Card game

The origin of Playing Cards is involved in mystery, although the Chinese claim to have invented them, saying that the Tien-Tsze, pae, or dotted cards, now in use, were invented in the reign of Leun-ho, a.d. 1120, for the amusement of his wives; and that they were in common use in the reign of Kaow-Tsung, who ascended the throne a.d.1131. The generally received opinion is that they are of Oriental extraction, and that they were brought into Europe by the gipsies, and were first used in Spain. How, or when they were introduced into England, is not known. In Anstis's History of the Order of the Garter, vol. i., p. 307, is to be found the earliest mention of Cards, if, indeed, the Four Kings there mentioned are connected with Cards. The date would be 1278.

“This Enquiry touching the Title of Kings, calls to remembrance the Plays forbidden the Clergy, denominated Ludos de Rege et Regina, which might be Cards,Chesse, or the Game since used even to this Age at Christmas, called Questions and Commands, and also that Edward I. plaid ad quatuor Reges  (Wardrobe Rolls, 6 Ed. I ,Waltero Storton ad opus Regis ad ludendum ad Quatuor Reges  viii. s. v. d.) which the Collector guesses might be the Game of Cards, wherein are Kings of the four Suits; for he conceives this Play of some Antiquity, because the term Knave, representing a Youth, is given to the next Card in Consequence to the King and Queen, and is as it were the Son of them, for, in this Sense this Word, Knave, was heretofore used; thus Chaucer  saith, That Alla, King of Northumberland  begot a Knave Child.”

The Hon. Daines Barrington, in a paper read by him to the Society of Antiquaries, Feb. 23, 1786, after quoting Anstis, went on to say that “Edward the First (when Prince of Wales) served nearly five years in Syria, and, therefore, whilst military operations were suspended, must, naturally, have wished for some sedentary amusements. Now the Asiatics scarcely ever change their customs; and, as they play at Cards (though, in many respects, different from ours), it is not improbable that Edward might have been taught the game, ad quatuor reges, whilst he continued so long in this part of the globe.

“If, however, this article in the Wardrobe account is not allowed to allude to playing cards, the next writer who mentions the more early introduction of them is P. Menestrier, who, from such another article in the Privy purse expences of the Kings of France, says they were provided for Charles VI. by his limner, after that King was deprived of his senses in 1392. The entry is the following: ‘Donné a Jacquemin Gringonneur, Peintre, pour trois jeux  de Cartes, a or et a diverses couleurs, de plusieurs devises, pour porter vers le dit Seigneur Roi pour son abatement, cinquante six sols Parisis.'”

Still supposing the game of “Four Kings” to have been a game at cards, it seems strange that Chaucer, who was born fifty years afterwards, should not have made some mention of Cards as a pastime, for, in his Franklin's Tale, he only mentions that “They dancen; and they play at ches and tables.” The first authentic date we have of playing Cards in England, shows that they had long been in use in 1463, and were manufactured here, for, by an Act of Parliament (3 Edward IV. cap. 4), the importation of playing cards was forbidden.

We get an early notice of cards temp  Richard III. in the Paston letters from Margery Paston to John Paston, 24 Dec. 1484.

To my ryght worschipful husband John Paston.

Ryght worschipful husbond, I recomaund me onto you. Plese it you to wete that I sent your eldest sunne to my Lady Morlee to have Knolage wat sports wer husyd in her hows in Kyrstemesse next folloyng after the decysse of my lord, her husbond; and sche seyd that ther wer non dysgysyngs, ner harpyng, ner syngyn, ner non lowd dysports, but playing at the tabyllys and schesse and cards. Sweche dysports sche gave her folkys leve to play and non odyr.”

Royalty was occasionally given to gambling, and we find among the private disbursements of Edward the Second such entries as:

“Item. paid to the King himself, to play at cross and pile, by the hands of Richard de Meremoth, the receiver of the Treasury, Twelve pence.

Item. paid there to Henry, the King's barber, for money which he lent to the King, to play at cross and pile, Five shillings.

Item. paid there to Peres Barnard, usher of the King's chamber, money which he lent to the King, and which he lost at cross and pile, to Monsieur Robert Wattewylle, Eight pence.

Item. paid to the King himself, to play at cross and pile, by Peres Barnard, two shillings, which the said Peres won of him.”

Also Royalty was fond of playing at cards, which, indeed, were popular from the highest to the lowest; and we find that James IV. of Scotland surprised his future bride, Margaret, sister to Henry VIII., when he paid her his first visit, playing at cards.“The Kynge came privily to the said castell (of Newbattle) and entred within the chammer with a small company, where he founde the quene playing at the cardes.” And in the Privy purse expenses of Elizabeth of York, queen to Henry VII., we find, under date of 1502: “Item. to the Quenes grace upon the Feest of St Stephen for hure disporte at cardes this Christmas C.s. (100 shillings).” Whilst to show their popularity in this reign, it was enacted in 1494 (11 Hen. VII. c. 2), that no artificer labourer, or servant, shall play at any unlawful game (cards included) but in Christmas.

Shakespeare makes Henry VIII. play at Cards, for in his play of that name (Act v. sc. i.) there occurs, “And left him at Primero with the Duke of Suffolk”; whilst, in the Merry Wives of Windsor  (Act iv. sc. 5), Falstaff says, “I never prosper'd since I forswore myself at Primero.” Stow tells us how, in Elizabeth's time, “from All Hallows eve to the following Candlemas day, there was, among other sports, playing at Cards for counters, nails, and points, in every house, more for pastime than for gain.” When Mary was Princess, in her Privy Purse expenses there are numerous entries of money given her wherewith to play at cards.