Jul
22
2007
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Stirling Castle ball

Stirling Castle ball c. 16th century
Diameter varies from 14-16 cm
Weight 125 g

When workmen found this small leather ball hidden within the Queen’s Chamber at Stirling Castle in the 1970s, little interest was stirred. With its dried up bladder still inside the casing, the ball was merely classified under ?leather goods’ and deposited in the local museum.
More recent research by the Scottish Football Museum, however, suggests that it may be of considerable historic significance.
The ball’s age may partly be deducted from the location of its concealment, behind a wall erected as part of James V’s reconstruction of the castle between 1537-42. From the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer during the reign of James IV, dated 11 April 1497, we also find an order from Stirling, ?giffin to Jame Dog to by fut ballis ti the King’.
So might thie ball be one of Mr Dog’s?
Football was certainly being played at this time in Scotland, at least by the brave. Sir David Lindsay, a satirist in the court of James V, listed ?futeball’ among the pursuits of his protagonist Squyer Meldrum, while durung Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment at Carliste in 1568, according to a letter from Francis Knollys, ’20 of her retinue played at footbell before her for two hours very strongly, nimbly, and skilfully…’
?Theyr fairer play’, wrote Knollys, was owing to ?the smalness of theyr balle’.
But it is the very smallness of the Stirling ball which has led the National Museum of Scotland to suggest that it was not used for football, but for pallone, a tennis-like game in which players strike the ball with wooden sheaths attached to their foreams. Popular at European courts in the 16th century and still played in Italy today, pallone – the Italian for ball or balloon – used a bladder – inflated ball similar in size to the Stirling example.
If this is a pallone it adds intriguing evidence to what is already known in Scotland’s close ties with European fashion during the Stewart period.
But if it is indeed a football, it is, as far as we know, the oldest surviving example in the world.