Gaskell House Blogs

What’s in the attic? Pope Joan

2nd May 2023
in blog, Collection

Currently a small group of volunteers lead by Katy (the House Assistant) are listing the items in the attic as part of the work being undertaken to reach the standards required for museum accreditation.

I recently came across a circular board with a set of tokens and  eight compartments labelled: – Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Game, Pope (9 of diamonds), Matrimony, and Intrigue. I was certainly intrigued!

Pope Joan, or Pope, dates to the 18th century and was a popular Victorian family game for up to eight players. It was easy to play so all the family could join in. It is derived from the French Game of Matrimony and ancestor to Spinado and the less elaborate and probably better-known Newmarket. 

The name is a corruption of Nain jaune (yellow dwarf), the name for 7 diamonds in France where the game originated.

Pope Joan refers to the legend that Pope John V111 was a woman, denied by the Catholic Church but used as Protestant propaganda in the Victorian era particularly in Scotland where the game was very popular.

A pack of 52 cards is used with the eight of diamonds removed to form a stop sequence. The aim of the game is to run out of cards before anyone else. For detailed rules please consult Wikipedia where it is described as needing only minimal attention.

Might the Gaskell family have played this game of an evening?

We think the board might have been acquired in the early days of restoration when a School Collection of clothing and handling objects was put together for education groups to use.

Louanne Collins, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

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We've got a certainly is a beauty...I must try and make the house give as much pleasure to others as I can.’

Elizabeth Gaskell, in a letter to her friend Eliza Fox in 1850.