Part 7: Peeving the Puritans

Scoff if you will, but Campden's homespun Olimpicks provide a truer reflection of the ancient Olympian spirit than their more famous international counterparts.

Some events may not have the glamour and suspense of say, competitive walking or synchronised swimming, but what they lack in grandeur, they more than make up for in pedigree.

Founded in 1612, the Cotswold Olimpicks represented the first successful attempt to revive the spirit of the Greek Olympian Games, predating their modern pretenders by nearly 300 years: for better or worse, the English were the main guardians of the Olympic flame between antiquity and the modern age—a fact cited by the British Olympic Association in its winning pitch to host the London 2012 Olympics.

Campden owes its Olimpick link to an outsider who transformed the area's rural pastimes into a fashionable spectacle sanctioned by the Crown.

A country boy from Norfolk, Robert Dover studied law in London during the years when Shakespeare was writing King Lear, Macbeth and The Tempest—with high-calibre competition from the likes of Ben Jonson.

So when Dover returned to the country, settling in the Cotswolds as a newly qualified barrister, his head was full of Renaissance ideals. And, like any good Royalist (and closet Catholic), he hated Puritans.

Decades before they actually started killing each other, the Royalists and the Puritans fought a war of words over a seemingly unlikely subject—sports.

The Puritans, gaining ground around Campden, believed the English were sports mad (even back then) and condemned the drunkenness and violence at country festivals.

However, Royalists argued that games were "harmlesse mirth and jollitie," as Dover put it. So when the opportunity came to organise a sports extravaganza near his new home, he quickly took up the challenge.

Not only would it be fun, it would peeve the Puritans.

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