Primero – a Renaissance card game

I’m currently writing the first sequel to ‘Borgia Fever’ entitled ‘Borgia Heat’ in which the heroine Katerina finds herself being offered up as a prize in a card game. As I had no idea exactly what card games were played in the late fifteenth century Rome, I had to do a bit of digging…

I uncovered ‘Primero’ a popular card game that seems to have been a forerunner of poker. Four cards are dealt face down to each player, and the player can raise their stake or fold in turn. For some reason all the 8s and 9s are taken out of the deck. The scoring system appears to have been quite complicated also; picture cards were ten, 2-5 were their value plus ten, 6 and 7 were tripled, and aces 16. The aim of course was to get the hand with the most points – however certain arrangements of cards – that we would recognise as flushes and runs – won out over others.

For example, a hand containing one of each suit was a Primero, and won on points – unless another player held a Maximus (an ace, 6 and 7 of one suit) or a Fluxus – all four cards the same suit. All of these could be beaten by a Chorus – four of the same cards ie four queens, one from each suit.

Sounds pretty complicated. Perfect however for the scene in which the hero Giovanni bids against a Cardinal to spend the night with our heroine…let the games commence!


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