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Playing Cards in England 1413

The usual "first note of playing cards in England" had been long time a prohibition against the import of playing cards in 1463. It was overcome by David Parlett's interpretation of a Christmas letter as from 1459 (earlier seen as from 1484; The Oxford Guide to Card Games p. 46, Oxford University Press, 1990). "pleying at the tabyllys, and schesse, and cards; sweche dysports she gave her folkys leve to play and no odyr."

This is now overcome by a long time overlooked report by Professor Chris Woolgar (Southhampton) in C. M. Woolgar, ed., Household Accounts from Medieval England, Part 2. Oxford University Press, 1993.

We were informed by Plantagenets at Play: Medieval Gambling. The author is Susan Higginbotham ["This is the text of a presentation I did for the Richard III Society's Annual General Meeting in October 2009 in Las Vegas—hence the subject matter!"]

Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, was uncle to Richard, Duke of York, and therefore a great-uncle of Edward IV and Richard III. He had a good claim to the throne and for that reason, Henry IV and Henry V kept a close eye on him. In the period from September 1413 to April 1414, the twenty-three-year-old was traveling in the company of Henry V—and losing over 157 pounds in gaming. Mortimer’s companions must have been delighted when the young lord proposed a game of chance, because the word perdebat—“lost”—occurs with distressing frequency in his household accounts. Mortimer lost at tables, raffle and chance, a game called devant (apparently a dicing game)—and at cards.[18]

Despite Mortimer’s enthusiasm for cards, it would be decades before another mention of them occurs in English sources. That is in 1459 in the Paston letters, where Margaret Paston reports that over Christmas, a widowed acquaintance forbade the members of her household to engage in dancing, harping, luting, singing, or “loud disports,” but permitted them to play tables, chess, and cards.[19]

[18] Woolgar, Household Accounts, pp. 592-94.
= C. M. Woolgar, ed., Household Accounts from Medieval England, Part 2. Oxford University Press, 1993.

[19] Parlett, p. 46; Paston Letters, vol. vi, 78-79. Gairdner dates the letter in 1484, but as Parlett points out, it appears to be from an earlier time.
= David Parlett, The Oxford Guide to Card Games. Oxford University Press, 1990

We checked the Woolgar report with the help of Robert Mealing from and found 3 entries about playing cards from 1413:
  1. ... Item in XIII die Septembris perdebat apud Docmersfeld a cardys xx s. xl d. ...
    (lost at playing cards in Docmersfeld at 13th of September [1413] 20 shillings and 11 pence - Docmerfeld is probably Dogmersfield).
  2. ... Item in eodem die [= 17th of September, likely at loge de Wynsor] perdebat xx s. apud cardys. ...
    (lost at playing cards [at 17th of September 1413, likely at "loge de Wynsor"] 20 shilling - "loge at Wynsor" is probably near "Royal lodges in Windsor park"
  3. ... Item in XIII die Octobris perdebat a cartys apud Mertun V s. ...
    (lost at playing cards at 13th of October [1413] in Mertun 5 shilling - Mertun is probably Merton near Wimbledon)

The 3 entries are embedded in 10 pages (about 250 notes) full of "Expenses for the houshold of Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March" during the time of 7th of September 1413 till 30th of April 1414.

(collected by Huck Meyer)