Robert Dover

(1581—1652) organizer of the Cotswold Olimpick games

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(1581/2–1652) An English legal practitioner and founder of the Cotswold Olimpick Games. Dover attended Queens' College, Cambridge, at the age of 13 or 14, but took no degree. He qualified in law in London, and practised his legal work in the Cotswolds or the Vale of Evesham, England. He began his Cotswold Olimpick Games in 1612, in all probability as a part of some traditional festivity, and they were staged until 1644, the decade of the ascendancy of Oliver Cromwell. Contemporary poets wrote about these events,and all were enthusiastic about Dover's character, referring to him as jovial, generous, mirth-making, heroic, and noble-minded…The games offered activities for all levels of society—horse-racing, coursing, backswords, wrestling, jumping, tumbling, spurning the bar, throwing the sledge-hammer, and pike exercises—with dancing for ladies as well as feasting in tents on the hillside. A castle was erected from which guns were fired to introduce events. Competitors and spectators came from more than 60 miles around, and prizes included Dover's yellow favours which as many as 500 gained in any year.' (F. D. A. Burns, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004).Dover called his sports ‘honest and harmless’, explicitly criticizing Puritan attitudes towards games, and so supporting The King's Book of Sports. Revived after the Restoration, the games continued until 1852, when ‘rowdyism’ was cited and used by religious opponents—clearly proponents of rational recreation—as the reason for closing them down. Games of 1812 and 1849, where they continued to be described as ‘Olimpick’, advertised (on surviving posters) ‘horse-racing, wrestling, backsword fighting, jingling, dancing, leaping, and running in sacks’. Revived again for the Festival of Britain in 1951, the games became an annual event in 1966. Dover's Cotswold games provide a fascinating barometer of the political, religious, and cultural times that can reshape a recreational and sporting culture, and of the way in which cultural revivals of sports contribute to the heritage industry.

From A Dictionary of Sports Studies in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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