blackjack-church-180714A historical fact!

The legal system 537 years ago differed greatly from today, however some things don’t change, like a desperate gamble when you’ve been caught red handed.

Blackjack rule variations may have come and gone over time but there are somethings that have remained very much the same. The very connotations of the blackjack itself in evidence throughout history. Stories that make use of the image are commonplace, and some far older than perhaps you might believe.

Take this old tale told by gamblers when casino table manners get lax and the drinks run free. You may have heard it told from another era, of other people, but this is a version published first around 1744 in England, which may well make it the original. It concerns a Mr. Richard Middleton reporting the actions of one Richard Lane a private in the 47th regiment.

It would seem Lane, being the sort that might, was caught making use of a pack of cards during a divine service at a church in Glasgow. This, it was deemed by the law of the age, or in this case a nearby constable, to be worthy of arrest, detention and a summons up before the local Mayor in short order to answer for his crimes.

Mayors in 1744 not known for their sense of humour about gambling in the temples of the good lord, meant our young soldier was in quite a bit of trouble. This is something the Mayor himself soon made abundantly clear, however not cowed by threats of dire punishment our hero decided to employ a card counting system like no other.

Laying your cards on the table

“When I see the Ace,” he begins in his own defense, cards spread before him, “it reminds me there is only one god… when I see the Deuce it brings to mind the Father and the son, and the three of the holy trinity of father, son and holy ghost.” a start the Mayor evidently doesn’t dismiss out of hand, perhaps because of the sheer brass neck of the approach.

“When I see the four,” Mr. Lane continues, “it reminds me of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The five helps me recall the Five Wise Virgins of whom there were ten but half were foolish and shut out, and when I see the six I can but be reminded that in six days the Lord made Heaven and Earth.”

Allowed to continue (at this point who’d stop him?) Richard goes on, “The seven reminds me that on the seventh day the Lord rested from the works which he had wrought. The eight represents the eight righteous people the Lord saved when he drowned the world in the flood, and the nine helps me remember the nine lepers cleansed by our Saviour, ten he washed but only one returned.”

“The Ten, “ Our youthful military man said, still demonstrating one of the smart strategies all men backed into a corner employ, bare-faced cheek, bordering on outright lies, “reminds me of the ten commandments handed down by the Lord to Moses on tablets of stone, there were fifteen but five were lost unto us all as he came back down the mountain.”

Sheba, Solomon and fifty cross dressers

“When I lay eyes upon the Queen,” he continues, well into his stride now, “it reminds me of the Queen of Sheba who went to hear the wisdom of Solomon, testing him with fifty girls and fifty boys all dressed in the apparel of men, asking him to say which was which. This he did by sending for water that they all might wash. The boys washing only to their wrists and the girls to their elbows, he could thus tell.”

“The King of course reminds me of the Great King of Heaven which is God Almighty, Sir.” Richard Lane finished up with some gusto. Now at this point a reasonable man in a position of authority like, say that of Mayor, would quickly dismiss all this and throw the hapless card shark in jail, however not this one who asks after the knave, the blackjack, so evident in absence from the list. “What of the knave?” he demands.

“Well sir,” says our Lane, “the greatest knave I know is the constable that brought me here for using my cards in a church as the only prayer book a common soldier like myself can carry in our pockets as we walk into battle perhaps unto our own deaths.” which as a snappy piece of counter accusation when up before the beak is pretty good going.

The Mayor, evidently swallowing all this hook line and sinker, promptly agrees with this assessment of his underling saying “I know not if he be the greatest knave I know, but I know him now to be the greatest fool,” which is pretty harsh under the circumstances. He promptly releases the soldier and it is for this Private Richard Lane we recounted this tale, a gambler in face of the odds who by quick witted use of a blackjack tricks his way out of trouble.