The Real Kings and Queens In a Deck of Cards

7 months ago

You may think you know the 52-card deck pretty well, but did you know that the Kings, Queens, and Jacks are all based on historical figures? Those aren’t random drawings of the card designer’s friends, they’re deeply rooted in history and mythology with an interesting backstory. These historical and mythological figures were chosen to imbue playing cards with depth and character, reflecting the virtues signified by each suit.

Kings

The Kings in a deck of cards are primarily made up of real historical figures, with each figure embodying a quality represented by each suit. Let’s take a look at who features on the Kings and why they represent their chosen suit.

King of Hearts – Charlemagne

King of Hearts - Charlemagne

Given that the first modern deck of cards was produced in France in the 16th century, it makes sense to have at least one French King represented on the deck – and who better to have represent the King of hearts? Why, Charles the Great of course! Better known as Charlemagne to the general public, he ruled the Frankish empire in the early Middle Ages and also held the Italian Crown and was made the Holy Roman Emporer in 774CE. His depiction in the deck reflects his status as a significant Christian ruler and his role in shaping medieval Europe.

King of Spades – King David of Israel

King of Spades - King David of Israel

As well as a number of historical figures, you will also find biblical heroes represented in the deck, such as King David of Israel on the King of spades. David is most famous for beating Goliath and is renowned for his wisdom and bravery. His presence in the deck symbolises strength, wisdom, and leadership.

King of Clubs – Alexander The Great

King of Clubs - Alexander The Great

Arguably one of the greatest military strategists of all time, Alexander The Great established one of the largest empires throughout all of history, stretching from Greece all the way to northwestern India. The ancient Macedonian King was renowned for his battle prowess, so it’s fitting that he represents the King of clubs.

King of Diamonds – Julius Caesar

King of Diamonds - Julius Caesar

Last, but certainly not least, we have Julius Caesar. The former Roman dictator, statesman, and general was one of the most influential people in the entire Roman empire. Caesar is renowned for his military conquests, including the Roman invasion of Britain and his leadership during the Gallic Wars. His portrayal as the King of diamonds signifies power, wealth, and strategic prowess.

Queens

The Queens in a deck of cards collectively represent a range of qualities, from wisdom and courage to beauty and elegance. They feature a diverse collection of mythological women who bear the attributes represented by each suit.

Queen of Hearts – Judith

Queen of Hearts Judith

Many people believe that the Queen of hearts is represented by Judith, a biblical heroine who was renowned for her courage and cunning. Her story focuses on her brave freeing of the Jewish people by executing the Assyrian General Holofernes. Her depiction as the Queen of hearts symbolises not only her strength but also her resolute determination to protect her people, making her a fitting representative for the suit.

Queen of Spades – Pallas Athena

Queen of Spades Pallas Athena

In Greek mythology, the goddess Athena was believed to represent wisdom, courage, mathematics, strategy, arts, and skill, among many other qualities, making her an ideal candidate to be featured in a deck of cards. Athena was a protector of cities and heroes and was believed to have been born fully grown and armoured. Athena’s presence as the Queen of spades emphasises the importance of cleverness, foresight, and strategic decision-making associated with the spade suit.

Queen of Clubs – Argine/Argea

Queen of Clubs - Argine/Argea

Many people think that Argine is the character represented as the Queen of clubs, as a playful anagram of Regina, the Latin for Queen. However, others argue that the real representative is the lady Argea, the mother of the mythological figure Argus who built the ship Argo from the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Either way, little is known of either of these women, creating a sense of mystery to this suit.

Queen of Diamonds – Rachel

Queen of Diamonds Rachel

One of the matriarchs of the Bible, Rachel is often associated with the Queen of diamonds. Celebrated for her beauty, Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, two of the twelve progenitors of the first Tribes of Israel. The diamonds, which often symbolise wealth and value, align with the notion of her preciousness and elegance from the Bible stories.

Jacks

While the Jacks are also associated with legendary figures from history, there is often more dispute over what figure is represented on each card. Some of the original Italian decks had four picture cards, adding Knaves to the three we know today. However, when the French started mass-producing decks of cards in the 16th century, the knaves were eliminated, and some argue that they took elements of those designs while creating the Jacks.

Jack of Hearts – La Hire

Jack of hearts La Hire

Étienne de Vignolles, better known as La Hire, was a prominent military commander during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. He was known for his fearlessness in battle, and for his fierce loyalty to France and its monarchy. He was one of Joan of Arc’s trusted companions and played a key role in several crucial battles. His inclusion as the Jack of hearts honours his unwavering courage and dedication to his country.

Jack of Spades – Ogier The Dane

Jack of Spades Ogier the Dane

Ogier The Dane was a legendary knight from Medieval folklore and featured in chivalric romances. His stories are full of heroic deeds, bloody battles, and brave adventures as he travelled across Europe. He was often depicted as a valiant and loyal character and was well known for his commitment to chivalry. His presence in the deck represents the spirit of knightly valour and courage, making him a fitting choice for the Jack of spades, symbolising the warrior’s attributes.

Jack of Clubs – Lancelot/Judas Maccabeus

Jack of Clubs Lancelot/Judas Maccabeus

Many people contest whether the Jack of clubs is represented by Sir Lancelot du Lac or Judas Maccabeus. Lancelot was one of the most famous knights of King Arthur’s Round Table and was renowned for his unmatched skill in combat, as well as his loyalty to King Arthur and his ill-fated love affair with Queen Guinevere. Lancelot’s presence in the deck pays homage to his legendary status as a knight of great honour and skill.

Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish priest who led the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire from 167 BCE to 160 BCE. He’s known as one of the best warriors in Jewish history, and his presence in this suit represents his skill in combat and his dedication to his people.

Jack of Diamonds – Hector

Jack of Diamonds Hector

Finally, we have Hector, a heroic figure in Greek mythology who was a central character in Homer’s The Iliad. He was the eldest son of King Priam of Troy and was a formidable Trojan warrior during the Trojan War. He is best known for his courage, integrity, and sense of duty, despite the tragic end to his story. The diamond suit symbolises wealth and value, and Hector’s presence as the Jack of Diamonds embodies both his martial prowess and his noble character.

Summary

So, the next time you look down at two Broadway cards, you can feel smug in the knowledge that you know who they are and why they represent each suit. Impress your friends at the poker table by sharing this knowledge with them, or, depending on their proclivity for historical facts, put them to sleep and take their chips!

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