The Evolution of a Deck of Cards – Face Cards

A military commander in the French army, who was in combat along with Joan of Arc was also an artisan who designed and crafted cards. His name was Etienne de Vignolles, AKA La Hire. Saint Joan so impressed him with her courage and heroic deeds that he removed the knight in the deck in favor of a dame. Decorating cards with religious motifs, or those depicting human forms were not a problem to the Catholic Church. King David was symbolized in the deck with the king of spades with sword in hand and quiver at his feet. Charles the Great was represented by the king of clubs, Julius Caesar became the king of diamonds, and Alexander the Great, the king of hearts. The four sources of western civilization were thus represented by the four kings.

The depiction of what we would call today Queens and Jacks was not as consistent. The queen of spades was drawn in the form of Athena, meant likewise to remind of the warlike Joan of Arc. The queen of diamonds was the beautiful Rachel that Jacob waited for 14 years before be able to take her as wife. The queen of hearts stood for Judith, the heroine who had beheaded Holofernes. While the queen of clubs was a collective image and represented a certain abstract favorite of kings, named Argine, which was apparently an anagram of “regina” (queen), or which possibly meant to suggest Joan of Arc again, since the king of clubs was Charles the Great, the distinguished French Catholic leader.

The jack of spades was the symbol for one of Charlemagne’s knights of the court. Hector stood in for diamonds; La Hire himself for hearts, while clubs were represented by Judas Maccabeus. For the sake of variety, the four jacks depicted four famous knights: Lancelot, Ogier, Roland and Valery. Each knight’s name appeared below their picture on the cards. They were long-haired, clean-shaven youths, warriors wielding battle axes. All of them buy Valery had at their feet a dog similar to a bloodhound. This may have occurred because Valery was also the lead craftsman of the deck.

Going lower on the scale, we have cards ten down to two, marked with their corresponding number and value. The Ace which was an English word meaning “unit” had translations in French, Spanish, German and other equivalents as well, such as: as, ass, aus, etc. The Ace was ranked lower than even the two. This greatly upset the Catholic Church of the middle ages as God was “one” and any numeric system defining His number as lowly was blasphemous and smacked as consorting with the devil. Should you disagree with this theory, you would undoubtedly come to see it their way on your way to the dungeon.

The Ace stands today for something almost metaphysical – the quintessence of oneness, if you will, which becomes more valuable than any one personification. In reality, should a lone, simple card be given such mystical attributes?

This was debated in the middle ages as it is sometimes done so now. Many countries in our world do not distinguish been spiritual and material matters with both being important to one’s definition of self. In modern times, perhaps more than in ancient times, the rational, mystical, and even blatant sexuality are revered in the designs of a deck of cards.

Otherwise, the cards serve us pretty much as they served any specific class or a mixture of class during the middle ages or the Renaissance. The basic hierarchy of the deck from King to lowest number, and the 2.598.960 possible combinations of varying value, the value of combinations decided by their rarity, allow ample possibility to project anybody’s social and spiritual aspirations.

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