Saturday, February 6, 2016

Oct. 12, 2015, 1440-1450: Florence - Convictions for card games in the Books of the Lily

 Inserted Nov. 6, 2015. Last modified Nov. 6, 2016.

Translator's introduction. This is a translation of Franco's "1440-1450: Firenze – Condanne per giochi di carte nei Libri del Giglio", This is a later version, much the same in content but with some variation in wording, of the published essay "Condanne a Firenze per giochi di carte (1440-1450) e precoce apparizione dei trionfi," published in Ludica 21-22 (2015-2016), pp. 1-5, online at 

Comments in brackets are mine. Franco cites two law enforcement bodies, each headed by a different officer from outside of Florence: the podesta, like a mayor; and the captain, I assume relating to the militia. For these offenses, the apprehending body was also the sentencing body. Franco's previous study picked out sample years from each decade in the archive to see what looked worth further study: 1426, 1430, 1435, 1440, 1445, 1450, 1455, 1460, 1465, 1469. He decided that the decade 1440-1450 was of particular interest.

I feel that I must be making a mistake in translating the quotation from a previous note, because my rendering has him saying that in this decade, 1440-1450, the game of triumphs was already allowed, when it clearly was prohibited in 1440 but allowed first in 1450. So I include Franco's Italian original in that quote.

Any suggestions for improvement are as always welcome.

1440-1450: Florence - Convictions for card games in the Books of the Lily


The present study follows others dedicated to the same archive of the Books of the Lily [Giglio, symbol of Florence], (1) the records of the [Judicial] Chamber of the City of Florence, where convictions were reported of those bearing weapons, being out at night and gambling. The idea for this research originated directly from an earlier one, in which the wealth of information found for the year 1445 was an incomprehensible contrast to the shortage, or even absence, of convictions recorded in neighboring years; (2) that strange situation was commented upon as follows.

Dai dati presenti nell’elenco riportato sopra, si può concludere che nel 1445 ci furono molte più condanne per giochi di carte che nei decenni vicini. Se ciò corrispose a un effettivo rafforzamento dei controlli proprio in quell’anno e forse in anni vicini è possibile, ma difficile da verificare; per capire meglio la situazione, sarebbe utile un’ulteriore indagine centrata sul decennio 1440-50. Similmente speculativo rimane qualsiasi tentativo di collegare queste condanne dei giochi che si facevano con le carte comuni proprio nel momento in cui si stavano diffondendo i trionfi, i nuovi mazzi di carte speciali che si utilizzavano in giochi che in genere erano permessi. Sarebbe di grande interesse trovare in questi libri qualche citazione che testimoniasse la comparsa dei primi trionfi, ma se per un gioco di carte non era possibile infliggere condanne era proprio quello, insieme alla diritta e a pochi altri.

(From the data in the list above, it can be concluded that in 1445 there were many more convictions for card games than in neighboring decades. Whether this corresponded to an effective strengthening of its controls in that year and perhaps in adjacent years is possible but difficult to verify; to better understand the situation, further investigation would be useful, centered on the decade 1440-50. Similarly speculative is any attempt to link these convictions for games done with common cards precisely to the time when triumphs were being diffused, the new deck with special cards used in games that were generally allowed. It would be of great interest to find in these books a few citations that would witness the emergence of the first triumphs, but if for a card game it was not possible to impose penalties precisely for that one, along with diritta and a few others.)
Consequently, the aim of this new research was simply to resolve the doubts about the frequency of convictions for card games in the decade 1440-1450. You will see that the results have exceeded expectations, also responding to another question, that of the relationship to the new triumphs, which was not expected to be accessible in this way.

The Books of the Lily examined

The archive of the the Books of the Lily is in practice constituted by a continuous series of large annual registers. Those of interest in this study are listed in the following table
1. ASFI, Camera del Comune, Provveditori poi Massai, Libri del Giglio.

Volumes marked with an asterisk have already been used in the study cited previously, and what had been found for the year 1445 is taken here with only the correction of the name of one parish. (In fact, the years mentioned are to be understood as from the beginning of February to the end of January of the following year; in addition, the dates, written in the Florentine style of the time, have been changed so as to increase by one year, those from 1 January to 25 March. [In Florence the year started on March 26, Conception Day.]) To answer the initial question we will need to submit and review a list of all the captures recorded for card players in the various years, but some information about these books must first be given, albeit failing to dedicate a detailed examination to this series.

In particular, # 36 is alien to the series and appears inserted in this location to replace the "true" Book No. 36, lost. Instead of reporting convictions from the various courts in a year, we find here, after an extensive initial rubric with names, lists of citizens who were debtors to the town over the course of twenty years, as a result of convictions for absences from councils and similar offenses. In Book No. 37 the majority of convictions are overwhelmingly for being out at night, while among those of the captain some convictions, and in the same measure, are just for "standing and watching gambling". In No. 38 there are only two convictions for playing cards, but we'll see that they are the most important of the whole lot. No. 39 contains a few convictions for gambling, but the frequency of all the sentences, mostly for being out night, is low; of note in the captain's section is the presence of various foreign players who finish with the "baptism" [of which more later].

The situation is very different when you switch to considering year by year the five years following that which motivated the investigation: while previous books make us see 1445 as a "normal" year the subsequent ones present it almost like the last in a situation that was changing profoundly. In particular, Book # 41 contains for the podestà, only a page with 5 convictions for weapons, 1 out at night and 1 for dice games; for the captain only 8 convictions, for being out at night. In Book # 42 we find only three sentences for games, and a few others for arms or being out at night. The vast majority of the sentences recorded in No. 43 are instead for being out at night - fifty between podestà and captain – with a few for weapons and only three for games for the podestà, of which only one is identified for cards. No. 44 is mutilated and there are no cards in the captain’s section;

in the two pages that contain convictions by the podestà, 24 of 25 are for night outings.

In conclusion, it is true, as we shall see later, that the distribution of convictions for card games is irregular and concentrated in a few years, but a similar trend can be seen for other convictions by the podestà and captain.

Convictions for card games

All the convictions for which card game are specifically indicated are presented in chronological order in the following table.
In the headings and within the columns the following abbreviations are used:
M for the month, from January to December indicated with the number from 1 to 12;
G: for the day [giorno] of the capture, in the month of the previous column;
R: Executor [rector]: podesta p, captain c;
D: the date of payment;
V: the volume of the particular Book of the Lily;
C: the page [carta] in which the sentence is recorded.
N: notes, with the particulars specified below.
.....1. The corresponding entry is 11 soldi
.....2. Instead of giocho di charte, here it still reads naibi.
.....3. Instead of giocho di charte, here we read giocho di charte a trionfi.
.....4. The type of profession is silk processor.
.....5. The type of profession is painter.
.....6. The corresponding entry is 2L.

The previous study, which considered sample data of a book for five years, could lead to the conclusion that the situation for the year 1445 was extraordinary; now we see that a number of convictions comparable is also found in other years of that decade, and particularly those immediately preceding. This does not imply that the distribution of convictions appears now homogeneous: there are still gaps only some of which - such as the one for 1441 and partially for 1449 - are easily explained by the absence of the corresponding records among those preserved. It should also keep in mind that other convictions for card game can be hidden among the many cases where what is explicit is that it is a dice game. However, 1445 indeed appears as a kind of watershed between the previous years when there were quite a number of convictions for the game, with a significant presence of those for card games, and the years in which these sentences they were registered numbers very low. The set of new data requires some further comment, also because some are particularly interesting.

In previous studies on the same archive he had already seen that the sums that entered into the coffers of the town from the game for convictions remained surprisingly constant at the value of ten lire for more than a century, and here

one gets further confirmation for the decade under review. If you notice in the numbered registers other than 10L. or 2F.2L.13s.4d. this corresponds to the fact that the player had managed to escape (or that flight had been permitted) leaving instead part of his clothing, a value below the expected fine. In correspondence to these items of clothing are recorded numbers rather low and different, obviously depending on the nature and state of conservation of the objects and possibly also depending on the buyer. For card games, there are only cases like this, and the proceeds are respectively eleven soldi and two lire.

In the rather frequent cases that more players are caught in the same day, it is not certain, it seems likely, that those who were surprised gambling, or seeing gambling, are put together. As regards the origin of the players, there is a lower frequency of foreign players against those recorded for dice games. These Florentine players come from over a dozen parishes, or boroughs [?: popoli], of the city, including some of the most central locations. Only two show their professions, respectively of silk processor and painter. It can be assumed with reasonable plausibility that all these Florentine players were simple commoners and that none of them belonged to the ruling class; however, they must not be of the poor, without having available, in person or with the help of relatives and friends, the fee to be paid to the municipality for the sentences reported. In fact, only one of these players, from Arezzo, does not pay the sum and leaves the Stinche [Florence's prison] with the "baptism" [on which more later].

Among these convictions for card games, two particulars, for unexpected clarification on the type of cards used, require a separate comment.

The convictions of 1444 for the game "delle carte a trionfi"

The most surprising finding of all is represented by these two sentences of 1444, recorded at the end of the Book of the Lily No 38, dedicated mainly year to the year 1443.
Giovanni di Ser Piero popolo San Simone fu preso adi 3 di genaio per giuchare alle charte a trionfi per presente chapitano. Pagho adi 24 di fìebraio a Batista Guicciardini cassiere di camera.

Vieri di Nanni popolo San Simone fu preso adi detto per giuchare alle charte a trionfi per detto rettore. Pagho adi 3 di febraio a Batista Guicciardini cassiere di camera.

(Giovanni di Ser Piero San of borough Simone was taken on 3 January for playing cards at triumphs by the captain present. Paid 24 February to Batista Guicciardini, Chamber cashier.

Vieri Nanni of borough San Simone was taken on said [detto] for playing cards at triumphs by the rector said. Paid 3 February to Batista Guicciardini, Chamber cashier.)

[Note: when I translate "guichare alle charte a trionfi" as "playing cards at triumphs" I am trying to be as literal as possible. A less literal translation would be simply "playing triumphs" or perhaps, with more information, "playing the card game of triumphs"]
These two convictions were wholly unexpected, and of fundamental importance. For a very long time the first known documentation on triumphs was that of 1442 from the court of Ferrara and its basis and that of other documents from Ferrara and ancient playing cards extant from the court of Milan, thousands of pages have been written on the presence of triumphs in the princely courts. However it is known that already in Florence in 1450 triumphs was so esteemed and now traditional as to be excluded from the prohibition on games (3). Then Thierry Depaulis reported to interested experts that naibi a trionfi of Florentine production were present in a text of 1440 (4) and the similar expression naibi di trionfi was found, still in the Florentine environment, in 1452. (5) Now here we no longer find even naibi, there are already carte a trionfi, and we are only at the beginning of 1444, in the midst of the city, the polar opposite, if I may say so, of the environments of the princely courts of northern Italy.

The convicted for trionfi are two, and everything indicates that they were taken as they played together, the immediate inference is that it was in this case a game for two players, which is more than plausible; but on this there would be necessary other confirmations, because the number of captured does not correspond generally to the number of players that would be required, beginning with the cases, rather numerous, where one is captured. Particularly important is the parish where these players lived, or the borough named after it. The church of St. Simone was next to the Stinche, the terrible Florentine jails full of debtors. The area is quite popular today, but back then it was surrounded by tanneries and dyeing establishments of all sorts, surrounded by poor or even miserable housing. In short, these triumphs were not in the delicate hands of gentle ladies or ladies of the court, or even the lords of the ancient nobility, but in those of little presence, and still less influence, in Florence of the time.

Of the two players involved we know only that one was the son of a notary, notaries had neither the prestige nor the wealth of those of today. Probably the identity of these players can be specified by controlling other documents kept in the ASFI, beginning with the catasti [taxations based on property and household composition]. In the most fundamental one, of 1427, there would be (then he would have been 43 at the time of sentencing) Vieri de Giovanni Altoviti of 26 years, but for
3. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, 19 No. 1 (1990) 7-17.[Online starting at For succeeding pages, click on "next" button.]
4. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=773
5. F. Pratesi, Playing-Card Trade in 15th-Century Florence. North Walsham 2012. (IPCS Papers 7), pp. 61-63.

this player the reading of the name is not even entirely sure in the document under examination. On the other hand, Giovanni and Piero are such frequent names as to make any identification difficult and uncertain, and also of notaries and jurists with the name Piero registered then in Florence, among which to search for the father of the second player, there are 392. (6)

However. even more important than a precise confirmation of the identity and social status of these players is that of emphasizing the fact, shown here without a doubt, the ill repute in which the relatively new triumphal cards were held. We know that in other times and other places the game of triumphs was considered something similar to chess, a noble game, such that when the control of gambling increased, it would be among those privileged to be excluded from the game prohibitions. Well, certainly the game of triumphs was an “intelligent” game deriving directly, so it seems, from the game of diritta, as a trick-taking game where one had to gradually reflect on what card to play; nevertheless, with all its good points, including the amount and the superior quality of the cards used, here we see the players of triumphs captured by the company of the captain and forced, like zara [a dice game] players, to pay the usual ten lire for not being incarcerated in the Stinche and freed only after one or two months, through "baptism" with the usual bucket of water over the head.

Evidently the provisions of 1450.reported above, were not yet ready, which will make it lawful in Florence to play - as well as diritta, torta and trenta - also triumphs.

In the decade 1440-50 studied here, the podestà and the captain had in Florence among their multiple functions also that of seeing that offenses against the laws on the bearing of arms, being out at night and gambling were not committed. The last case is that of our specific interest; indeed, we have limited ourselves to studying the circumstances, much in the minority, in which convictions for playing cards are explicitly mentioned. The doubt that the year 1445 was characterized by an abnormal control of these offenses has been reduced, in the sense that there are similar situations in several previous years, while for the following years all these sentences are to become less numerous. Of great interest is the documentation of convictions
6 ... rview.html

for playing the card game of triumphs in 1444, when the known testimonies of these "new" playing cards are still very rare; but here we find this game, usually considered "noble", practically equated to the playing of normal cards, in turn equated if only to the identity of the sentence, with gambling done with dice.

Franco Pratesi – 12.10.2015

Translator's comments on the content of the foregoing.

It does not seem to me from Franco's data that triumphs was a reviled game. It was simply not yet officially allowed. One of the men most likely is from the family of a notary. Notaries, the expansion for which Leonardo Bruni was particularly responsible, were the mass base of humanism. Doing a search for "notaries" on THF I came across Ross Caldwell's comment "Notaries were well-paid professionals" (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=345&p=12859&hilit=notaries#p12859). Not rich, I assume, but paid enough to give their children an education the equal of their own, with enough Latin to write it, including translating from Italian in court transcriptions, and read basic Latin classics.

We don't know why he and his companion were arrested. It might be that he worked at the jail in a clerical capacity and was violating a work rule by playing cards, even on a break, in public so near the jail. It might make people who came with things for the relatives suspect that the goods went to pay gambling debts instead of to their relatives. There is also the principle of breaking the law in the shadow of the jail. In any case, he is made an example of. In such a case, it is the person who is being reviled, not the game.

Also, in reviewing Franco's previous notes on the Book of the Lily, it seems that Franco has indeed not yet examined the 1430s in detail, except for 1430 and 1435, which apparently turned up nothing interesting.

It is probably a cheap deck. Whenever there are luxury decks, you have to assume that there are also cheap versions, because in general the luxury versions don't show much wear. In this case, to be sure, the game is not being played by the family member of a rich merchant or banker. It is in the era of mass consumption, "mass" at least in the sense of the classes to which the game has appeal, more than the ruling families or their competitors, but still with a good education of the "humanistic" sort.

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