The first reference to playing cards in period occurs in 1377, though most of the references are to laws forbidding the use of playing cards. Because games using cards were generally tied to gambling, most areas around Europe passed laws banning playing cards. Nonetheless, a variety of games, some still played today, developed during the late 1300’s and early 1400’s.
Though very few examples of medieval playing cards survive today, it is possible to play most of the variations with a standard deck of cards. Modern tarot cards represent the suits of Coins, Cups, Swords, and Batons common on medieval decks. In Tractatus de moribus et disciplina humanae conversationis, written by a Dominican Friar in 1377, the author describes a deck of cards as having four suits, with three court cards and ten number cards in each suit (Singman and McLean, 1995). A modern deck has three face cards, representing the court cards, an Ace representing the 1 card, and cards numbered 2 through 10 representing the remaining numbered cards. The joker should be discarded as it was not represented in medieval decks.
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Singman, J. L., & McLean, W. (1995). Daily Life in Chaucer’s England. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.