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Early Modern Olympians: Puritan Sportsmen in Seventeenth-Century England and America


The Europeans who conquered the Americas in the early modern era lived in a remarkably violent world. Nowhere was this more true than in the world of sports, which often saw mortal combat between humans, blood sports between man and animals, and collective contests where maiming was the rule. Against this background, the Puritan reformers of England and New England formulated a contrasting set of sporting ideals remarkably consistent with the modern amateur and Olympic commitment to athletes who embody "a sound mind in a healthy body." Puritan support of certain types of sports is relatively little known because the Puritans famously opposed James I's Book of Sports (1616). They did so not out of hostility to physical recreation, however, but out of support for the principle of sabbatarianism, and Puritans - both in England and New England - enjoyed a number of sports that involved what modern peoples would call track and field events, along with other forms of sport. Although the Cotswold Games, which began in England in 1612 and which the Puritans vehemently opposed as sinful and immoral, are considered by many to have marked the beginning of the modern Olympic tradition's revival, the Puritan sporting ethic may be just as important as an early modern precursor. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

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