The Unofficial Story of Cribbage and Sir John Suckling

One of England’s greatest contributions to Western civilization is the Cribbage card game, at least in the opinion of avid Cribbage players. Sir John Suckling is responsible for bringing us the game we love today. Although there is no evidence to really show that Sir John Suckling was the creator of Cribbage, he is, at the very least, responsible for publishing and disseminating the game across the country.

Sir John Suckling, poet, playwright, bowler / player and notorious womanizer, was born in Whitton, between Twickenham and Hounslow, Middlesex, on February 10, 1609. He was born into a very prominent family in England, though after the death of his mother. When he was four years old, his father was in charge of raising the little one. His father was a Member of the English Parliament and was the “controller” of the King’s house until his untimely death in 1627. Sir John was 18 when his father passed away and was old enough to inherit his father’s considerable estate. After receiving the inheritance, he spent countless amounts of money traveling, being a womanizer and, of course, gambling.

In 1623 he enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge and then Gray’s Inn in 1627. At the young age of 18, he pursued a military career and joined the army of Gustavus Adolphus during the Thirty Years’ War. At the age of 21, King Charles I knighted Suckling. The king quickly regretted the decision, so Suckling left the court and became involved in several different military adventures. He is said to have served on an expedition against France and has been said to have fought in Lord Wimbledon’s regiments in Dutch service. In October 1631, Sir John joined Sir Henry Vane, who was serving under Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. In 1632, Suckling quickly returned to the grace of King Charles after delivering the dispatches, on Vane’s orders, and after completing his mission he returned and remained in England.

After that, he practically occupied his time gambling, being a womanizer, and serving in the military for the rest of the decade. This is where he is said to have invented the beloved cribbage game, which had some similar features to the games, Noddy and One-and-Thirty. Although when the Scottish War of 1639 began, he left his beloved letters and women to raise a troop of 100 horsemen and his army joined King Charles in the north. When the war ended peacefully in 1639, Sir John returned to London. He was elected to Parliament in 1640, but in May 1641 he was involved in a vain attempt to free a political prisoner, Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Stratford, and held in the Tower of London. Sir John Suckling was accused of treason and had to flee to France with very few belongings and almost no financial aid, to avoid arrest.

In order to establish some form of financial security in one of its darkest hours, Suckling began selling a large number of marked card packs and distributed them to the wealthiest population in the region. Then he started playing cards where the marked cards were dealt. In 1642, Sir John Suckling was believed to have committed suicide by taking poison. It has been said that his greatest achievements were the lyrics to “why so pale” and “pale doting lover?” and Cribbage, which has changed very little since Suckling’s time and is one of the most popular card games in the English-speaking world.

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