Earliest Playing Cards


The church-place in England - found it. But I now see that the century is'nt very early. See Kwaws post & links (Post 9).


Many thanks for the link to the fresco (1338-39), "Good and Bad Government (originally called War and Peace in the town and Countryside)". I've enlarged & sharpened the damaged area - certainly looks deliberate!

Bee :)


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Meister Ingold in Germany in the year 1432 wrote in his Guldin Spil, that playing cards arrived in Germany in the year 1300 ... as he had read this in another text. This was calculated to be too insecure to be relevant.

The German researcher F. L. Hübsch wrote in 1849 about early Bohemian trade till ca. 1430. Between many other objects he also mentions playing cards. According Hübsch playing cards had been in Bohemia (at least) since 1340, earlier already it was played with them by Polish nobility. Hübsch also knows the name of a playing card producer, Jonathan Kraysel from Nürremberg,who worked in Prague 1354. Also he knows, that card playing belonged to the allowed games.
However, Hübsch notes not in detail, where he got his information from, so this information is sorted to the category "insecure notes". We didn't saw Hübsch's notes reflected by the general playing card research.


In Trionfi.com's own evaluation there are some indications, that the information of Hübsch might be correct.
General playing card research has taken the position, that Mamluks made playing cards with the later Latin suits and that playing cards entered Europe via the Mamluks. The Mamluks are (at least partly) interpreted to have gotten playing cards from the Mongols. The Mongols had opportunity to know playing cards from China, where they are recorded already a long time. Paper existed already since ca. 500 in China, forms of printing had been also developed very early.
The Mongols reached Eastern parts of Germany in 1241, but redraw back to the region of Kiew. Kiew had been a city with possibly 100.000 - 150.000 inhabitants, before it was destroyed by the Mongols. A strong trading route existed Kiew - Breslau (Wroclaw) - Prague, naturally crossing parts of Polonia. Another important trading route went via Nowgorod and reached the Hanse and the region of the Deutscher Ritter-Orden.
Naturally trade didn't stop, when the Golden Horde established its reign.

Kiew is nearer to Breslau than Breslau to Barcelona, that's a rather simple fact at the landmap.

We found a story, according which 3 card players were hit and killed by lightning in Brieg in the year 1303 (that's about 30 km distance to Breslau at the trading way to Kiew). The story is reported in short form in two German sources from 1664 and 1688 ... not totally reliable sources (another Trionfi.com finding).

We found a note of 19th century chess researcher van der Linde, according which in the statutes of Werner of Orseln (reigned the states of the Deutscher Ritter Orden between 1324-1330), according which card playing was prohibited for the knights. In research these statutes are considered to have been a forgery of 15th century ... but not because of the detail of the playing card prohibition. Anyway ... also an insecure information (another Trionfi.com finding).

A Bohemian source about a synode in Prague of ca. 1350, which contains a prohibition against card playings - as an another record of Würzburg in 1329 did - is regarded as "writing error", the copyist misreading a similar word meaning "dancing" (the "same error" as in Würzburg). The copied text is from a later source, somehow produced between 1420-1440.
This information was brought up recently by a Czech researcher, Jan Klobusicky.

Generally the early Northern suits in Germany don't show the stability, which the Latin suits in Spain and Italy has shown. It's rather simple and somehow logical to argue, that the Northern playing cards went another independent way to Europe.
Bohemia wasn't hit in a similar way as other European states by the Great Plague of 1348-50 ... as a result the Bohemian reign about the German Empire developed well and with success and in stability.
The Plague let to a lot of Jew persecution in Western Europe in the same time. Jews were generally important for the trade with the East. If there had been earlier small beginnings of (not recorded) playing card production in overall Europe, these humble starts might have been killed with the Jew persecutions - though not killed in Prague, where Jews weren't persecuted in the same way.
Jews in Prague have a long history, they were always a larger part of the population.

Accepted playing card dates start with Bern (1367) and some in Spain around 1370 and then in central Europe since 1377.
Bern was visited by Emperor Charles VI in 1365 (2 years before the local prohibition). Emperor Charles' son Wenzel was crowned as German king 1376 in Aachen, another important Western journey of the Emperor followed 1377/78.
Wenzel was rather young when crowned. Playing cards and their distribution - as we've learned from our researchers - were often connected to "young persons", for Bianca Maria with 16 years in Ferrara 1441, Galeazzo Maria with 13 in 1457 at same place, Ladislaus posthumus with 15 years and his Hofämterspiel in Prague ca. 1455, the playing cards produced for the young king Louis XIV. in 17th century.

Following the early accepted dates at a map, it looks, as if the center of the "proven distribution" had been Southern Germany. But Southern Germany had been neighbor to Bohemia. From Bohemia itself we don't have "accepted playing cards notes", as Bohemia became involved in long wars since end of 14th century, which with interruptions still endured till the 1470's. Instability in political situations are not good to preserve documents and reports about them.
Another negative research aspect is the fact, that the CSSR was politically parted from Western Europe since 1945 till 1990. Modern playing card research was mainly done in Western Europe ...
All this might have worked together, that we don't have secure notes about an early playing card production in Bohemia.


Thanks for that Bee. When I climbed up I saw clearly the man in blue has a purse in his hand and the man in yellow between is holding what appeared to be a square brown article, the man in red had the stance of putting something down on the bench. It is not as clear in the web photo.
Loved Kwaw's link to the church cards.



Thanks Huck for all that info.
Just posting to show I read and am enthusiastic about the subject.
So anything is considered 'insecure' because you cannot find the source? You know one step back from written information. So if something was written in say 1360 and you cannot find the previous source for that information, then it is disregarded?
Very hard to make connections then eh wot?



Bernice said:
The church-place in England - found it. But I now see that the century is'nt very early. See Kwaws post & links (Post 9).


Thanks, that you remind this


Warning to Sabbath Breakers
Breage Parish Church
said to be globally "from 15th century"

Warning to Sabbath Breakers
Hessett Church


Interesting 7 deadly sins are in the same church and they are arranged above the Warning to Sabbath Breakers


Another "Warning" ... without cards, but also said to be connected 7 sins

This is a late picture (with card)


... also with card


We found a story, according which 3 card players were hit and killed by lightning in Brieg in the year 1303 (that's about 30 km distance to Breslau at the trading way to Kiew). The story is reported in short form in two German sources from 1664 and 1688 ... not totally reliable sources (another Trionfi.com finding).
This excites me - I know it's not totally reliable, but it exists!

Exerpt from trionfi:
"According to these statements, the author knows about a card painter Jonathan Kraysel from Nuremberg, who was at Prag in 1354 (which would then be the oldest named card producer, that we know of)."
This is a real find, earliest cardmaker = 1354. He would have been a recognised cardmaker at this time, so was probably producing decks at an earlier time.

Bee :)


Thank you for those Breage Parish Church pics Huck. The 5 Diamonds can clearly be seen.

Bee :)


Exerpt from trionfi:
"According to these statements, the author knows about a card painter Jonathan Kraysel from Nuremberg, who was at Prag in 1354 (which would then be the oldest named card producer, that we know of)."

This is a real find, earliest cardmaker = 1354. He would have been a recognised cardmaker at this time, so was probably producing decks at an earlier time.

Well .. it might well be, that Hübsch mistook a word or two, which he identified as "playing card painter", but it meant something like a "card painter" or "Briefmaler", in other word it was possibly only a "painter on paper" ... so this itself is no guarantee. Without knowledge about the real source, this is correctly called "insecure" - which doesn't imply, that it is naturally "wrong".

... .-) ... however, a lot of "insecure notes" (and it is really difficult for early documents to be about 99% or even only 50% or 20% secure in this question) somehow forms a new reality in the research situation.
... :) but 5 "insecure notes" of 20% probability value somehow should be read, that something turns to be "probably true".

Well, the point is, that we suspected already Bohemia as secret origin of European playing card development, before we knew anything about Hübsch, 3 playing card players in Brieg, Werner of Orseln etc..
These findings are "only" confirmations for that, what was already plausible for other reasons and assumed before ... well somehow they are "predicted findings".

Let's start with Florence March 1377: first known prohibition of cards (Bern 1367 was also suspected to be insecure then)
Parallel to this the pope Gregory entered back to Italy. The Florentines didn't love this and the result were some bloody wars and engagements ... well, this in context of the playing card development should mean:

Pope Gregor brought the new media playing cards from Southern France (Avignon) to Italy, the Florentines attacked the playing cards (and Gregory and the whole action). The document of Viterbo 1379 gives evidence, that playing cards were new in Italy, at least in the region of Florence and at least for a longer period before.

1377 in the same year in Freiburg im Breisgau (in Germany near Strasbourg) the monk Johannes of Rheinfelden observes the new media playing cards in his city for the first time.
They appear in a massive way: many ways to play with them, many different versions, even a sort of "court deck", in which each number card is related to a profession. Such art isn't developed within one year, so something must have existed elsewhere for a longer period, not observed by Johannes.

What made the "playing card explosion" of 1377 possible? A lot of radical changes in the course of time.

The English "black prince" Edward dies 1376 ... this changes the condition of the momentary state of the 100-years war between France and England.
Young king Wenzel is crowned, a new "young king", but old emperor Charles IV still lives. Pope Gregory insists, that Wenzel should visit him, but somehow it's too difficult - so there is intensive diplomatic contact around this event.

1377: The English king dies, a new "young king" arrives, Richard II

1377: Pope Gregory returns to Italy, probably with playing cards

1377: Possibly playing cards have arrived in Paris.

1378: After another diplomatic journey to Paris the emperor dies. A new king starts to reign, Wenzel ... with difficulties.

1378: Pope Gregory dies ... the church strands into a schism.

1380: The French king dies ... a new "young king" in France

Well, this was a general revolution in a rather unique replacement of old kings with new. Still as "old man" in action is Wencelas, duke of Brabant, the "second man" for the German empire, as he was half-brother of Emperor Charles IV. We have notes from his court ... between 1379-1383 his court became a "playing card court", the first from which we know of.

Wencelas had been actively involved in the two emperor journeys from 1376 and 1377/78. Somehow it's clear: he got his first cards from his half brother Charles.

Young kings love playing cards, old kings would be regarded as stupid, if they would be fixed at such childish games. Wencelas as older man had "educative function" for these young kings, so he permitted and engaged in the new media.


Much later, in 1455, the young Bohemian card Ladislaus posthumus, 15 years old, had a playing card produced for himself, the Hofämterspiel. Each number card was used for a prohibition, a "Hofamt". The similarity to the "court deck", that was described by Johannes of Rheinfelden in 1377, can't be overlooked. The deck is different, but similar, and "decks with profession" occasionally occurred in Playing Card history, but generally are rare.
So this Johannes deck in 1377 "likely" came from Bohemia, just concluded by analyzes of the surrounding conditions, Hübsch wasn't necessary to know that. Hübsch - insecure data or not - just confirms, what was already logical and with that "somehow actually known" - naturally without real evidence.

The city of Nurremberg became the most productive playing card city in 15th century and still was very important in 16th. Doesn't this tell, that one has to research in the region of Nurremberg for a rather relevant development?

Nurremberg had the function of a second capital of the German empire - after Prague.

Hübsch told, that before Bohemia had playing cards, Polish nobility played with them ...

Brieg 1303 : "3 card players hit by a lightning". Brieg is (was) "somehow" Polonia and actually we have to look for "nobility" and actually this nobility was rather young in 1303. Well, as I'll show, that this is likely a sort of forgery, but even forgery can tell something about truth.

In 1303 a very young at-least half-Polish nobleman was made husband-in-spe for a young Bohemian princess, something, which indeed did realize with the time, but somehow a little different, as imagined in 1303. In 1303 this young husband-in-spe had some good chances to become follower and heir of the Bohemian king, but this wasn't realized by history. Instead John the Blind of Luxembourg became king and then Charles IV. the emperor.


Bolesław III the Generous
(*1291, 1303 12 years old and at the court in Bohemia, + 1352 in Brieg


I just quote the few relevant data:

Bolesław's father died in 1296, when he had only five-years-old. The regency was taken by his mother, the Duchess Elisabeth and his paternal uncle Bolko I. However, both soon died, Bolko in 1301 and Elisabeth in 1304. Between 1301-02 the official guardianship of Henry V's sons was taken by Henry of Würben, Bishop of Wroclaw, but after almost a year he was removed from this post because for his alleged prodigality. By that time, King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia was determined to take advantage over the rich and strategically Duchy of Wroclaw. In 1302 the young Bolesław was send to the court of Prague and one year later (13 January 1303) was arranged his betrothal with the seven-years-old Princess Margareta (cs: Markéta; pl: Małgorzata), King's youngest daughter. The wedding took place five years later, in 1308.

There's the marriage agreement in 1303. Actually the German source tells about a "Haus am Ringe" (which sounds like an address), but a "ring" is exchanged during a wedding ... ???

The great political ambitions of Bolesław exhausted the finances of his Duchy, not only to continue to his Bohemian claims but also to maintain his status. In 1311, under the pressure of the local nobility, he was forced to divided his lands between his younger brothers Henry and Władysław.

So there are 2 younger brothers, so totally there are 3 young children in Brieg, and all became politically important with the time ... 3 card players ???

ca. 1318 ... "Bolesław ... tried his reassertion in the succession struggles over the Kingdom of Bohemia, now in support of John of Luxemburg. He received his reward during 1321-1322, when the Duke of Legnica-Brieg was appointed by King John as Governor of Bohemia during his trips to Germany and Italy"
"As a vassal of John of Luxemburg, he took part during 1329-31 in his military expeditions to Lusatia and Głogów."
"He participated in the most important celebrations of his time, like the marriage of King Casimir III the Great and Adelaide of Hesse in Poznan in 1341, and the coronation of Charles IV of Luxemburg, King of Bohemia"

So mostly he had good relations to the Bohemian kings of Luxembourg.

"In order to maintain his sumptuous lifestyle and his constant trips (notably in the Congress of Visegrád of 1335), led Bolesław in a difficult financial situation, which forced him to continuously increase the taxes and sale parts of his Duchy"
ca. 1344 ... "Although his finances were now reduced, Bolesław didn't give up to his lavish lifestyle."

He had a lot of expenses for courtly life style, which indicates, that he possibly gambled a lot.

"He was twice excommunicated by the Church for these dilapidations: first, for the delay in paying the Tithe in 1337, and secondly, when he sequestered Church property in 1340. The excommunication was only removed on his deathbed thanks for the insistence of his sons."[/b]

Well ... that's the point: Boleslaw was for some time excommunicated and there was some catholic reason to preach against him. And this likely in the period 1337 - 1352, when Boleslaw was excommunicated ...

Two German sources of 17th century report the story of 3 card players killed by lightning in Brieg, exclusively the location Brieg is mentioned.
But this story is somehow connected to a story, in which "7 dice players in 1303" were also called "killed by lightning" in either Cottbuss or Kostnitz, whereby Kostnitz might be identical to Cottbuss.

"3 card players and 7 dice players killed by lightning in the same year 1303" look not like a "true story", but as the moralizing intention of a hate preacher against Boleslaw, who used this as a metaphor of the wrong behavior of Boleslaw and his two brothers. As a surviving preaching this information might have reached (possibly with other modifications by transmitting writers) the two authors in 17th century, which took the story as reliable.

Well, it might have a true background in the possible fact, that young Boleslaw (and his entourage) around 1303 made card playing popular at the Bohemian court. At least it might indicate, that card playing around 1337 - 1352 had been a theme in Bohemia (as Hübsch had noted)

So ... (and in this case it smells like forgery) even forgeries might tell us something.


I had also forgotten about the warning paintings.

I notice that once explanation for the five of diamonds being in the painting was that it depicted Christ's wounds. The cards seem to be either diamonds or spades, and either fives or sixes. I wonder why that is.


The warning paintings are fascinating. It's especially interesting that in much of England in the 15th-16th centuries, playing cards was prohibited except at Christmas.

Here's the info from the British Library holdings on the picture (which they have) that I originally mentioned:

(LH miniature) Men playing cards. Produced for Louis II, King of Naples
Image taken from Roman du Roy Meliadus de Leonnoys.
Originally published/produced in Italy [Naples]; circa 1352.
Author: Borron, Helie de
Shelfmark/Page: Add. 12228, f.313v
Language: French