Historic Card Games described by David Parlett



A game of gleeks and mournivals

History and rules of an old English gambling game for three

Many references testify to the popularity of this illustrious English card game from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries. As first described by Cotgrave in 1662, it's a compound game for three players, involving an exchange of cards with a view to gaining a flush, a gleek (three of a kind) or mournival (four of a kind), followed by a round of trick-play. It looks and feels very much like an adaptation for three players of the classic two-hander Piquet.

The earliest mention of Gleek in English has been traced by Michael Dummett (p.378-9, footnote) to a 1522 translation of a French work of 1511, namely Henry Watson's The chirche of the euyll men and women, from La Petite Dyablerie dont Lucifer est le chef by Varnet and Beda, itself based on the celebrated sermon De alearum ludo by St Bernardine of Siena. Later, Sir William Forrest represents Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) preferring the play of Gleek to her more appropriate matronly duties:

With stoole and with needyl she was not to seeke,
And other practiseinges for ladyes meete,
[But] To pastyme at tables, tick tacke, or gleeke,
Cardis and dyce...
gapgap (Warton, History of English Poetry, iii, p.311 cited by Taylor)

However, at this date the game called Gleek more closely resembled the French game of Glic, known from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and virtually identical with the German game of Poch, which did not include a round of trick-play. (Glic, gleek, denoting three of a kind, may be cognate with German gleich, meaning 'alike'.)

Here are some more contemporary references cited by the Oxford English Dictionary:

What is a man now a dayes if he know not... to play... at cards, dice, &c. post, cente, gleke, or such other games? gapgap(John Northbrooke, A Treatise wherein Dicing, Dauncing, [etc] are reproved (1577)
When you please, Sir, I am
For three peny Gleeke, your man.
gapgapBen Jonson, The Divell is an Asse (1616)
As in games at cards the Man requires a quicke conceit, the gleeke (because of variety) requires a retentive memory. gapgapRichard Brathwait, The English Gentleman (1630)
Yet you've an Imposition laid on Brick,
For all you then laid out, at Beast, or Gleek.
gapgapSamuel Butler, Remains (1680)
The rogue bids for his liberty, as if it were a Stock at 12d Gleek.
gapgapThomas Shadwell, The Woman-Captain (1680)

A more amusing mention is furnished by Taylor (p.313,n.):

In his Festivous Notes upon Don Quixote, fol. 1654, p. 14, Gayton tells the following story: "A lady once requested a gentleman to play at Gleek, was refused, but civilly, and upon three reasons, the first whereof, Madam, said the gentleman, is, I have no money. Her ladyship knew that was so material and sufficient, that she desired him to keep the other two reasons to himself."

The best contemporary descriptions of Gleek are those of Cotgrave (1662), Willughby (about 1670), and Cotton (1674). Cotton is almost word for word Cotgrave, but reduced to about 75 per cent of its length even after the addition of one or two observations of his own - including the trumps designated Towser and Tumbler, which are absent from both Cotgrave's and Willughby's more original accounts. The fact that all three writers obviously knew the game at first hand, and that their rules differ from one another in several points of detail, speaks volumes for its widespread popularity.

uplink downlink RECONSTRUCTION
Based on Cotgrave (1662), Willughby (1660-70), Cotton (1674)
Forty-four, ranking AKQJ10987654 in each suit. (No Deuces or Treys.) Certain trumps have names and point-values as follows:
Ace (Tib) 15  
King 3  
Queen 3  
Jack (Tom) 9  
Six (Tumbler) 6 (optional)
Five (Towser) 5 (optional)
Four (Tiddy) 4  
The point-values of the four honours (A-K-Q-J) apparently accrue for being held, not for being captured in tricks, but they are not recorded until they are played to tricks. Those of the three lowest trumps denote only side-payments made for the fact of holding them or turning them for trump. The optional names and values are recorded only by Cotton, so may perhaps be regarded as regional. (He was born in Staffordshire and eventually settled down there.)
The game is played for hard score (cash or counters). We will assume a basic unit of 1p.
Game structure
There are four parts to the game.
The draw. Players bid for the right to draw card replacements in hope of improving their hand. Only the highest bidder may do this.
Vying the ruff. They vie as to who has the best ruff (= the highest value of cards in any one suit, like the 'point' in Piquet).
Gleeks and mournivals. Payments are received forholding sets of three or four high cards of the same rank.
Tricks. Twelve tricks are played.
Deal 12 cards each, face down, in three batches of four. Stack the remaining eight face down and turn the top card for trump. If the turn-up is a Four (Tiddy), the dealer receives 4p from each opponent. Similarly (but only according to Cotton) he receives 5p for turning a Five (Towser) or 6p for a Six (Tumbler).
Bidding for the stock
Players bid for the right to improve their hand by drawing from the stock. Eldest hand may not pass but must start the bidding at 12p. Each in turn thereafter, rotating to the left, must either pass or offer more than the previous bidder. It is usual, but not obligatory, to raise by 1p at a time. When two have passed, the third pays half the amount he bid to each opponent. (Sources vary as to what happens if an odd 1p remains: it may go to the pot, to eldest hand, or to the last player who dropped out.) The highest bidder must then make exactly seven discards and replenish his hand with the seven stock cards other than the turn-up.
Vying the ruff
Players then bet as to who holds the best ruff - that is, the greatest value of cards in any one suit, counting Ace 11, courts 10 each, and numerals at face value (as at Piquet). At the start of the game a certain amount will have been agreed upon as the basic stake for this phase. We will assume it to be 2p (following Willughby, to simplify comparison).
Each in turn has one opportunity to open this phase of the game (by saying, for example, 'I'll vie the ruff'). If no one will open, there is no vying, and the stake in the next deal is automatically doubled (4p).
If anyone does vie, then each in turn from the left of the opener may (a) pass, (b) see, or (c) raise. ('Raise' is modern Poker terminology: Cotton and Willughby say 'I'll see and revie'.)
To pass is to fold: it means you relinquish all claim to the pot and will pay the eventual winner the amount of the stake as it was when you passed. There is no point in passing in the same round as the opening vie (unless you are third to speak and the second hand has revied), as you will not lose any greater stake for losing at a showdown than you will for passing, so you might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb (and even so may yet escape the gallows).
To see is to call for a showdown by matching the previous stake, and to raise is to increase the stake by an additional 2p.
This continues until either -
1. Two players have passed, in which case the third wins without a showdown, and each opponent pays the winner the amount of the stake as it was when he passed. Or:
2. One player has seen or raised, and at least one opponent has seen but neither has re-raised. This calls for a showdown, and the best hand wins the pot. If there is a tie for best, the elder tied hand wins it. (The dealer is youngest and his left-hand opponent eldest.)
Exception. There is an anomalous exception to all the above - namely, that a mournival of Aces (all four of them in one hand) beats any ruff whatsoever. If you hold a mournival of Aces, therefore, you can safely and legitimately vie the ruff without disclosing this fact until the showdown, when you will automatically win the pot without question.
Gleeks and mournivals
Next, players declare their gleeks and mournivals, and are paid by each opponent for each one held. A gleek is three alike, and a mournival four, of any rank higher than Ten. A gleek of Aces is paid by each opponent 4p, of Kings 3p, of Queens 2p, and of Jacks 1p, and these amounts are doubled for a mournival. (Thus a mournival of Aces earns 2 x 8 = 16, in addition to whatever it earned for the ruff.)
Query. It's unclear whether (a) everyone is paid for every gleek or mournival they declare, or (b) only the player holding the highest mournival (or gleek, if none) is paid for it, and, if so, whether that person is paid for any other gleeks and mournivals they may declare (as at Piquet). The former is probable because Willughby states that, when playing, it is important to check that everyone has the gleeks and mournivals that they claimed, and at end of play it is permissible to check through the discards to ensure that it contains no card that would invalidate either combination. On the other hand, this rule clashes with Piquet, which in other respects Gleek more closely resembles.
Eldest leads to the first of 12 tricks. You must follow suit if you can, but may otherwise play any card. (Furthermore  - but only according to Willughby - you must not only follow suit if you can but must also play the highest card you hold of it.) The trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led, or by the highest trump if any are played, and the winner of each trick leads to the next.
If you hold Tiddy (the trump Four) you may claim a consolation of 2p from each opponent, either at start of play or when you play it to a trick. This optional rule may be ignored by prior agreement, as it is often forgotten. If it is admitted, then (according to Cotton, but not Willughby) it may also be agreed that when you play Towser (Five) or Tumbler (Six) to a trick you may claim similar side payment of (probably) 5p or 6p respectively.
When you play an honour to a trick (Ace, King, Queen or Jack) you should simultaneously announce that fact, as its point-value will eventually contribute to your score.
At end of play, you each count 3 points for each trick you have won, and add to this the point-value of any honours you may have played, namely Ace 15, King 3, Queen 3, Jack 9. (It is possible, but unlikely, that these points accrue for winning honours in tricks, or winning tricks with honours, rather than for merely having been dealt them.) Furthermore, if the turn-up was an Ace, King, Queen or Jack, the dealer counts it in with his total.
Each player then either wins or loses the difference between this total and 22. In other words: If your count is less than 22 you pay to the pot 1p for each point by which it falls short of 22, and if it is more you withdraw from the pot 1p for each point in excess of 22.
(The significance of 22, as Willughby observes, is that it is one third of the total value of counters (30) and tricks (36).
Notes on vying the ruff
Willughby says that if the first two players pass, the third may either pass too (in which case the next pot is doubled) or vie. As there would be no point in his vying if he could win without a showdown, we must assume thatif he does vie the other two players may re-enter the vying, which makes their initial pass equivalent to a 'check' at Poker. It isn't clear whether equalising the stake in order to 'see' forces a showdown, as at Poker, or (as at Brag) still allows further raising until either two players pass or no one will raise any more. Willughby seems to suggest that raising may continue indefinitely. He and Cotton both give (different) examples of the vying phase, but what they lack in clarity they make up for in obscurity. The only certainty is that raises may only be made in specified quantities (such as 2p). In a private communication, the late Jeffrey Burton, who specialised in historical vying games, reconciles their two accounts by assuming that "Whether in effect or in fact, each player paid an ante of one chip before the ruff. If he then chose not to bet at all, he would forfeit the chip; if he joined in the vying, but failed to win, he would have to cough up another chip, as a sort of fine. This might not make much sense in modern terms, but neither does the game overall; if it did, we should still be playing it. It does seem to me to be entirely logical in its own context. What's more, it makes the sums add up."
uplink downlink ACCORDING TO COTTON
Facsimile of text in The Compleat Gamester (1674)

Cotton on Gleek pp.90-91 Cotton on Gleek pp.92-93 Cotton on Gleek pp.94-95 Cotton on Gleek p.96

Wits Interpreter (1662) Bodleian Library shelfmark: Douce W.112

The Noble and Delightful Game at Gleek

This ingenious exercise or recreation, being so full of variety, and delight, as shall be manifested, will serve as a cure to Melancholy, and possibly hinder the horrid effects that usually are caused by that black and heavy distemper. And the first thing to be observed is, that the Deuces and Treys must be cast out, being uselesse in this Game. The Set is confined to no number, as Picquet or Cribbidge; but you may leave off at your discretion, after you have plaied one, two or three Sets, more or lesse, as your phancie prompts you.
    Customarily, and frequently, the Gamesters play at farthing, half-penny, or penny Gleek, which will amount to a prettie considerable summe, if they continue the Game: and if they please, they may play higher; as at four-penny, six-penny, or twelve-penny Gleek, according as they agree before hand.
    The Gamesters are three, neither more nor lesse. Being set down with a resolution to go to it; they lift for the Deale, and he that has the least Card, is to deale.
    He that deals, lays the cards down upon the Table to be Cut, according to the custom and usual manner of more vulgar Gamesters, first shuffling them well and fairly; when this is done, the Dealer delivers them out by four at a time, till every Gamester has twelve, as at Ruff and Honours; and the rest of the Cards, which are eight, are to be laid upon the Table for the stock, seven whereof are bought, and the eight is turn'd up, the turn'd up Card is his that deales, and if Tiddie be turn'd up, it if four, two apiece from each to the Dealer. The Ace is called Tib, the Knave Tom, and the four of trumps Tidie; Tib the Ace is fifteen in hand, and eighteen in play, because it wins a trick. Tom the Knave is nine, and Tidie the four of trumps is 4, that is to say, you are to have two apiece of the other two Gamesters, that is, either two farthings, two half-pence, two pence, two six pences, or shillings, according as you resolve to play, either at farthing, half-penny, penny, six penny or twelve-penny Gleek, but Tib and Tom you find in counting after play; besides, the King of Trumps is three, and the Queen of Trumps three.
    Having proceeded thus far: next of all, the eldest hand bids for the stock, in hope of bettering his Game, if it be bad, (though sometimes it proves to his lose [sic], according as it falls out); the first penny you bid is thirteen, the next fourteen, the next fifteen, the net sixteen; possibly they may rise much higher, but if not sixteen they say take it, and neither of the other two will give any more, then is he, upon whom it is put, bound to take it, that is, to take in seven of the stock into his own hand, and put out seven, the eighth being turn'd for Trump; and is besides to pay, because he bid sixteen, eight to one, and eight to the other, of the Gamesters, for buying it: but if he have Mournival, Gleek, or Tiddie in his hand after he has taken in the stock, he bates for them all; and so possibly may gain by it, if he have a good hand, and pay for his buying too.
    Here you must note, that if Tib be turnd up it is fifteen to the Dealer, in reckoning after play; but he must not make use of it after play in counting, as it is said before. Next, you speak for the Ruff: and he that has most of a suit in his hand, wins it, unless some of the Gamesters have four Aces, and then he gains the Ruff, though you have fourscore of a suit in your hand. The first, or eldest, 'tis possible, sayes, Ile vie the Ruff; the next says, Ile see it; the third, Ile see it and revie it; Ile see your revie, says the first, because he thinks he has as many in his hand as another: the Middlemost probably sayes, Ile not meddle with it; then they shew their cards, and he that has most of a suit wins six pence, or farthings, &c. as is before mentioned, of him that holds out longest, and four of the other that said he would see it, but afterwards refused to meddle with it; but if that any of the three Gamesters sayes, he has nothing to say as to the Ruff he payes but two farthings, half pences, six pences, or shillings, according as the Game is.
    But sometimes it falls out, that one of the vyers having all of a suit in his hand, bids high for the Ruff, and the other possibly has four Aces, and so is resolv'd to bid higher; so that it may amount to sixteen, and sometimes more; but very seldom it is, that this falls out; but then they will say, Ile see it, and revie, says one; Ile see it, and revie it, says the other; that is, eight to the winner, and all above is but two a time, as it may be they'l say, Ile see it, and revie it again, and Ile see it, and revie that again, says the other; for which (I say) seeing and revying again, they reckon but two, after that it is once come to eight: but he that has the four Aces carries it clearly (as was said before) though the other have all his cards of one suit. Buying, or bidding for the Ruff is, when you are in likelihood to go in for Mournival, Gleek, or increase of Trumps; that so if you have bad cards, you may save your buyings, and your cards too, whereas otherwise you should lose all. And sometimes out of policy, or rather a vapour, they will vie, when they have not above thirty in their hands, and the next may have forty, the other fifty; and they being afraid to see it, many times he wins out of a vapor [sic]; and this is good play, though he acquaint you with it afterward. Then they call for Mournival, Gleek, &c. A Mournival of Aces is eight, a Mournival of Kings six; of Queens four, and a Mournival of Knaves two, apiece. A Gleek of Aces is four, of Kings three; of Queens two, and a Gleek of Knaves one apiece from the other two Gamesters. A Mournival of Aces is all the four Aces; of Kings, the four Kings, &c. A Gleek of Aces is three Aces; A Gleek of Kings, three Kings; &c. The you begin to play, as at other more ordinary Games, as Whisk, and Ruff and Honours.
    Here you must note, that twenty-two are your cards: if you win nothing but the cards that were dealt you, you lose ten, for twelve and eight [sic? - recte ten] makes twenty-two. If you have not Tib, Tom, Tiddie, King, Queen, Mournival, nor Gleek, you lose,because you count only as many cards as you have in tricks, which cannot be many, because of your bad hand. If you have Tib, Tom, King and Queen of Trumps in your hand, you have thirty by Honors, that is eight above your cards, which are twenty-two, besides the cards you win by them in play; so that thus you reckon 8, 9, 10, 11, &c., and so you proceed till you have counted all the cards you have won.. If you have Tom only, which is nine, and the King of Trumps, that is three, then you reckon from 12, 13, 14, 15, till you come to 22, and then every card above wins so many half-pence, pence, &c. as you plaid for, if you are under 22 you lose as many; so you call for losings, for by their counting of their cards, you find how much each has lost, and so they pay you accordingly.
    One thing I must not omit, which is, that at the beginning, before the cards are dealt, you may chance to hear one of the Gamesters ask, whether you will play Tide, or leave it out, that is, whether it should be reckoned four, or whether it should go for an ordinary card; some say that it is a card that they are apt to forget, and therefore they'l not play it; but that is left to the discretion of the Gamesters, as they agree before hand, whether they play it or no.
    Observe farther, that they will call often times for a Gleek of Kings, when they have but two in their hand; or a Gleek of Aces, Queens or Knaves; and probably it may pass, if the other two lye not in one hand: But if it be found out by examining, or asking what King they want [= lack], they will excuse it, and impute it to a mistake, which is very foul play and many times causeth great dissension, and wrangling among the Gamesters.
    Thus I have brieflie, though I think satisfactorilie, given you an account of the Game of Gleek, and what belongs thereunto; and if by accident, any other difficulties not here mentioned arise in play, they may easilie be resolved out of these rules here set down, examining them by the Rules of Reason.

uplink downlink THE PLAY OF A GAME IN A PLAY
Extract from Green's Tu Quoque, or, The City Gallant (1599)

Volume 7 of Facsimile Robert Dodsley's 12-volume collection of old plays (1825) includes "Green's Tu Quoque" prefaced by the following note: "There is an entry in the office-book of the Master of the Revels, under date of 'Twelve Night, 1624', shewing that 'the Masque being put off, and the prince only there, Tu Quoque, by the Queene of Bohemia's servants, was acted in its stead'. It also includes a facsimile of the title page of the original publication, which reads "GREENES TU QUOQUE, OR, THE CITTIE GALLANT. AS IT HATH BEENE DIVERS TIMES ACTED BY THE QUEENES MAJESTIES SERVANTS. WRITTEN BY JO. COOKE, GENT." Dodsley adds that nothing is known of the author John Cooke and that its accreditation to the actor Thomas Green is due to his "excellent performance [...] in the part of Bubble, whose universal repartee to all compliments is, Tu quoque" [= "You too!"]. The comedy is said to have been first printed in 1599. Dodsley's text can be downloaded as a from Google, the following extract beginning at page 37. I am indebted to Michael Marcus of Brookline, MA, for drawing this to my attention.

Scattergood. Harry, fetch some cards; methinks 'tis an unseemly sight to see gentlemen stand idle.
Longfield. Very willingly, sir.
Scattergood. [...] Come gentlemen, what's your game?
Staines. Why, gleek: that's your only game.
Scattergood. Gleek let it be, for I am persuaded I shall gleek some of you. Cut, sir.
Longfield. What play we? twelve-pence gleek?
Scattergood. Twelve-pence? a crown! 'ud's foot, I will not spoil my memory for twelve-pence.
Longfield. With all my heart.
Staines. Honour.
Scattergood. What is't, hearts?
Staines. The king, what say you?
Longfield. You must speak sir.
Scattergood. Why, I bid thirteeen.
Staines. Fourteen.
Scattergood. Fifteen.
Staines. Sixteen.
Longfield. Sixteen, seventeen.
Staines. You shall ha't for me.
Scattergood. Eighteen.
Longfield. Take it to you, sir.
Scattergood. 'Ud's life, I'll not be outbrav'd.
Staines. I'll vie it.
Longfield. I'll none of it.
Scattergood. Nor I.
Staines. Give me a mournival of aces, and a gleek of queens.
Longfield. And me a gleek of knaves.
Scattergood. 'Ud's life, I'm gleek'd this time.
     Enter Will Rash
Staines. Play.
Will Rash. Equal fortunes befall you, gallants.
Scattergood. Will Rash: well, I pray see what a vile game I have.
Will Rash. What's your game, gleek?
Scattergood. Yes, faith, gleek; and I have not one court card, but the knave of clubs.
Will Rash. Thou hast a wild hand indeed. Thy small cards show like a troop of rebels, and the knave of clubs their chief leader.

gap Balloon up gap Link gap Globe 
gap topgapgap index gapgapnav