ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies

Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | About ORB | HOME

SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Nottingham lawsuits fraud gambling games conspiracy recreation

Subject: Gambling and cheating
Original source: 1. Borough court roll, Nottinghamshire Archives; 2. Quarter Sessions roll, Nottinghamshire Archives
Transcription in: W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1883), vol.2, 133-34, 330.
Original language: Latin
Location: Nottingham
Date: 15th century


[1. Court session of 5 February 1433]

The same Henry [Bonyngton] complains in person of the same John [Balthwayt junior of Nottingham] concerning a case of deceit. Regarding which he says that on 26 December 1428 at Nottingham, John was playing at tables with Henry under the terms of an agreement previously made, that if Henry allowed John to win Henry's money as a strategem whereby the money of the other players could be won, John would give back to Henry the money he had lost together with half of the winnings had from the others. As a result of this collusion, John, playing and gambling with various men on that date and in that place, accumulated the amount of 9s., including 20d. of Henry's. Although he has often been requested to, John has not yet paid Henry the 3s.8d that are his share of the winnings together with the 20d. belonging to Henry, but has refused to pay him and continues to do so to this day, defrauding and injuring Henry. As a result of which, he says, he has suffered damages to the value of 6s.8d; and for this reason he has brought this action. John comes in person and denies force [and injury] etc. and says that he is in no way guilty as [charged] etc., and he is prepared [to defend] etc.; and Henry does likewise etc. Therefore an inquisition [is to be held] etc.

[2. Assizes of 1483]

The jurors from the western sector [of the town] say, under oath, that Thomas Coste baker of Nottingham, in the county of the town of Nottingham, Thomas Mariott barber of the same town and county, Thomas Ball tailor of the same [etc.], Geoffrey Whitehed tailor of the same [etc.], Richard Parker barker of the same [etc.], William Howett sawyer of the same [etc.], Thomas Chaworth esq. of the same [etc.], and Joan Kell housewife of the same [etc.], on 10 October 1482 and on various other dates and occasions, regularly and usually host individually in their houses at night disorderly gatherings, receiving and welcoming the servants of various men who in their houses, using the goods of their masters, play at dice, cards, and other illegal games prohibited by the statute issued on that matter, to the serious detriment of their masters and contrary to the king's peace.


A series of royal ordinances and statutes throughout the Late Middle Ages, the nearest in time to the latter case having been that of 1477, prohibited various sports or games, particularly where gambling was involved, on the grounds that they were idle and useless recreations, if not morally reprehensible (compared, say, to archery or hunting which instilled martial skills useful to society). The former case illustrates part of the moral concerns. Bonnington was rather audacious to think that he might seek to use to the law to claim profits from an illegal activity; and indeed, the (possibly indignant) mayor threw his case out of court and fined Henry for bringing the charge.

Nonetheless, games of chance involving gambling were popular across the spectrum of medieval society. Dice, in the cubic form in which we still know them, had been around since ancient times; their portability in part accounts for the prevalence and popularity of dicing or board games involving dice. It also meant that fixed dice frequently featured in cases of fraud brought into the courts. Playing cards, on the other hand, were rather more expensive to obtain, being imported, and only filtered down from the aristocracy to lower classes towards the end of the Middle Ages, although they infiltrated society fairly quickly and led to a domestic industry springing up to produce them.



"at tables"
There were a number of board games that fell under this general title. All employed dice to determine the movement of counters over a board. Such games have modern counterparts in backgammon, or the less serious ludo (a name as generic as tables).

main menu

Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 27, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | Search | About ORB | HOME

The contents of ORB are copyright © 2003 Kathryn M. Talarico except as otherwise indicated herein.