The Origin of the “Suicide King”
The “Suicide” King of Hearts derives from a medieval design showing a King wielding a battle axe
Many fanciful theories have been proposed regarding the origins of the court figures on our standard English playing cards. The fifteenth century cards of Pierre Marechal of Rouen, with their air of self-assurance, are the predecessors of our contemporary standard Anglo-American court cards which are now recognised world-wide. The early history of the development of different regional patterns is not always straightforward, so that as card makers migrated or copied each other, certain figures reoccur in patterns from other countries, even with different suit systems.
The King of Hearts, holding a sword behind his head, is sometimes nicknamed the “Suicide King”. He can be seen to derive from a late medieval design showing a King wielding a battle axe. All the important features can easily be recognised: the belt, the patterned cloak held by his hand and the stance showing one leg - except in the double-ended version. Sometimes cards were turned to face the other direction, but by around 1870 English cards were fixed with the suit symbol accommodated at the left-hand side to assist in fanning, or “squeezing” the cards in hand.
By around 1800 the battle axe seems to have been replaced by a sword which disappears behind the King's head. Curiously, in the double-ended version, the King of Hearts becomes the only four-handed court card.
A similar late medieval derivation can be shown for the remaining court cards in the English pack. Many of the attributes, or symbols of office, have changed or become unrecognisable over the years, but the basic features are still there. The question of whether they were facing left, right or straight forwards seems to be simply a matter of chance.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.
Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.
PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History
This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.
Folk Cards designed by Krystyna Gruchalska-Bunsch for Lot Polish Airlines, 1962.
Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.
Dutch costumes quartet game designed by Gerard Huijg, 1983.
Österreichisches Trachten-quartett Nr.282 published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne.
Archaic Spanish-suited deck with 48 cards made in Toledo in 1584.
Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern
A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.
Norwegian Troll Cards published by Aune Forlag of Trondheim, c.2000.
Caperucita Roja card game published by H. Fournier, 1981.
Pulgarcito (Tom Thumb) card game published by H Fournier, 1981.
Sleeping Beauty card game published in France, c.1980s.
Fairy Tales quartet published by Heinrich Schwarz + Co for Dutch market, c.1970.
Fairy Tales quartet game by F.X. Schmid, Munich, 1960.
Märchen-Quartett (Fairy Tales) illustrated by J. P. Werth and published by J. W. Spear & Söhne, c.1915.
Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684, presented to lady guests at WCMPC Summer Meeting in 1888.
Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.
Fairy Tales quartet designed by Annemarie Gramberg, published by Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken AG, 1955.
Corner Indices were a major innovation in playing card production.
Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.
Fairy Legend Misfitz published by C W Faulkner & Co Ltd, c.1908.
Matching game by Majora, Lisbon, c.1970, featuring figures in national dress from Portuguese provinces and colonies
A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.
This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.
“Naipes Criollos” Gaucho playing cards, 1995.
Naipes Cardón designed by Mario Luis Rivero depicting traditional Argentine culture and identity, 2002.
Naipes “Martín Fierro” based on the epic poem by José Hernandez.
Fairy Tales published by C.W. Faulkner & Co., c.1903.
Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.
Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.
Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.
Gunfighters playing cards from the Wild West Series by SPCC, 2018.
Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.
A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how the French regional figures have inspired modern designers.
A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.
Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.