18th CENTURY CARDS AND THE GAME OF OMBRE
Before the 19th Century cards were generally hand-made and of a larger format than the modern mass-produced variety. The size could vary as cards were usually made from hand-coloured engravings, but were generally around 16cm x 10cm (and consequently less easy to shuffle in the modern manner). Beautiful examples still survive.
Court Cards retained vestiges of fashions from the 15th Century and were not made double-headed as they are nowadays. Pope goes to some lengths to describe the Royal characters.
"Behold, four Kings in majesty rever'd,
With hoary whiskers and a forky beard.
And four fair Queens, whose hands support a flow'r,
Th'expressive emblem of their sofdter pow'r.
Four Knaves in garb succinct, a trusty band,
Caps on their heads, and halberds in their hand."
The Kings of all four suits sport forked beards. They all carry short broad-swords, except the King of Diamonds who is usually seen in profile with a halberd behind him. The King of Clubs also carries an orb (or terrestrial globe) in his left hand.
Their consort Queens all carry the flower Pope describes, and the Knaves wear long coats, the front points of which are tucked back into their belts in the manner of the Blue Coat Boys ("in garb succinct").
Numbered cards rarely carried an indicating number in the corners as modern cards do, and as they were of rather simple design, the suit emblems usually all pointed in the same direction.
The Game of Ombre was Spanish in origin as the name implies [the leader of the game was called the Hombre = man].
The full rules are arcane and elaborate, but Pope condenses the normal process of the game for the purposes of his poem.
Three players are dealt nine cards each and vie with each other to make tricks in the usual manner.
Matadors [Spanish meaning 'murderers'], the two black aces, always ranked as trumps; the highest ranking is Spadillio, the Ace of Spades; the next is Manillio, the Deuce of whatever suit
is called for trumps; and Basto, the Ace of Clubs is the third.
Pope calls the Knave of Clubs Pam, which was his name in the other popular card-game of the 18th Century, Loo, where he featured as a paramount trump.
Codille, which Belinda fears so much, is the name given to either of the two opponents besting the Ombre and receiving the stakes.