Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is Tablero Period, and Should we Care

By Colyne Stewart (March AS XXXVI/2002)

One of the first games I learned about when joining the SCA was Tablero de Jesus. That may have had something to do with the fact that the Peers here in Ealdormere (and seemingly everywhere) are enamoured of this drinking game. When I originally asked about its origins I was told that the game was likely invented by someone in the SCA. However, upon doing a bit of reading (in the few sources I could find) I came across claims that it was a 15th Century Spanish gambling game.

Recently a discussion on the Games Guild of Ealdormere e-list has re-sparked my interest in tracking down the origins of this game, so I began my research a new.

While most sources claim that the gambling game was invented in Spain in the 15th Century, there are some in An Tir who claim that it was a good gentle from that kingdom that added the drinking component. There, they call the drinking version Tablero de Gucci (Lilith Runesdattir). Other sources say that the Scots added the drinking component, and called the game Toblero (The Game Cabinet).

For documentation all we have is second hand information. According to a post to hist-games, made by Justin de Coeur, Tablero was likely introduced to the SCA by a fellow named Gerhard Kendal. He there quotes photocopies given him by Amanda Kendal of Westmoreland (Gerhard’s wife) that were written by I.Y. Erzbergen-St.Susse, Ph.D., Queenswood Professor of Medieval Studies at Brunswick University. De Coeur says the photocopies gave the following history of Tablero:

1.   That the game is known to have been played by Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Los Santos de Campo in Granada by 1404 and that boards have been found in a few Spanish abbeys, as well as Tuscany, Provence and the Low Countries.

2.   That the Abbot of Cleaves in England, in 1449 refers in his journal to "the Jesus boarde".

3.   That the Bishop of Limoges defended the game in 1446.

4.   That the game was banned by Pope Sylvester V in 1458.

5.   That Cardinal Martino d'Allesandro says in his memoirs that he introduced the game to the papal court in 1456.

6.   That the board being sold by Erzbergen-St.Susse is based on one found at the Abbey of Saint-Michel-des-Fosses in ProvenceThis board is highly decorated, with a floral motif covering most of the squares and featuring various religious symbols on some of them. No one seems to know if these symbols influeneced play or were merely decoration, but in the footnotes there is a reference to a British professor Bryce Ryefield as having given an opinion on one of the odder symbols on the board.

However, according to other sources, and my own research, all these arguments are flawed. We will look at each in turn.

First, that the game was played by Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Los Santos de Campo in Granada by 1404. I cannot find any record of such an abbey. Senhora Ester Mendes says, in her post to hist-games, that no abbey existed at that time by that name. This doesn’t seem unremarkable, since during 1404 Granada was under Muslim rule!

Likewise, I can’t find record of any city named Cleaves in England, supposed home of  the Abbot of Cleaves, who wrote of the game in his journal. Mendes claims that the only Cleaves she could unearth was a town in Germany.

As for the Bishop of Limoges, well. There was indeed a Bishop of Limoges in 1446, but I cannot find any mention of him tied in with Tablero (other than on pages quoting the same source material). It may have been helpful if the Bishop’s name had been supplied.

And what of Pope Sylvester V, who supposedly banned the game in 1458? Such a person did not exist. The New Advent Online Catholic Dictionary has no listing for a Sylvester V (though there were Sylvesters I through III). Callistus III was Pope in 1458.

Neither does there exist any record of Cardinal Martino d'Allesandro or Professor Bryce Ryefield. Even the author of the game’s history itself, Dr. I.Y. Erzbergen-St.Susse, seems to be a fabrication. I can find no record of her/him, nor of a Brunswick University. Everyone and everything quoted to support the existence of Tablero does not seem to exist itself.

It would seem that Gerhard Kendal’s source material is flawed. In an email copied to hist-games and dated July 25, 2001,

Gerhard claims he learned the game from Duchess Merowyn de Lyoness of the West Kingdom (Teceangel). Pouring over the Order of Precedence for the West Kingdom I did not find a Merowyn de Lyoness, though I did find a listing for Merewyn de Lyonesse.

It is possible that this is the same person, and Gerhard Kendal simply misspelled her name (and gave her the wrong title; this good gentle is credited as a Viscountess, not a Duchess). I have personally emailed Gerhard Kendal to ask him about Tablero, and in response he sent me the exact same email posted to hist-games. (He also said he’d send me a photocopy of his board and documentation but has so far not done so.) I have thus far been unable to track down an email for Viscountess Merewyn de Lyonesse.

In looking at further posts on hist-games, I found one by Melissa Kendal of Westmoreland, who claims that her brother, Andre Lessard (Derek Stevens), invented the drinking aspect of Tablero, after learning the game in 1976 from Maelgwyn and Merewyn de Lyonesse. I emailed Melissa to see if she had any more information on the subject but have not heard back from her.

So, what is the verdict?

Without being able to consult primary documentation first hand, and having its supposed points of support repudiated, we must work under the assumption that Tablero is a modern invention.
Does this mean that we should stop playing and teaching it? I don’t think so. Though the SCA is at its heart a recreation group, it is often billed as ‘the Middle Ages the way they should have been.’ We’ve taken the idea of the Middle Ages and made our own sub-culture. So if a game is developed within our culture, should we not play it? It is something unique to us, and part of who we are. As long as we don’t teach it as a true period game, but rather as an SCA game, I see nothing wrong with letting it prosper (not that anyone could stop it if they wanted to). I would rather see someone playing an SCA game than not playing a game at all.


Baron Steffano, Cardinal da Gucci and al Khabeelah McGurn of Ravensfuri, Baron Steffano’s Guide to Tablero de Gucci, Fourth edition

Dagonell the Juggler, Tablero de Jesus.

The Game Cabinet, Tablero.

Gerhard Kendal of Westmoreland, “El Tablero de Jesus”, The Compleat Anachronist #4: Indoor Games, or How to While Away a Seige, January 1983. 41-42.

--. post to hist-games (forwarded by Teceangel), Aug 8 2001.

Justin de Coeur (Mark Waks), post to hist-games, Feb 1 2000.

Lilith Runesdattir (Jeanne Salt), Tablero, 1998.

Melissa Kendal of Westmoreland (Heather Stecher), post to hist-games, February 3 2001.

Salaamallah the Corpulent (Jeffrey A. DeLuca), Medieval Games, Third Edition, 1995. 135-136.

Senhora Ester Mendes (Kirsti Thomas), post to hist-games (forwarded by Teceangel), Aug 8 2001.

Thierry Depaulis, posts to hist-games, Jan 29 2000,  and Feb 2 2000.

No comments:

Post a Comment