Just How Posh is Wimbledon? A Brief Back and Forth of the History of Nobility and Tennis

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Wimbledon is that most English of affairs – the world’s oldest tennis tournament, played on impeccable grass lawns, with impeccable manners, decorum and the iconic strawberries and cream. The Royal Family’s history is inextricably entwined with this legendary tennis tournament, and not always in the ways you might expect…

A Tennis Impediment

You may remember King George VI, most famously portrayed by Colin Firth in Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech”, but it wasn’t just a speech impediment that he had difficulty with. He also showed himself to be a relatively mediocre tennis player. One of the highlights of Wimbledon 1926, and surely a sight that will never again be repeated, was the appearance of King George (then merely the Duke of York), competing in the men’s doubles tournament with Sir Louis Greig as his partner. Could this tournament have been any more English? Not only the usual accoutrements of this marvellous event, but also a future King strolling on to the turf to compete. I say!

Sir Louis Greig was a former Royal Air Force Wing Commander and tennis champion. He was given a place at the tournament and selected by the Duke of York to be his doubles partner. On the first Friday of the tournament in 1926, crowds flocked to court number 2 to see the spectacle, but despite Sir Louis’ obvious skills, the pair lost in three straight sets, 6-1, 6-3 and 6-2. They accepted defeat with the decorum you would expect from such noble men, and went on to enjoy the remainder of the tournament. This was then, and still remains, the only time a member of the Royal Family has competed at Wimbledon.

The Box that Courts Controversy

King George VI was also a regular in the world famous Royal Box. Set aside for members of the Royal Family since 1922, the box is set 12 feet from the ground and contains 74 wicker chairs. It was traditional for players to bow to whomever was sat in the Royal box – those invited by the Chairman of the All England Club – until 2003, when this was abolished for all but Queen Elizabeth II.

The box itself hasn’t been without controversy however. Despite being married to the Duke of Kent, the president of the All English Tennis club, Katharine, the Duchess of Kent, found herself on the wrong side of Wimbledon etiquette in 1999 when she was refused a request to let her friend’s 12 year old son sit in the Royal box. She later receiving a somewhat ‘curt letter’ on the subject from John Curry, the club chairman. Could it be that the ancient etiquette of Wimbledon is too posh even for Royalty to follow? Following the embarrassing incident, the Duchess boycotted the royal box, and refused to continue to present trophies at Wimbledon! Her last trophy was given in 2001.

A Sport Fit for a Gambler

Even before the heady days of King George and Wimbledon, tennis was always favoured by Royalty and the elite. In fact, it was considered such a wonderful and exciting sport for spectators during Tudor times that monarchs would often play to entertain the crowds, with the masses betting on the result. This wouldn’t always go so smoothly though. It was reported that in the 9 years up to 1499, Henry VII lost £20 on placing losing bets, the equivalent of £10,000 in today’s money! Luckily, one suspects he had a few quid to spare.

Tennis formed a large part of Henry VIII’s classical education too, alongside hunting and archery practice. He was actually influential in progressing the sport of tennis – opting to build a new ‘tenys playe’ as one of his first building ventures in his reign as king. His influence over the development of tennis didn’t end there – in the 25 years that followed, Henry VIII doubled the number of tennis courts in the country, the jewel in the proverbial crown being Hampton Court Palace.

Henry was such a fan of tennis that he was reported to have spent the morning of the day that Anne Boleyn was arrested watching a tennis match at Whitehall! He was a huge proponent of the game, and set the ball rolling for the game’s historical links to royalty that persist to this day.

So yes, tennis really is that posh. From Tudor times to the modern day, it has always been the pursuit of the royal and noble. It’s unlikely you’ll be the future king, and you may never be a good enough player to draw a crowd at Wimbledon. You may never even get the chance to watch tennis as your second wife is arrested, but what you can do is get a taste of the royal life with the many titles available to purchase at royaltitles.net. You can have them legitimately added to your passport, credit card, driving licence, and other documents, and maybe you’ll be able to get close enough to the Royal Box to openly flout Wimbledon etiquette, by smuggling in a family member or friend!

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