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Game on: An intro to Regency games

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Source: semireal-stock via deviantart

If you ever wanted to play whist or speculation or the like, you’ll get your chance at Jane Austen Summer Program, which is scheduled to hold a Regency Gaming Club night. Don’t worry — we’ll have instructions on how to play at the event, so you don’t need to be an expert now. But … if you’ve a competitive streak and want to get ahead of the game (see what I did there?), here’s a quick look at a few games and their ties to Jane Austen:



What is it: Basically, it’s bridge without the bidding or its points system. Four players (in teams of two) are dealt all the cards and try to win the most tricks. Whist was the most popular card game in the country at the time.

Notable mentions in Jane Austen’s books: In “Emma”:

“Mr. Elton was actually on his road to London, and not meaning to return till the morrow, though it was the whist-club night, which he had been never known to miss before.”

Mr. John Knightley says: “Mr. Weston is rather an easy, cheerful-tempered man, than a man of strong feelings; he takes things as he finds them, and makes enjoyment of them somehow or other, depending, I suspect, much more upon what is called society for his comforts, that is, upon the power of eating and drinking, and playing whist with his neighbours five times a week, than upon family affection, or any thing that home affords.”

In Austen’s letters: To Cassandra Austen, Jan. 24, 1813: “As soon as a Whist party was formed & a round Table threatened, I made my Mother an excuse, & came away; leaving just as many for their round Table, as there were at Mrs. Grants.”



What is it: Essentially it’s the French blackjack (vingt et un = 21 in french). Get 21 points with your cards, without going over 21.

Notable mentions in Austen’s books: In “The Watsons”:

“Vingt-un is the game at Osborne Castle. I have played nothing but vingt-un of late. You would be astonished to hear the noise we make there — the fine old lofty drawing-room rings again. Lady Osborne sometimes declares she cannot hear herself speak. Lord Osborne enjoys it famously, and he makes the best dealer without exception that I ever beheld, — such quickness and spirit, he lets nobody dream over their cards. I wish you could see him overdraw himself on both his own cards. It is worth anything in the world!”

In Austen’s letters: To Caroline Austen, Jan. 23, 1817:  “We were proud to have a young Man to accompany us, & he acquitted himself to admiration in every particular except selling his Deals at Vingt-un.”



What is it: This card game is for 3 to 10 players, who buy or trade cards from the dealer to put together the best three-card hand.

Notable mentions in Austen’s books: In “Pride & Prejudice:”

You must remember that four evenings have been also spent together — and four evenings may do a great deal.”

“Yes; these four evenings have enabled them to ascertain that they both like Vingt-un better than Commerce; but with respect to any other leading characteristic, I do not imagine that much has been unfolded.”

In Austen’s letters: To Cassandra Austen, Oct. 9, 1808: “We found ourselves tricked into a thorough party at Mrs. Maitlands, a quadrille & a Commerce Table, & Music in the other room. There were two pools at Commerce, but I would not play more than one, for the Stake was three shillings, & I cannot afford to lose that, twice in an even.”



What is it: A gambling card game in which each player contributes to the pot. The dealer gives each player three cards. the highest card wins. Players can buy/sell cards — speculating — to obtain what might be the highest card in the round.

Notable mentions in Austen’s books: “Mansfield Park”: “It was impossible for Fanny not to feel herself mistress of the rules of the game in three minutes.”

In Austen’s letters: To Cassandra Austen, Oct. 25, 1808: Our evening was equally agreeable in its way; I introduced speculation and it was so much approved that we hardly knew how to leave off.”


If you want to try your hand at a period sport, our day at Ayr Mount will include:


What is it: A precursor to badminton.

In Austen’s letters: To Cassandra Austen, Aug. 24, 1805: “Yesterday was a very quiet day with us; my noisiest efforts were writing to Frank, & playing at Battledore & Shuttlecock with William; he & I have practised together two mornings, & improve a little; we have frequently kept it up three times & and once or twice six.


More resources

Hat tip to the Jane Austen Society of North America for these links:


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