British shin-kicker? In 1612 in the tiny village of Chipping Campden, Robert Dover opened the first Cotswold Olympicks, ushering in a new sporting tradition that revived the Olympic spirit and laid the foundation for the modern games.

Robert Dover on horsebackLet the Games Begin!

While some form of rural games may have been staged in the area as far back as Saxon times, little is known. Dover, a barrister from Warwickshire, brought the games into their own by emphasizing athletic sports and—with his sprightly presence and yellow ribbons—adding a decidedly festive touch.

The spring games, which took place on the Thursday and Friday after Whitsun (the seventh Sunday after Easter), featured contests of leaping, wrestling, pitching the bar, tumbling, running, and hunting the hare. Those less athletically inclined could dance around the Maypole—or simply observe the pageantry.

Dover oversaw the games with great panache. Attired in a hat, feather, and ruff belonging to King James I, he is featured in a woodcut of 1636 striding through the gaming grounds on his horse. In keeping with his heroic significance, Dover is three times larger than the figures around him and carries a wand marking him as master of the revels. Puffs of smoke emerge from the sides of the mock castle at the top, a temporary structure recreated each year, signifying the gunfire salutes that punctuated the proceedings.


Absolutely wonderful. Thank you Folger and Karen Lyon

Maurine K Kelly — August 10, 2016

Hello, I was just doing some research on the Cotswold Olympicks and was wondering where you found the newspaper sources you have referenced?

Sophie — December 8, 2016

Thank you for the article. Good fun and I passed the url to a friend who lives in the Cotswolds.

Terry Myers — July 23, 2021