The Dance of St. Paul's, Conjuror

The oldest known tarot cards,
the Magician.
The magician

Dethe to the Tregetoure

Maister Jon Rikelle / some tyme tregetowre
Of nobille harry / kynge of Ingelonde
And of Fraunce / the myghti Conquerowre
For alle the sleightes / and turnyng of thyn honde
Thow moste come nere / this daunce to vndurstonde
Nowȝt mai a-vaile / alle thi conclusiouns
For dethe shortli / nowther on see ne londe
Is not deceyued / be noon illusiouns.
some tyme tregetowre: formerly conjuror
harry: Henry Vth or VIth
the mighty conqueror of France(1)

nere: near
Nowȝt: naught, nothing
nowther on see ne londe: neither on sea nor land
deceyued: deceived, noon: none

The tregetour answereth

What mai a-vaile / Maugik natural
Or any crafte / shewed be apparence
Or cours of sterres / aboue celestial
Or of the heuene / al the Influence
A-ȝens dethe / to stonde atte defence
Legerdemeyn / now helpeth me right nowght
Fare welle my crafte / and al soche sapience
For dethe mo maistries / ȝitte than y hathe wrowght.

sterres: stars
heuene: heaven
A-ȝens: against
Legerdemeyn: sleight-of-hand

ȝitte: yet, y, I


Este tarot (ca. 1450), the magician behind his table.
The magician

The Tregetour does not appear in Paris, but was added by John Lydgate. Jon Rikelle might have been a historical person related to the Rikhill's that lived in London at that time.

A "Tregetour" is what we today would call a conjuror. Strutt, in the book "Sports and Pastimes", 1801, writes: The name of tregetours was chiefly, if not entirely, appropriated to those artists who, by sleight of hand, with the assistance of machinery of various kinds, deceived the eyes of the spectators, and produced such illusions as were usually supposed to be the effect of enchantment; for which reason they were frequently ranked with magicians, sorcerers and witches; and, indeed, the feats they performed, according to the descriptions given of them, abundantly prove that they were no contemptible practitioners in the arts of deception.

Lydgate's contemporary, Chaucer, wrote about the legendary magician, Coll:

Ther saugh I Colle tregetour
Upon a table of sicamour
Pleye an uncouthe thing to telle;  
I saugh him carien a wind-melle
Under a walsh-note shale.

There I saw Coll, the conjuror
on a table of sycamore
perform a strange thing to tell;
I saw him take a windmill
out from under a walnut shell.

As Strutt writes in the above quote, the line between a conjuror and a "real" magician was blurred in those days. On one hand the text refers to legerdemain: sleightes and turnyng of thyn honde, illusiouns and Legerdemeyn. On the other hand, you feel the power of the sorcerer who knows about the course of stars: cours of sterres and the influence of the (starry) sky: of the heuene al the Influence.

Footnotes: (1)

The drama was written during the 100-Years War when France was occupied by England.

And just for the record: It's King Henry, who's the conqueror - not Jon Rikelle.

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