Entertainment in the Georgian Era

Imagine a long winter evening stretching ahead of you – in a world without electricity. You have the light from the fireplaces that you use to heat your home but it is dim. It will cost you money to burn candles or oil lamps; and gaslights, while beginning to be common for lighting streets and public buildings, will not gain wide acceptance for use in private residences until the 1850s. If you are to spend the money for lighting, how will you and your family entertain yourselves for the hours to come? Around the open fires of homes throughout history, but mostly lost today in favor of video games, TV, and streaming video, existed a solution: The parlor game.

Indoor games for groups are as old as history. From ancient Mesopotamia onward, people have enjoyed gambling on dice or card games and playing games of strategy to pass the empty hours. In England, Francis Willughby’s Volume of Plaies (1665) describes the rules of backgammon, and gives instructions for card games, beginning with the very manufacture of the cards themselves: take “3 or 4 pieces of white paper pasted together and made very smooth that they may easily slip from one another, and be dealt & played.”

By the Georgian period, 1714 – 1830, things had changed to the point where you did not have to manufacture your own cards. There were entertainments considered proper for ladies, those proper only for men, and others considered proper for both sexes. In this article, we are going to look at those that might be enjoyed by family and friends within your own walls.

Entertainments with Cards and Dice

Commerce is an 18th-century card game akin to the French Thirty-one and perhaps an ancestor of Poker. It was popular in the later 18th and early 19th centuries, however, some writers have indicated that it was most popular with the older set during the Regency era. This game has many of the aspects of modern Poker including scoring using pairs, triples, straights, and flushes.

Men playing cards in the Georgian era

Men playing cards in the Georgian era

Cribbage was invented in the early 1600s by Sir John Suckling, an English courtier, poet, gamester, and gambler. It derives from the earlier game of Noddy. Originally, the five-card game was played where each player only discarded one card to the crib. The goal of the game is to be the first player to score a target number of points, typically 61 or 121. Players score points for card combinations that add up to fifteen, and for pairs, triples, quadruples, runs, and flushes. Following the rules of game etiquette was important, and players followed them closely in cutting, dealing, pegging, playing, and using terminology. Some accounts contend that for many centuries, Cribbage was the only card game that could legally be played for money in English pubs. Continue reading