….. Stool-ball was so named from the setting-up of a stool to be bowled at. The ball was struck with the hand by the player at the stool. If the ball struck the stool, the players changed places. In another form of the game, which seems to be that referred to here, there were several stools, men at each, and a bowler outside. When the ball was hit (with the hand) the players must change places, and the bowler was at liberty to hit with the ball any player while between the stools, and so put him out.
Bradford, as a Puritan, had perhaps some reason for his aversion to hand-ball on holidays, seeing that it appears to be connected with ancient religious usage. “Stool-ball” was especially an Easter-game, played by ladies for small stakes, particularly a tansy or Easter-cake; (Made, according to Johnson, with the leaves of newly sprung herbs) thus we have the name in a pretty rhyme of the seventeenth century —
At stool-ball, Lucia, let us play,
For sugar, cakes, or wine;
Or for a tansey let us pay,
The loss be mine or thine.
If thou, my dear, a winner be,
At trundling of the hall,
The wager thou shalt have, and me,
And my misfortunes all.
According to a curious extract from a manuscript given by Ducange, of the diocese of Auxerre, it was an ancient custom to play in the church, on Easter Monday, a solemn game of ball, while singing anthems proper to the season.
“The ball having been received from a proselyte, the dean, or another in his stead, he and the rest wearing the almutia, sang the antiphonal which begins, ” Victimce Paschali laudesf then seizing the ball with his left hand, he led the dance, the others, taking hold of hands, variously inflecting the chorus, while the ball was delivered or thrown by the dean to one or more of the choristers alternately, so as to weave a garland, as it were. The game and motions were conducted according to the numbers of the prose. The dancing having been finished, the chorus after the dance hastened to the banquet.”
This dance was not merely a local custom, but practised in other towns. At Vienne it was conducted by the archbishop in his palace.
No doubt we have here a survival of the ancient games of the spring festival, in a day when mirth and the exhibition of physical prowess were considered acceptable to deity, and elevated into religious exercises.
Source: Games and songs of American Children, William Wells Newell