Odds and quads - 11 July 2013

These Tudor-era playing cards were found in the Muniment Room at Christ’s College, Cambridge, during renovation works in the 1960s and now reside in the College Library

July 11, 2013

Before the advent of woodblock printing, playing cards were hand-painted and so affordable only by the wealthy. During this early period, there were no standardised packs of the kind we know today; the names of the cards, the signs and even the total number in a pack differed from one example to another.

The three “court” cards of royal characters in English packs show figures dressed in costumes like those worn in the court of Henry VII. The knave displayed here is a rare survival of a hand-painted court card from the time of Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), the mother of Henry VII and, in 1505, the founder of Christ’s College. The other cards date from around 1515. Popular card games in Lady Margaret’s time and throughout the Tudor period included piquet and écarté.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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