Face Cards – Who are the Kings, Queens, and Jacks

Have you ever wondered who the kings, queens and jacks really are? Well, “the man with the axe” is the King of Diamonds. He is the only king holding an axe while the others carry a sword. It is a common term for that card and is often used in many card games using wild cards. For example, some people play games where the wild cards are “one eyed jacks and the man with the ax”. That makes the wild cards the Jack of Spades, the Jack of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds.

But why Kings, Queens and Jacks in the first place? Playing cards have a long and evolving history. They appear to have originated from India or Egypt and arrived in Europe in the 1300’s. They were originally hand crafted carvings for use by royalty but these were expensive. Later they were printed from wood engravings and stencils.

The design of the cards and choice of suites varied and changed over time till printing methods in France allowed for cards to be mass produced very cheaply. The French used suites of Spades, Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds. These cheaper cards spread across Europe quickly. This became the standard and is still used today.

Face cards, or court cards, were fashioned from the dress of royalty at the time. Early court cards were very elaborate full figure drawings and were often named after popular and famous people from history or fables. The face cards we have today are said to still represent specific people.

The Kings


King of Spades – King David the first official King of the United Kingdom of Israel

King of Hearts – King Charlemagne, Charles the Great, king of the Franks (Germany and France)

King of Diamonds – Julius Caesar, not really a king but military and political ruler of the Roman Empire

King of Clubs – Alexander the Great, arguably the most successful military commander in history

The Queens

The Queens

Queen of Spades – Pallas of Greek Mythology, the Warrior Goddess

Queen of Hearts – Judith for the book of Judith (warns of the dangers of a beautiful woman)

Queen of Diamonds – Rachel, the biblical mother of Joseph

Queen of Clubs – Argine,  unknown origin

The Jacks

The Jacks

Jack of Spades – Ogier, a knight of Charlemagne

Jack of Hearts – La Hire, a comrade-in-arms to Joan of Arc

Jack of Diamonds – Hector, the prince of Troy

Jack of Clubs –  Judas Maccabeus, leader of the Jewish rebellion against the Syrians

More tidbits of information:

– The King of hearts is also called the “suicide king” because his sword appears to be entering his head.

– The Jack of hearts and spades are shown in profile and only one eye is showing, hence the term “one eyed Jacks”

– Aces used to be the lowest card in the deck. But some games make it the highest or lowest and many games make it only the highest. This may have partly originated about the time of the French Revolution where “ace high” represented the common man rising in power above the king and queen.

– Face cards are reversible so your opponents don’t spot you turning them around so they stand up in your hand.

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