SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London recreation gambling games fraud punishment pillory
Subject: A gambling house in which the games are fixed
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Letter Book H, f.32
Transcription in: Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Memorials of London Life in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1868, 395-96.
Original language: Latin (English translation by Riley)
Location: London
Date: 1375-76


Nicholas Prestone, tailor, and John Outlawe, were attached to make answer to John atte Hille and William, his brother, in a plea of deceit and falsehood; for that the same John Outlawe, at divers times between the Feast of Our Lord's Nativity, in the 49th year etc., and the First Sunday in Lent, then next ensuing, came to the said John atte Hille and William, and asked if they wished to gain some money at tables, or at chequers, commonly called "quek"; to which they said "Yes"; whereupon, the same John Outlawe said that they must follow him, and he would shew them the place, and a man there, from whom they could easily win; and further said, that he would be partner with them, to win or to lose.

And they followed him to the house of the said Nicholas, in Fridaystret; and there they found the said Nicholas, with a pair of tables, on the outside of which was painted a chequer-board, that is called a "quek." And the said Nicholas asked them if they would play at tables for money; whereupon the said complainants, knowing of no deceit of ill-intent, being urged and encouraged thereto by the same John Outlawe, played with him at tables, and lost a sum of money, owing to false dice.

And the said John then left them to play alone, and after that they still continued to lose. The said tables were then turned, and the complainants played with the defendant Nicholas at quek, until they had lost, at the game of tables and quek, 39s.2d. After which, the complainants, wondering at their continued losing, examined the board at which they had been playing, and found it to be false and deceptive; seeing that in three quarters of the board all the [black] points were so depressed, that all the white points in the same quarters were higher than the black points in the same; and on the fourth quarter of the board all the white points were so depressed, that all the black points in that quarter were higher than the white. They inspected and examined also the dice with which they had first played at tables, and found them to be false and deceptive. And because that they would play no longer, the said Nicholas and John Outlawe stripped John atte Hille of a cloak, 16 shillings in value, which they still retained. Wherefore the said John atte Hille and William, his brother, made plaint etc.


The accused pair, evidently in cahoots, with Outlawe rounding up suckers for his partner to fleece using the fixed table and dice, was accused at the same time by William Caboche and Robert Geffrone of having, at various times, used false dice to cheat them out of 53s.4d. The only defence Prestone appears to have put up was that he had acquired the table from an outsider, as security for a loan, and did not know it was fixed. A jury, however, concluded that Prestone and Outlawe were guilty of fraud; they were ordered to repay the four men for the amounts the latter had lost. They were also to be committed to the pillory for one hour, with their false board being burned under their noses, and then to be returned to gaol until the city authorities saw fit to release them.

On January 8, 1382 an embroiderer, William Soys, was accused by three separate complainants of having a fixed chequer board, with its white squares depressed in some quarters, and the black squares in the other quarters. The complainants had lost 76s.8d in total. These were no small amounts in that period. William was found guilty and sentenced to go to the pillory, with fanfare, for an hour on each of three consecutive days, with his false board displayed beside him. The same court session saw charges brought by two Dumfries men against a hosier, Richard Scot, of being enticed into his house to play dice and being cheated out of 44s. Richard was convicted, and sentenced to three sessions in the pillory, with his false dice hung around his neck.



"at tables"
Riley suggests that this dice game was similar to backgammon. However, it may have been a general term for games played with board and counters (pebbles).

According to Riley this was "probably played with rounded pebbles, rolled upon the squares", in which one party wagered on the pebbles landing on the white squares (or points) and the other wagered on them landing on the black. It was among the games that the king specifically prohibited in 1477.

"false dice"
A group of two dozen such dice, held in a pewter container, perhaps confiscated by resentful victims from someone regularly involved in defrauding gamblers, has been retrieved by archaeologists from the Thames; it is now part of the collection of the Museum of London. Three were marked only with high numbers, three with low, while others were weighted to fall on a particular number every time.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: September 17, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2014