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The Devil's Favourite Game

The Devil's Favourite Game - origins

How did the story arise?

Marston Mortaine church tower
  • Marston Moretaine church tower
  • Many myths and legends have a moral: the hurt that happens to people is usually their own fault, because they ignore the rules or beliefs of the community. This is one such myth.

    The story is very old. Early stories said the devil tricked the boys into leaping into hell. In Puritan times, the story was changed to include a moral and may have been used as a way of showing people how they should behave and what happens if they do not do so.

    What was life like at the time?

    The bible
  • The Bible - important in the 17th century home
  • In the 17th century, Bedfordshire was a county with strong Puritan beliefs. In the Puritan house, the father would lead his wife and children in prayer, give religious teaching and teach his children to read the Bible when they were young. In everyday life, no one must be lazy, swear, lie, gamble or do silly things. The Sabbath (Sunday) was very holy, a day for worship, sermons and reading the Bible only.

    Outdoor games were played during the week. There was archery, bowls, football, stoolball (an early sort of cricket) and tip-cat as well as the leapfrog the story talks about. There were also lots of fun and fairs on May Day. However, games would never, never be played on a Sunday.

    Are there any similar incidents or stories?

    Elstow Green
  • Elstow Green where fairs were held and games played
  • The story may also have come about, because of something that was said to have happened to John Bunyan. He is famous for writing a religious book called the 'Pilgrims Progress'. He lived in a place nearby, called Elstow. The vicar of Elstow preached against working or playing on the Sabbath. Bunyan took no notice and was out on the village green playing tip-cat, when he heard a voice from heaven saying, "Wilt thou leave thy sins, and go to heaven? Or have thy sins and go to hell?"

    Does the 'Devil's Stone' exist?

    Prehistoric standing stone
  • The stone
  • The stone that stood in the place where the boys disappeared, was really a prehistoric standing-stone. So, maybe very long ago, there had been a link between the site of the church and the Devil Stone, which had long been forgotten. Like all good stories, it changed over time, as it was told and re-told, so that it showed the ideas and beliefs of the people of the time.

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