Here is my translation of the note. He adds some additional material, involving considerable personal communication on his part, to the documents that Huck provided, and an analysis of the whole thus far. Comments in brackets are mine, for clarification. If anyone sees any problems with the translation, let me know. Franco clarified several passages for me, for which I am grateful. There is still one that stands out as not very clear. I mean, I put in his suggestion but now I'm not sure about the rest of the sentence; I put a question mark in brackets in the text there. Also let me know if anyone has ideas about a few Dutch words I couldn't translate. Added later:
Franco cleared up the translation of that one sentence that was bothering me, which has now (as of Jan. 23, 2017) been corrected.
Playing cards in Europe before 1377? Holland
by Franco Pratesi
1. General considerations
This study is part of an investigation on notices handed down on the presence of playing cards in Europe before 1377, where there is usually little precise information, whose verification is always difficult and sometimes impossible. We often encounter a recurring question: if a historian of the nineteenth century, perhaps amateur, wrote that he had found useful information in an ancient document, but today the document is no longer detectable, can one give credence to the notice if it is the only information on the subject? The case at issue here, however, is different from the usual, because the original documentation of the fourteenth century might be stored and traceable; thus we shall recap the notices that have been handed down and possibly verify them in the documents, and not in the copies remaining from the following centuries.
The point on which testimonies agree is in regard to the personage involved, Jan van Blois, of a noble family that had extensive properties in France and the Netherlands. He was the Count of Blois and Dunois, lord of Schoonhoven, Gouda, Beaumont, Chimay, Waarde and other Dutch cities. His most important positions were transitory: Governor of Holland and Zealand as deputy of Albert of Bavaria and contested Duke of Gelderland, a position he tried to recover a hereditary right from his wife, but he had to yield to the rival claimant. He is often remembered for his participation in two crusades against the Poles-Lithuanians in Prussia in the sixties at the side of the Teutonic Knights (1). Finding traces of him as a card player is not mysterious (except the dates), because the had the reputation of being an inveterate gambler, also avid in hunting and other pastimes.
As for the dates when Jan van Blois would be involved in card games before 1377, we read of two different cases: one witness reported dates for 1362 and earlier; another for 1365. One possibility is that they are both true; if
Jan van Blois played cards already in 1362, we do not see how he could not play in 1365. Since, however, the two sources are very different, it is appropriate to examine them separately. To our good fortune, or perhaps misfortune, many documents of the van Blois family are stored in a register [fondo] of that name in the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives, located in The Hague. Also, residing in the Netherlands and still active is Lex Rijnen, the historian of playing cards that used an unspecified source for the second notice of interest to us.
In this note I act like a researcher and in fact refer mainly to research already done; but if, as often happened to me, I' were to write the results found in the research, it would be possible to condense what follows into a couple of lines
1.2. Tarot History Forum
Michael Dummett in his famous book cites a reference to playing cards used in Holland in 1365 (2); this is a notice that did not have confirmation and therefore was never of interest to me. But I could not continue to neglect it, because recently I was studying such uncertain notices of that time. and the matter was brought to our attention on the Tarot History Forum
with a discussion initiated by Mikeh and continued almost exclusively by Huck (3). People like me who know Huck, that is, Lothar Teikemeier, certainly will not have been surprised by his numerous comments in the Tarot History Forum
, also on this specific topic. His typical attitude is to insert into the web communications in rapid succession, so as to definitely hit the target, as well as other possible targets glimpsed nearby.
In particular, also in his comments on this subject we find all the necessary pieces of information, and several more. To one who doubts, like me, that playing cards have come so early into Holland, Teikemeier reassures not only on the validity of those witnesses but adds many references that he can place in the context of other locations, even distant ones, and from even earlier times.
2. M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot
. London 1980, p. 11-12.
As a more general reconstruction, which appears recurrently in Huck's contributions, the first transmission of the new packs of cards would be connected to the trips of one or other of the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. which would spread to the various courts visited the playing cards, still unknown locally. In this specific case, Teikemeier in particular suggests a link with the Teutonic knights, since precisely in 1362 Jan van Blois went to Prussia to join the knights in the crusade against the Poles-Lithuanians. Teikemeier even finds a reference to Poland, where he had the notice, unreliable, that Polish nobles were playing cards already in 1340 (3): Albert I of Bavaria, with whom Jan van Blois definitely played on several occasions, had married, coincidentally, a noble maid of Brzeg or Brieg, then capital of the Polish duchy of that name, where cards could have already been known.
Despite doubts on some of his digressions, Teikemeier's contribution on the sources of the notices concerning Jan van Blois and card games are valuable and comprehensive; the situation remains confused on the subject, but we cannot lay the blame on him, because it is the sources themselves that are not sufficiently precise and consistent in giving us the notices searched for.
1.3. Writers of the Nineteenth Century
At the origin of the main notice in the discussion are some studies by nineteenth century authors whose reliability remains to be demonstrated. Teikemeier's useful contribution in the Tarot History Forum
on this part of the research saves me the trouble of searching further, and I can summarize what appears basic among the monographs exhumed by him
A first study on the subject of card games in Holland, which presents itself as a pioneering and accurate as a whole, is contained in the writings of Henrik van Wijn. However, despite the abundance of information presented and discussed, the first notice that he found dates back only to 1390. (Apparently van Wijn does not take into account previous documentation in the Brabant court.) On the other hand, he had information from the surrounding environment that would make earlier dates acceptable,
5. H. van Wijn, Historische en letterkundige avondstonden etc.
since he believed that cards were already known in France in the mid-fourteenth century and in Italy since at least 1299.
Another author called into Teikemeier’s cause is the German August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who in a report on Holland also reports notices on playing cards in Germany in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (6). Obviously this is information which, if found true, could indirectly confirm the notice of our interest on Jan van Blois; that is, there would be nothing surprising about notices that cards, already popular for some time in nearby regions, had arrived in the sixties in Holland.
The information on card games in Holland is reported by various historians who repeat practically the same text, which indicate among other things that at the time cards were so expensive that they were handled with great care; even at the courts of Alberto of Bavaria and Jan van Blois, before playing they would first spread soft cloth over the playing table.
The writer who introduced into the discussion the only notice of interest to us, however, is Gilles D. J. Schotel. He was a pastor and theology scholar who also became a prolific writer on card games in Holland, publishing notices on several occasions, in the course of twenty years. However, only in his publication of 1869 does the news appear that Jan van Blois played cards in 1362 and even before: "De eerste sporen die van Wijn van dit spel ontdeckte waren van 1390, doch in de rekeningen van Jan van Blois komt het in 1362 en vroger vor" (7) [The first traces that van Wijn found of this game were in 1390, but in the accounts of John of Blois it comes in 1362 and earlier].
Teikemeier, indicating that the notice would then be confirmed for 1362 (and not 1365, as in the other source), and considering that in previous publications by the same author this notice was absent, advances the reasonable hypothesis that it was a document that only a little before 1869 had come to Schotel’s attention. In fact already in an edition of 1859, among those cited by Teikemeier, Schotel, commenting on van Wjin's results, adds in a note at the bottom of p. 330 that "In de rekening van Jan van Blus komt dit spel reeds vele jaren overig voor" ( [In the accounts of Jan van Blus this game already comes many other years before"].
6. A. H. Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Altniederländische schaubühne: Abele spelen ende sotternien
. Breslau 1838
7. G. D. J. Schotel, Het maatschappelijk leven onzer vaderen in de zeventiende eeuw.
This repositioning by a decade in the nineteenth century certainly does change the situation we are considering. The significant fact is something else, which makes us different from those historians of the nineteenth century: while for them playing cards were already widely used in France or elsewhere prior to 1377, we do not know any valid testimony. For them, if a Dutchman, who still did not know playing cards, had an opportunity to find himself among French and Prussian nobles who played cards regularly, it would be only natural to assume that he had brought home the new game. For us, such notices would lead us in the wrong direction, because in this study we are interested mainly, or only, if in Holland it had its origin.
2. Notice of 1362
2.1. Holland up to November 1362
The year 1362 is a special year for Jan van Blois, with two trips that will be considered separately later: in November he traveled to Gelderland; in December he left for the first of his two expeditions to Prussia. However, neglecting the previous years, Jan van Blois spent most of 1362 in Holland; therefore, giving a minimum of plausibility to the affirmation of Schotel, it is first of all in Dutch documents that a trace of playing cards must be sought.
In the vagueness of the information, what is most striking is "previous years": for how many years prior to 1362 will the archive documents reasonably have to be sounded out? After all, in this quest for the reasonable there is very little to go on, and it could date back to when Jan van Blois was still a boy. I will limit myself to considering in what follows some of the documents potentially involved, dating back to 1362 and a few surrounding years.
To limit the interest to Holland is not sufficient, however, because Jan van Blois made several stays in other regions in which, at least in principle, he would have been able to learn the game of cards. It would in particular need to be understood whether, in the path of the diffusion of playing cards, the testimonies in Holland corresponded, with respect to other European countries, to a point of departure or arrival.
The hypothesis that the first notice about card games in Europe comes from Dutch territory is in itself unlikely, if only for geographical reasons, having to assume either that cards had been invented in Holland, or that it was a convenient gateway to Europe from Asia, from which all historians argue that the cards came. On the other hand, if it became known that Jan van Blois had encountered playing cards in France in the sixties or before, such a notice coming to us from Holland would be amazing news, unknown to all serious historians, absent in all French documents of recognized validity.
With these assumptions, the research into Holland already begins with considerable skepticism. I felt it was still useful to carry out a search for the original documents, and in June, shortly before the appearance of the indications from Teikemeier, I was interested in the problem, with a first search the web. I soon found online the searchable inventory of the van Blois archive (9). I have some experience In consulting manuscripts of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance compiled in Latin or Italian. This language, too, did not discourage me, because Dutch is quite similar to German, which I read; I then considered the issue of who to ask for reproductions from the archive; In fact I was not willing to return to The Hague, where many years ago I spent fruitful hours of study in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (which is right next to the Archief), which contains the most important collection of chess literature from all over Europe.
By a happy combination (perhaps connected with many important Dutch contributions to the history of games), living in Leiden - only 20 km from the Archief - was Theo van Ees, one of my best friends, with whom I have written several books and articles on the history of the game of go in Europe. While it must be recognized that there is some difference between the history of the game of go in Europe, mostly limited to the last century, and that of fourteenth century playing cards, I did not hesitate to ask a favor from my Dutch friend, to check the Archief, in particular for what documents could be most promising for my study.
(Pratesi 23.06.2016) Chiedo di controllare nell’Archief i documenti van Blois.
(van Ees 28.06.2016) Sta studiando quanto appare in Tarot History Forum e cercherà nell’Archief la settimana successiva.
(van Ees 05.07.2016) Ha preso visione dei pezzi di interesse dell’archivio van Blois. La ricerca è facilitata dal fatto che quei documenti sono accessibili come microfilm. La scrittura è difficile da leggere; ha concentrato l’attenzione su poche parole, come kvarten e simili.
Pratesi 23/06/2016) I ask him to check the Archief for van Blois documents.
(Van Ees 28/06/2016) He is studying what appears in Tarot History Forum and will search in the Archief the next week.
9. http://www.gahetna.nl/collectie/archief ... 10.ead.pdf
(Van Ees 07/05/2016) He has examined the pieces of interest in the van Blois archive. The search is made easier by the fact that those documents are accessible on microfilm. The writing is difficult to read; he has focused attention on a few words, such as kvarten and the like.
Con la mia esperienze nella lettura dei documenti contabili fiorentini della medesima epoca, ritenevo invece possibile “leggere” i libri di conti, anche se scritti in olandese, dove per leggere intendo capire grosso modo l’argomento e individuare fra varie cose per lo più incomprensibili le pochissime di nostro interesse.
With my experience in reading Florentine accounts of the same age, I thought instead I could "read" the account books, even if written in Dutch, which by "reading" I mean to understand the topic roughly and identify among various mostly incomprehensible things those very few of interest to us?][/b]
In fact, in the rich van Blois archive the amount of documents to be examined is reduced a lot if the search is limited to a small range around 1362. Making me decide on those of which I ordered a copy from the Hague (numbers 90-94) were three considerations: these books were not among the ones available on line; Teikemeier had focused his attention on those documents, considering them the "most promising" (10); and, as we shall see, Lex Rijnen had cited the importance of Schoonhoven.
In what followed I had reason to [look back on with] regret times past, when I would not have hesitated to go to the Archief in person; in particular, receiving the documents was exceptionally laborious and in parallel the request for information from the archivists was also slow and useless in the end. I will give a review the correspondence, without thereby wishing to discourage other attempts: usually these procedures are carried out in a more streamlined and effective manner.
(Pratesi 19/09/2016) I order reproductions.
(Archief and Pratesi 09.22.2016) I receive confirmation of the order, a little unclear, I answer the same day.
(Archief and Pratesi 23.09.2016) I get a quote for EUR 75-80, answer the same day agreeing.
(Archief 10.25.2016) an archivist responds to my request, pointing to the link to the archive's van Blois inventory that I had known for a long time.
(Pratesi 31.10.2016) I rewrite my archivist request with more details.
(Pratesi 30.11.2016) remaining unanswered, I send a new email..
(Archief 06.12.2016) I receive notice that the copies were shipped 3.11.
(Pratesi 06.12.2016) I ask for a second dispatch of the copies not received.
(Archief 06.12.2016) I also receive the archivist's answer: the archive does not search and suggests the publication of Schotel.
(Archief 27.12.2016) I receive an invoice (from 5.12) for photocopies sent.
Following another of my requests I then confirmed that a second shipment of copies was made, by registered mail. Finally, on 10.01.2017 I received the envelope containing the photocopies requested four months before. I spent a few days "reading" this documentation.
In truth I have to explain again what the verb “to read” means for me in this specific case. If one reads a page of text one assumes that it includes a percentage that is close to one hundred. This favorable limit is never reached in reading manuscripts of the fourteenth century, and the "read" operation consists of puzzles in which the imagination fills in the gaps left out of view. But in the case of all these documents from the Archief, the gaps are so large that for me they cannot be filled! I had to face the obvious and give up understanding the content, even in general terms. In particular, I did not find simple lists of various goods purchased among which I could recognize cards, if any were there.
I do not think I will encounter a Dutch scholar skilled with such documents who can quickly browse through the material and see if there are notices of interest to us, which already are not very likely in the source. Possibly it remains to be verified even whether the game in question was really of cards: it should be noted among other things that the word "qwarten" or the like used for cards was related to "fourth-four" and could sometimes be attributed to a another kind of game, with four participants. Using my skills only, I unfortunately could not make any progress in this research. This time, unfortunately, much more than usual, the fact that I could not find any notices of interest cannot constitute evidence of its absence in the documents taken into account.
2.2 Journey to Gerlderland - November 1362
If one fixes attention on the year 1362 and neglects the information that in the Jan van Blois documents there would be notices of card games also in previous years, there remain two other parts to consider up to the end of the same year, corresponding to the sojourns in Gelderland and Prussia.
Gelderland is now the largest of the provinces of Holland, towards the German border, with Arnhem as its capital; at the time that interests us it was a duchy in the Holy Roman Empire with its capital city of the same name (now Geldern, a German city in the Land Nordrhein-Westfalen. The region would not of itself have any special reason to be studied in this context, but it so happens that in November 1362 our Jan made a trip to that duchy in company of none other than Albert of Bavaria.
Albrecht I of Bavaria (Monaco 1336-the Hague 1404), of the Wittelsbach royal family, was Duke of Bavaria-Straubing, Count of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut, and Lord of Friesland. He remained at the head of territories in part very far apart for almost half a century and greatly increased in prestige and power, thanks also to the marriage bonds contracted by his daughters. A special merit that is recognized was that ofo encouraging shipbuilding, which later reached the top levels in Europe. The main residence of his court was the Hague.
It seems that Jan van Blois was a frequent gambling companion of Albert of Bavaria from adolescence. The two noble personages (with Jan about 20 years old and Alberto 26) found themselves together on this journey in Gelderland and among other pastimes it is possible that they would also play cards. The appearance on the scene in 1362 of Albert of Bavaria allows us to glimpse the possibility that the two noble friends had been able to play with cards already then, but of this we must seek confirmation from some precise testimony.
The notice from Schotel speaks of accounts and therefore would seem to be connected to playing card purchases. It would perhaps have been possible in Holland, in the usual residence of Jan van Blois, interpreting the purchase preferably as a payment to a craftsman in charge of its manufacture, but not during a trip, in which he would have found the cards already for sale. But where in that year in Gelderland (and indeed in any other European region) could playing cards have been found
for sale ? On reflection, it seems even absurd to seek notices of this kind.
There remains the hypothesis that cards were present in the documents not as purchases, but as notices of losses or winnings at the gambling table. One can imagine that Albert of Bavaria had his own pack of valuable playing cards at his fingertips and kept it with him both in his court and during this trip to Gelderland. But then the related document would probably be found in some travel diaries, written in medieval Dutch, which for me would still be indecipherable.
Therefore, in this case, for those interested and able to read where I did not even try, I must confine myself to reporting the following archival unit of the van Blois register in the Archief.
38 - 24 december 1361-25 december 1362, afgehoord 1363 november 29. 1 deel
Voor bijlagen zie inv.nrs. 66-74. Hieruit uitgegeven door P.N. van Doorninck, Rekening van Jan van Blois, 1361-1362, de tocht van Jan van Blois met hertog Aelbrecht naar Gelre, november 1362, naar het oorspronkelijk handschrift, Haarlem, 1899.
[38 - 24 December 1361-25 December 1362, afgehoord [?] 1363 November 29. Part 1
Attachment see nos. 66-74. From this issued through P.N. van Doorninck, Account of Jan van Blois, 1361-1362, the journey of Jan van Blois with Duke Aelbrecht to Gelre, November 1362, after the original manuscript, Haarlem, 1899.]
In fact, this particular piece of research would be much easier by the fact that the documents themselves have already been transcribed and printed (11); then the difficulty remains of the uncommon ancient language, but no longer of the deciphering of the text to be read.
One indisputable observation of Teikemeier is that Schotel could not obtain his information from this book, printed many years later, though he might have read it directly in the ... archival source, shown above. This Dutch pastor, a prolific writer, has not yet earned a reputation as a meticulous and reliable archival researcher; indeed, the opinion in a biography, as indicated by Teikemeier, does not leave much hope: Niet alles wat hij schreef, was grondig bestudeerd, gebaseerd op origineel materiaal of getuigde van een gewogen analyze en inzicht (12) [Not everything he wrote was thoroughly studied, based on original material or witnessed from a gewogen [?] analysis and understanding.]
The fame the two noble personages had as avid gamblers will also be extended to card games, but it derives from their habits of later times (especially toward the end of the century in the case of Albert of Bavaria)
11. P N van Doorninck, De tocht van Jan van Blois met hertog Aelbrecht naar Gelre nov. 1362.
and only Schotel's brief mention allows us to imagine a preceding practice in common. In short, further research has some justification and fails to appear absurd from the outset; however, the outlook remains unpromising.
2.3 Journey to Prussia - Winter 1362-1363
Remaining in the usual fateful year 1362 opens one last chance, the journey in Prussia. On this I have nothing to add to what Teikemeier has already discussed in Tarot History Forum, apart from the preliminary comments that if the news of Schotel had referred to the Prussian expedition, there would have been reported the year "in 1362 and the year following", not "1362 and the years preceding".
If you forget to add in the notice of "years preceding", preciselyin Prussia Jan van Blois could learn the new (at least for him) game of cards. Unlike the trip to Gelderland, in this case local gambling companions would appear, who indeed could also show playing cards to van Blois for the first time. It so happens that fromthose regions located at the northeastern end of the European continent there are a couple of occurrences of “prehistoric" witnesses, but they are not usually accepted as valid.
Two insecure reports of the order of German knights (possibly later forgeries) attest the presence of playing cards in 1308/1309 and then in the time of Werner von Orseln (1324-30) in a prohibition at the German knight order states. The German knights had participated in the late crusaders wars, when Mamluk playing cards already existed. (13)
That the Teutonic Knights had come to know playing cards many years before in Palestine is not absurd; that they had kept this knowledge to themselves, without spreading the game outside of their environment, has as well a minimum plausibility. This is not a completely absurd hypothesis, but to accept it would still require much more documentation than we have available. Obviously, those who wish to continue this
13. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1103&p=16970&hilit ... ies#p16970
line of research will have to forget Holland, where we started, and open a new front, surveying very distant locations and social circles.
3. Notice of 1365
The presence in Holland of playing cards in 1365 corresponds to the case that is most frequently mentioned in histories of card games, albeit associated with doubts by their uncertainty, lacking secure confirmation. The same Dummett, as already mentioned at the beginning, reports the notice as lacking confirmation; it is not so absurd as not to mention it, but at the same time not secure enough to take it into account as actual data. At the origin of this information is a news item published by Lex Rijnen in an article in the official organ of the IPCS, the International association of collectors and historians of playing cards.
Obviously, the most convenient way to eliminate the uncertainty about the date of 1365 is to ask for the notices from the one who had introduced it into discussion, Lex Rijnen himself. Teikemeier also suggested in the Forum
the opportunity of searching for him, since he was still active as an author of publications on games. The involvement in this search of Theo van Ees was instrumental first to come in contact with Lex Rijnen and then to ask him for first-hand information; his request was answered as follows
(Rijnen 04/08/2016) Reported Archive van Blois no. 3:19:10. But a part of the archive may have been lost. In the digitized part are not found notice of playing cards. He refers to the Schotel notice on "1362 and before". He remembers that Jan van Blois enjoyed a pleasant life at court in the residence of Schoonhoven, like the dukes of Brabant and Bavaria with whom he was in contact. In particular he indicates accounts of playing cards from the Wenceslas court in Brussels (1379-1382) and Duke Albert of Bavaria (1392-1400). Other notices of 1800 are collected in the book by van Wijn. Other sources are the prohibitions of games but he did not find any for Holland before 1397.
As is seen, the most useful citations are again those of the nineteenth century, while the notices of the time indicate some information, results
14. L. Rijnen, Journal of the Playing-Card Society
. Vol, 4 No. 42 (1975) 34-37
dating from later times than our limit of 1377. The only indication that leaves some glimmer for research in Holland is that at the lords' [signorile] house of Schoonhoven. At this point, I saw fit to address personally Lex Rijnen to get more precise information and directions about archival documents to verify, resulting in a brief e-mail exchange that helped to clarify the issue sufficiently.
(Pratesi 25.09.2016) I ask him to indicate the sources of his article. I recall the quote by Dummett, and the discussion in the Tarot History Forum. I am only interested in documents before 1377! In this case there is hope that they kept the original documents. I ask for an indication of the section of the archive where to look.
(Rijnen 08.10.2016) Read the discussion in Tarot History Forum with information already known. It is more than 40 years ago when he visited the archives of the van Blois family, at that time in Gouda. He will communicate information later, in order to have time to provide more notices.
(Rijnen 13.10.2016) About 40 years ago he visited the Gouda archives to see the van Blois documents. The curator said that the documents were not complete, many were damaged or burnt. Afterwards the accounting books of van Blois were gathered in the Nationaal Archief (Inventaris van het Archief van de Graven van Blois-1304-1397; 3:19:10 inventory.) The date c. 1365 was not based on the visit in Gouda, but what can be recalled from documents on card games, of later dates, of van Blois and other nobles. [My date c 1365 was not based on my visit to Gouda, but as far as I can remember on documents (of later dates) of card playing by Blois and other Noblemen.] Jan van Blois was on friendly terms with Albert of Bavaria. They were companions and competitors in gambling, drinking, hunting and chasing women.
After the death of his brother, the Duke of Holland, Alberto settled in the Hague as the new duke and we know accounts of card games from 1390 to 1401. Considering that van Blois traveled a lot in his short life (39 years) he must have met playing cards in the course of his travels through Europe. But where you can find the documents? * At Beaumont, France; the van Blois family had a castle, where Jan was not long. The National Archives has suggested that other archives can be found in Beaumont, as well as in Brussels. * In previous accounts of Albert of Bavaria, before 1390. He believes that van Blois must have seen his first cards in Albert's ducal court, where he served as a page in his youth (ca. 1362). * At the Nationaal Archief, where many of the documents are not yet included on the internet. After the article in The Playing-Card, he has not done other research (so far) on old packs. His interest is directed to the Dutch card makers. The first is found around 1595. We must not forget that in the past the states of Belgium and the Netherlands did not exist.
Pratesi 14.10.2016) I was hoping to get a more accurate description for the research on the archive documents. Currently I have no way to come to The Hague, and I have to order expensive photocopies from the Nationaal Archief. I will probably have more questions to be submitted in the coming weeks or months.
(Pratesi 11.01.2017) I have received the envelope of the Archief and ask only the most accurate indication about the documents in which he had read the year 1365.
(Rijnen 12.01.2017) He asks for news on the Archief documents; he needs time to search among his notes from 40 years before.
(Pratesi 12.01.2017) I reiterate that I await as soon as possible the communication of where he had found the date 1365, at least if in manuscripts or printed books.
Barring errors, it seems to me that the results of this correspondence can be summarized as follows. Currently the van Blois archive is kept at the Nationaal Archief, but when Rijnen got notices they were stored at Gouda and it was to that city that Rijnen went to obtain the notices; the local archivist knew that the documents were incomplete and in disorder, making it difficult or impossible for consultation. The date in 1365 that he announced in his article had not been read in a document of that year, but acquired from later writings. I do not know if he said this meant archival documents of a few years after, examined in person, or relevant studies published by historians of recent centuries, but I am inclined to the latter.
In any case, it is clear to me today that the date to search for is no longer 1365, but possibily Schotten's “1362 and before". If one wanted to follow the track indicated by Rijnen, one would even abandon Holland and look in France at Beaumont and in Belgium at Brussels.
In conclusion, that in the van Blois archive is a document dated 1365 which shows that Jan van Blois played cards remains a possibility that I would tend to exclude, unless the other notice presented as an alternative comes to be recognized as valid, the 1362; in that case, 1365 could be traced, but then loses all its importance, seeing anticipated by three years the primacy in antiquity of the related documentation.
4. After 1377
My interest in this case was limited to verifying the testimonials on card games in Europe before 1377, the date that remains in my opinion the oldest associated with secure documents, thus not recognizing the involvement with playing cards of earlier Catalan documents now commonly accepted. Thus I could disregard some of the oldest information on playing cards, from Holland or neighboring regions. However, if we assume, with good reason, that the cards were not present in those locations prior to 1377, some difficulty is encounted in understanding the popular tradition on the matter and thus one has also to look at some subsequent events.
After 1377, playing cards are documented very early at the court of the dukes of Brabant; the same Jan van Blois, after having been repeatedly described as passionate about the most enjoyable pastimes, also gambling with very high stakes (especially with Albert of Bavaria), he is also remembered as a card player. For Albert of Bavaria in particular, there were many future opportunities to play cards, until his death a quarter of a century later. For Jan van Blois, the situation was different, however. If you believe in this regard what various historians have transmitted, Jan van Blois spent his last years first at his court in Arnhem until 1377 and then retired to Schoonhoven with his followers, until in 1381 he could die in two locations as far apart as Schoonhoven and Valenciennes (confusing sometimes death in the first with burial in the second).
The notices on card games in Holland often have Jan van Blois together with Albert of Bavaria. Even earlier on, their attachment to gambling and the involvement of large sums had become public knowledge. To explain the situation, and this popular fame, we would assume that the two players had continued with cards their usual entertainment previously met by other types of games. Holding 1377 fixed for the introduction of playing cards, in the case of Jan van Blois this new activity would be of short duration; it seems insufficient to give rise to the popular reputation of the two nobles also cited together as card players.
On the other hand we also know that the deep friendship between the two nobles had broken down in the last years, and when both played cards, after 1377, they did not play together but in different locations and company. So the popular opinion on both noble card players would be explained better if in fact Jan van Blois and Albert of Bavaria had played with cards before 1377. Personally I prefer to think of a popular tradition which over the years has ended, mistakenly, by including in the games practiced together by the two noble personages also cards before they were actually present; but I have to leave a minimum of probability to different reconstructions.
Two notices were examined on card games in Holland before1377, one concerning 1362 and previous years, the other 1365. With the study presented here the notice of 1365 is not deserving of further research for its confirmation. However, were unable to prove the falsity of the notice in 1362, for which grave doubts remain, starting with the imprecise additional reference to previous years. There were taken into consideration some account registers of those years in the van Blois archive stored at the Hague were taken into consideration, but the results are indecipherable to the point that it was not possible to exclude or confirm the presence of the playing card references. Schotel, the only historian who, in the middle of nineteenth century, has alluded to the fourteenth-century account books in which this notice would be recorded, is recognized as an author of many historical works in which the sources were often not used faithfully.
Considering the arrival of playing cards in the Netherlands, some historical constructions move the issue of the first accounts on playing cards in Europe to areas (in France, Prussia or Poland) far not only from the Netherlands but also from the towns from which we know the most ancient documents, all the more reason for needing to independently confirm localities for them to be worthy of consideration. My impression on the initial spread of playing cards in Europe still remains that the multiplication of these non-verifiable reports does nothing to make up for the absence of certain confirmations for the years
before 1377. In my case, skepticism is the predominant basis. I would still be happy to be proved wrong, for example in this case by someone who could actually find in the van Blois archive the fourteenth century original document, which I discussed here but could not track down.
Franco Pratesi – 18.01.2017