created 2003 - 2005       

Document 06

In the end of 1450 the plague reigns in Milano. Francesco Sforza, who had urged the city to surrender earlier in the year, which caused the death of some thousand people by famine, is in Lodi, around 30km in the southwest, when he writes the letter, probably with the intention of escaping from the plague (probably together with his family). The number of dying people is given with 30 000 - 60 000 ( ! ), so one must assume, that there were very severe conditions at the beginning of Sforzas reign. The use of games and other amusing occupations during the horrible time of a plague (normal work couldn't be done) is mirrored by Boccachio's Decamerone (describing a situation from 1348 - 1350 during the great plague), in which courtly games also play a greater role.
Another factor might play a role in this document: Francesco Sforza's son Galeazzo Maria showed later a strong addiction to the Christmas time and the time between Christmas and New Year was filled with gambling and games. Perhaps this was already family custom in 1450 -in this case it's most likely, that the letter was written as part of he Christmas peparation.

Francesco Sforza differs between carte de triomphi and carte de giocare in his first letter, with the second probably refering to "normal playing cards". The second letter refers to normal playing cards and to a "pair of fruits" - this expression stays unexplained. It is possible, that:
  • a. trionfi cards could also be named "pair of fruits"
  • b. this was a special trionfi deck with fruits instead of figures
  • c. "pair of fruits" refers to another sort of card deck, not mentioned in other sources
  • d. Cichus might have had a reading or writing error
(the letter, that we know, is a copy of "Cichus", which is Francescus (Cicco) Simonetta, who became the chief secretary of Francesco Sforza and in the reigning time of Bona of Savoy a dominant chancellor of Milan, who paid his high politial position with his life - executed 1480 under Ludovico Sforza; the letters were usually copied in Milano).

Both entries indirectly carry the hidden message, that Trionfi decks are not easy to get for Francesco Sforza in late 1450. Although in Florence already a statute appeared, that Trionfi are an allowed game (which perhaps might indicate a common production of Trionfi decks there), it seems to be difficult to get it in Milan. But - perhaps this only refers to the special situation of the plague.
Francesco Sforza

1450 [2 letters from Francesco Sforza to Antonio Trecho, treasurer]

(A). 1450, 11th of December

To Antonio Trecho texaurario,

Voliamo, subito recevuta questa, per uno cavallaro ad posta, ne debbi mandare doe para de carte de triumphi, della piu belle poray trovare; et non trovando dicti triomphi, voglie mandare doe altra para de carte da giocare, pur delle piu belle poray havere. Quale fa che habbiamo qui domenica per tutti el di, che sera adi xiij del presente. Data Laude, die xj decembris 1450.

Francesco Sfortia Vicecomes manu propria subscripsit. Cichus

B). 1450, 15th of December

Antonio Trecho
Havemo inteso per toe litttere el richato hay facto de quello formento per dare alle nostre gentedarme; del che restiamo molto liecti et contenti, et volemo che lo distribuischa secondo gli bolectini te havemo scripto et scriverimo, tenendo bom conto del tutto. Havimo propterea recevuti de la carte da jocare et se ne contentemo bene, ma volimo, quanto piu presto sia possibile, tu ce mandi l'altro paro delle fructe, quale ce hay mandato amorevelmente et cum quella bona fede, qual sempre havemo cognoscuta in te verso noy. Te regraciamo singularmente et l'havemo recevuto cum bono animo et voluntera, como da fidele citadino et amicissimo nostro che te reputamo. Propterea te mandiamo la squadra de Tristano in scripto, acio se gli dia el formento cum participacione del nostro locotenente, el qual e informato a chi se debbe dare et a chi non, per essergli proveduto altroe.

Laude, xv decembris 1450 Cichus

[Kaplan II, p. 4 - 6; the letter appears in Volume II/4 of the Archivio Ducale Sforzesco Registri Delle Missive, published in 1982 by the Archivo de Stato, Milano.]

Translation (by Stuart Kaplan)

(A). 11th of December

To Antonio Trecho, treasurer

As soon, as this is received, we want you to send, by a mail rider, two decks of trump cards, of the finest you can find; and if you do not find said trumps, please send two other decks of playing cards, of the finest that there are. Do this so we have them here for all day Sunday, which will be 13th of the month.

Given at Lodi, the 11th of December 1450

Francesco Sforza Visconti, signed by his own hand. Cichus

(B). 15th of December

Antonio Trecho
We've learned from your letters that the proceeds from the wheat harvest will be given to our soldiers; we are very glad and content and we want you to distribute the proceeds according to the bulletins we have written you and will write, taking good note of everything. We have received the playing cards and are very pleased with them, but we want you, as soon as possible, the other pair of fruits, like those you were kind enough to send to us, with the same good faith you have always shown towards us. We especially thank you and we will accept them with much enthusiasm as you are a loyal and faithful citizen. We assign to you in writing the squadron of Tristano, so that you will give them the wheat under the direction of our lieutenant, who is already informed to whom he should give it and to whom not.

Lodi, December 15, 1450 Cichus