Why Badminton?

The Library’s Main Reading Room has two reading alcoves, and the one near the front gets most attention from our visitors. As they browse through, it’s not uncommon for some of the items shelved there to receive a chuckle.

Badminton Magazine. Many guests to NSLM find this title a little confusing.

What’s Badminton Magazine, you may ask? And does NSLM really have two decades of periodicals on rackets and shuttlecocks? To get at the answer, we have to look back a good long way into history.

Portrait of Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort (1744-1803). Accessed via Wikimedia Commons. The Fifth Duke of Beaufort founded The Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt.

The history of Badminton Magazine truly starts in 1762, when exhausted after a fruitless day of hunting deer, Henry Somerset, the Fifth Duke of Beaufort decided to try hunting fox for a change. The hunting must have gone much better, for the Duke continued on hunting, establishing the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt, one of the oldest fox hunts in the world. The Dukes of Beaufort have continued to hunt fox with the pack every since, each Duke typically serving as the Master in his turn. Over the years, the family has become one of the truly great sporting families in British history.

“Over an Obstacle By Himself,” by G. D. Giles. Illustration from The Badminton Library: Riding (1891). National Sporting Library & Museum.

Between 1885 and 1902, Longmans, Green & Company produced a series of encyclopedic books covering the whole spectrum of British sports and pastimes. The series was the brainchild of Henry Somerset, the Eight Duke of Beaufort. Wishing to equip neophytes with the basics on sporting topics the Duke served as the initial overseeing editor for a series that would ultimately swell to include 30 volumes on horse racing, hunting, fishing, polo, falconry, golf, cricket, punting, and even dancing. The book series was titled The Badminton Library.

The Badminton Library continued to add volumes after the death of the Eighth Duke of Beaufort in 1899, adding a total of 30 volumes by 1920.

The success of The Badminton Library became evident to the publishers early, and by 1885 the Badminton Magazine of Sport and Pastimes had been established. It ran from 1895 to 1923, and covered the same wide variety of sports in The Badminton Library: shooting, foxhunting, fishing, and falconry are blended with yachting, sprinting, and golf. And that’s why we have Badminton Magazine in the Library.

A page from a 1902 issue of Badminton Magazine with photographs of foxhunting, sprinting, and yachting in a variety of British localities.

Why the name Badminton? It only seemed natural. The Somerset family has resided at Badminton House since 1612, and it has since served as the principal seat of the Dukes of Beaufort. For unclear reasons, the mansion has also given its name to the sport of badminton. The house’s oral legends claim that the Eight Duke of Beaufort’s children invented the game during a long, dreary winter in 1863. Ostensibly, it was a safe game to play indoors without fear of damaging the equestrian paintings by John Wooton in the hall.

“Badminton House,” from the Preface to The Badminton Library: Riding (1890). National Sporting Library & Museum.

Historians indicate that badminton was likely played earlier in India before being brought back to England by the military in the 1870s. But Badminton House’s name stuck to the sport as it developed and established itself in the 1880s and beyond.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail


Leave a Comment

  1. What a great article.
    I knew about the 3 day, and of course the Duke’s great pack of hounds. But, I had no idea about the books.

    I know what I’m going to check out the next time I’m there! And, dancing? Who knew?

    Thanks for an interesting article.


  2. How grand to have such a complete set! I bet the chromo-lithos are spectacular. Any illustrations of riding side saddle?

    Thank you for the interesting article!


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