Linking your favorite traveling artists across the globe
Occasionally it is said that there are specific historical figures that are represented by the jacks, kings and queens in a deck of cards. One theory claims when playing cards were first created the kings represented four of the great rulers in western history: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and the biblical King David. This is certainly possible, but based on my reading over the years there is probably no single correct answer. It seems to have been a specifically French tradition that first appeared in the 1500’s when French playing card makers started to include names printed on the face cards. But these names were not always consistent and could vary from one artist/printer to the next. Other historical rulers named on French cards were Augustus, Solomon, Clovis and Constantine. Queens, could include Joan of Arc and the Greek goddess Pallas/Athena or Juno the Roman queen of the gods, and the biblical figures of Judith and Rachel. Jacks included Lancelot, Ogier (who was carried off by Morgan lya Fay in the Arthurian tales) Hector of Troy, and La Hire a hero of France.
The practice of printing names on the face cards eventually died out with the anti-royalist sentiments of the French Revolution. If we consider the fact that playing cards first appeared in Europe around the 1370’s and the names did not start appearing on them until the 1500’s -and only in France- it makes it harder to say there is a direct connection between specific historic or legendary figures and the images appearing on the cards.