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    Falkland Palace’s Royal Tennis Court ; the oldest in the world

    Falkland Palace ultimate landmark : the famous Royal Tennis Court; the oldest court in the world.

    I’m delighted to accept Mairiuna’s invitation inside her recent article on the Falkland Palace Parks and Gardens  to share some insights about this very unique playing field. The forerunner of Lawn Tennis, Real or Royal Tennis is almost a cross between Squash ( racket ball ) and tennis, the walls and roof of the viewing gallery may be used to bounce the ball from. This is said to be the oldest Tennis Court of any type in the world. Kings and Queens have played on this court since the 16th century

    falkland palace tennis court scotland

    Royal Tennis Court Entrance © 2006 Scotiana

    Surrounded by extensive gardens, this partly restored Renaissance palace is the perfect place to while away an afternoon.Near the Lily Pond, you’ll find a walled entrance that leads to the famous “Royal” Tennis Court. What a privilege to be able to visit!  “Real” or “Royal” tennis is a world away from Wimbledon as it uses the walls of the court, much like squash. Mary, Queen of Scots is said to have shocked her courtiers at Falkland Palace by insisting on wearing men’s breeches to play tennis. 🙂

    falkland palace tennis court scotland

    Royal Tennis Court Playing Field – Falkland Palace © 2006 Scotiana




    This is the oldest tennis court in the world. The tennis that has been played here, on and off, for the last 450 years is known as real tennis or royal tennis.

    As you can see this court is not like the lawn tennis courts of Wimbledon. All four walls and even the gallery where you are standing are an integral part of the court.

    For centuries royal tennis was known simply as tennis. After lawn tennis was introduced in the 1870s it became necessary to distinguish this original game from the new game of lawn tennis.


    This tennis court dates from 1539. It was part of James V’s transformation of Falkland Palace into the finest Renaissance building in Britain. Since then generations of Scottish kings and queens have enjoyed playing tennis here.


    Tennis was probably introduced into Scotland in the 13th century. Tennis comes from the french word tenez, the warning that was shouted before each serve.

    An early form of the game known as jeu de paume or game of the palm of the hand was played in the town squares and religious cloisters of medieval Europe. Royal tennis rackets are still shaped like the palm of a hand.


    Royal tennis and lawn tennis share the same basic scoring methods and terms. The score of love or zero may come from the saying labour of love when you do something simply for the pleasure of it and for no other reward.

    Both games start with a serve : originally a servant would serve the first ball to avoid the masters having to bend in their restrictive clothing. Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have shocked her courtiers at Falkland by playing tennis in breeches for this reason.


    By 1599, tennis had become part of the everyday language. In Shakespeare’s Henry V the Dauphin sends Henry ‘ a ton of tennis balls ’. Shakespeare knows his audience will understand the insult – playing tennis was regarded as unmanly and effeminate.

    Tennis is still part of our everyday language. Why not visit the small auditorium at the entrance to this building? The ball is now in your court!


    falkland palace tennis court scotland

    NTS information board. See transcription above.

    The National Trust For Scotland

    falkland palace tennis court scotland

    Royal Tennis Court Spectator Gallery © 2006 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace Oldest royal tennis court in the world

    1892: Visit to the court and report by Julian Marshall (author of Annals of Tennis, 1878)

    Entry in the diary of Lord Bute (Keeper of the Palace, John Patrick Crichton Stuart, the Third Marquess of Bute). Marshall gives detailed advice about its restoration suggesting putting wooden shutters in the lunes and erecting posts with wire netting around the top to prevent stray balls from damaging the greenhouses. He also suggested walls be cemented with coloured Portland cement and staining the floor black. He concluded: “If the court is fitted up in this way, I think a very good game could be played here, though one differing in many respects from tennis as usually played.”

    1958: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II watched a game of tennis on the newly restored court 350 years since the last visit of a reigning monarch.

    Further readings:  Falkland Palace’s restored tennis court already a smash hit with the swallows

    Can’t resist showcasing some beautiful tennis related topical stamps issued by Australia, Great Britain. 🙂

    tennis on postage stamps




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