The practice of card games has been the subject of contradictory evaluations in 17th and 18th-century Portuguese society. The pedagogue D. Martinho de Mendonça de Pina e Proença, in his Apontamentos para a educação de hum menino nobre [Notes on the education of a noble boy], despite the good consideration of mathematicians, insists on qualifying the game as highly pernicious, not only for early childhood education but even for the social life of adults:
A great modern mathematician largely considered the subtlety of ordinary games with so many and so different combinations of different cases, and affirms that the game is one of the greatest indications of the imagination and the sharpness of man’s judgment. But I think that the biggest reason for our weakness is to see that men who have not lost their minds spend most of their lives in an occupation worse than idleness itself.
Far from being a prevalent point of view or, at least, with some effective meaning, D. Martinho de Mendonça aimed to make a moral warning against the common and transversal practice of Portuguese society. Since 1603, the production of playing cards has been a monopoly that lasted until 1769, when Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marquis de Pombal, created the Royal Factory of Playing Cards. Card games were also among the amusements of the high aristocracy, and William Beckford, with his well-informed elegance, found it ridiculous that the gaming tables of the Palace of Queluz were covered with extravagant patterned cloths and embroidery.
Despite the national tradition, during this period, the various card games, as practiced by polite society, were deeply influenced by French civility. In the tile panels that line one of the rooms on the noble floor of the Rebelo de Andrade Palace, in Lisbon, the compositions, surrounded by an ornamental rococo style border, present the various tables with card games, dice, draughts, and billiard, practiced indoors and a panel with an outdoors bowling match.
If we compare this set with the cover of the two most influential French manuals, La maison des jeux academiques and the Academie universelle des jeux, we can see that each of these constitutes one type of game, with the only difference being that the jeu de palme, barely known in Portugal, have been replaced by tenpins game.
There is no doubt that the new wealthy bourgeoisie, protected by the Marquis de Pombal, following a tradition that dates back to the time of the reign of D. Pedro II, adopted the French etiquette, and that card games, with concerts, dance, and ballroom conversations were an essential part of social gatherings, even against the opinion of the strict D. Martinho de Mendonça.
Academie universelle des jeux, contenant les regles des jeux de quadrille, & quintille, de l’hombre à trois, du piquet, du reversis, des echecs, du tric-trac; & de tous les autres jeux. Avec des instructions faciles pour apprendre à les bien joüer. Paris: Theodore Legras, 1730.
PROENÇA, Martinho de Mendonça de Pina e. Apontamentos para a educação de hum menino nobre. Lisboa: Oficina de Joseph Antonio da Sylva, 1734.
CÂMARA, Maria Alexandra Gago da. “A arte de bem viver”. A encenação do quotidiano na azulejaria portuguesa da segunda metade de setecentos. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2005. ISBN 972-31-1128-4.