The Fabulous History of Playing Cards in France

Meet the heroes and villains who impressed the acquainted faces on our enjoying playing cards

With roots in ninth-century Asia, the recognition of enjoying playing cards steadily fanned westward to Europe. Today’s normal deck originated in France the place the earliest recorded reference to enjoying playing cards was a 1377 ordinance forbidding card video games on workdays.

French playing cards have been extra gratifying to play with, and simpler and cheaper to fabricate than these made elsewhere in Europe. Long earlier than the invention of the printing press, French playing cards have been handmade from stencils or woodcuts. Throughout the Renaissance, playing cards have been made in lots of French cities; Marseille, Bordeaux, Troyes… There have been over 200 card makers in Lyon alone between 1650 and 1675. However, trendy playing cards have their coronary heart in Sixteenth-century Rouen, the place a deck produced in round 1567 by Pierre Maréchal is the blueprint for immediately’s enjoying playing cards.


The French deck consisted of: the Coeur, a Heart; the Pique, a pike employees equal to Spades; the Carreau, a tile, equal to Diamonds; and the Trefle, a three-foil representing a clover, or Clubs. Historians recommend these fits characterize the 4 courses of medieval society; the courtroom or clergy, the navy, the mercantile class and the agrarian peasantry.

The face playing cards aren’t simply royalty; however are drawn from historical past, mythology and the Bible: the King of Hearts is Charlemagne; the King of Spades is David, who handled the biblical Goliath; the King of Diamonds, armed with a battle axe, represents Julius Caesar; and the King of Clubs is Alexander the Great. Kings and Queens made unlikely {couples}: the Queen of Hearts is Judith, the fearsome widow from the Old Testament; the Queen of Spades is Pallas, Greek goddess of knowledge and warfare; Rachel, the Queen of Diamonds, is one other biblical determine; and la Dame du Trèfle – Queen of Clubs – is Argine, an anagram of Regina, and regarded as Marie d’Anjou. Jacks have been courtroom valets. The Valet de Coeur – Jack of Hearts – was the formidable French soldier, La Hire; the Jack of Spades is Hogier, a Danish hero; and Hector of Troy, a crusading knight, turned the Jack of Diamonds, maybe assembly Lancelot, Jack of Clubs, on the Round Table.


The success of card-making continued unhindered till 1580. Fabricants de cartes had a naughty behavior of lampooning public people on their face playing cards. Briefly, the King and Queen of Hearts have been the mom and son duo, Catherine de’ Medici and King Henri III. The Queen Mother held the King’s sceptre whereas the effete and beardless Henri held solely a fan. French royalty weren’t averse to enjoying a spherical of playing cards, and King Henri didn’t recognize this critique of his reign.

It’s not unintentional that Henry III’s 1581 Parliament prohibited caricatures on enjoying playing cards and invoked taxes on their sale. Although many card-makers refused to ante-up and left for Holland and Germany, an enormous quantity remained to proceed this golden period of French card-making.

From France Today journal

Lead photograph credit score : The evolution of the King of Hearts over the centuries. Wikimedia commons

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