The very first cards illustrated the political aspirations of Petrarch and Simone Martini, who concealed their Ghibelline sympathies and secretly contrasted the Guelph or Papal party while living and working under the noses of the prelates, in the city of Avignon, which, since 1304, had become the new Papal See, under the aegis of the king of France.
If these first cards had not, at once, turned out to be an irresistible playing device - as well as being a “book with movable pages”, which comprised allegorised, pungent accusations directed against the Avignon popes - they would have probably been rapidly forgotten. But they became instruments for playing with and, as any game they were used for, enabled one, for the first time, to mingle chance with ability, they turned out to be so captivating, that they were immediately copied and re-copied, spreading like wild fire throughout Europe.
They spread too rapidly to be halted. Their authorship by Petrarch and Simone could certainly not be admitted openly, as the two Tuscans lived cheek by jowl with the Avignon prelates and would have been all too easily captured by the Tribunal of the Inquisition. Not a word did they utter and their invention, debased, pulled to pieces, and the object of heated and surprising censorship by the French clergy, was de facto dispossessed of the noble intent its authors had chosen for it and spread among gamblers and fortune tellers, who made use of the allegories as images easily suited to fortune tellers’ purposes.
It was only after Petrarch’s death, that all his writings were published, and these texts enabled Fusi and Pio to understand why the two Tuscan friends had invented the Golden Triumphs, or cards, which Saint Bernardino from Siena dubbed “the Devil’s Bible”.
Tables or parchment cards, meant at first to express Petrarch’s desolated anguish, only to be snatched from the Poet’s and Simone Martini’s possession, and appropriated by a host of other hands, who transformed them into the playing cards used to this day.
The Engerton folder Nr. 2419 in the British Museum in London, contains an intriguing sentence written by a certain Johannes, in ordine praedicatorum minimum : “in the year of our Lord 1377 a certain card game came to this land. This game describes and illustrates most perfectly the state of the world in these present and in recent times.”