King (playing card)

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King cards of all four suits in the Rouennais pattern

The King is a playing card with a picture of a king on it. The king is usually the highest ranking face card. In French playing cards and tarot decks, the king immediately outranks the queen. In Italian and Spanish playing cards, the king immediately outranks the knight. In German and Swiss playing cards, the king immediately outranks the Ober. In some games, the king is the highest-ranked card; in others, the ace is higher. In pinochle, schnapsen, and many other European games, both the ace and the 10 rank higher than the king.

The king card is the oldest and most universal court card. It descends directly from the Mamluk king card where it outranked the viceroy card.[1]

In a French deck, the court cards do have names. Because the manufacture of playing cards was illegal in England during the Interregnum, when the English Restoration came and the court began playing card games, the suits in an English deck came from the French deck, but without all of the lore. For a period, starting in the 15th century, French playing-card manufacturers assigned to each of the court cards names taken from history or mythology. [2] The names inscribed on these cards still appear on 32 card decks in France.[3]The names for the kings in the French national pattern (Parisian or portrait officiel) are:[4]

Cards Names Notes
King of spades fr.svg
David a biblical king
King of hearts fr.svg
Charles (presumably after Charlemagne) king of Francia and the first Holy Roman Emperor
King of diamonds fr.svg
Caesar (presumably after Julius Caesar) dictator of the Roman Republic
King of clubs fr.svg
Alexander king of Macedonia and ruler of one of the largest empires of the ancient world

In many card games, when all four kings are acquired by a single player, they are commonly called "the four horsemen".


King of clubs[edit]

King of Clubs from a deck of Popish Plot cards
King of Clubs (Rouennais pattern)

In cartomancy, the King of clubs has the meaning of good character and loyalty and the realization of ideals. The card is said to be one who has great power, but one who is not aware of this, and is outwardly cheerful but inwardly reserved.[5]

The King of clubs is said to have a natural affinity for the Queen of diamonds.[6]


King of spades[edit]

King of Spades (Rouennais pattern)

In the French national pattern, the King of Spades is the Biblical King David. The suit of spades means "swords" from the Italian spada and the sword which he holds is that of Goliath, whom David slew. The king is holding a harp, as the Bible attributes many of the psalms to David.[7][8]

In cartomancy, the King of Spades reversed is viewed as a dishonest lawyer. He is a stern law giver who is not easily swayed by emotion.[9] It is representative of a dark haired person who is intelligent and authoritative in judgment, and is not easy to get along with.[10]

King of hearts[edit]

Evolution of the King of Hearts in the Rouennais pattern

In the Rouennais pattern, the king of hearts is sometimes called the "suicide king" because he appears to be sticking his sword into his head. This is a result of centuries of bad copying by English card makers where the king's axe head has disappeared.[11] The king of hearts is the only one of the kings without a mustache.

Example cards[edit]

Kings from French playing cards:

Kings from Italian playing cards:

Kings from Spanish playing cards:

Kings from German playing cards:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mamluk cards
  2. ^ "The Four King Truth" at the Urban Legends Reference Pages
  3. ^ Cards in France
  4. ^ "Courts on playing cards", by David Madore, with illustrations of the Anglo-American and French court cards
  5. ^ "It's in the Cards". 
  6. ^ "It's in the Cards". 
  7. ^ Coogan, M. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible in its Context. (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2009), p. 209.
  8. ^ Sir William Gurney Benham (1957), "The King of Spades", Playing Cards: History of the Pack and Explanations of Its Many Secrets, Spring Books, p. 97 
  9. ^ "The Art of Card Fortune Telling". 
  10. ^ "It's in the Cards". 
  11. ^ Rouen pattern