Who Do the Face Cards Represent?

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The face cards in a deck of 52 playing cards represent royalty as depicted by French designs in the Middle Ages, according to Bicycle Cards. The French imported four-suited decks from Central Asia and created simple designs based on various historical figures. The king of hearts represented Charlemagne; the king of diamonds, Julius Caesar; king of clubs, Alexander the Great; and the king of spades, King David of the Bible.

A deck of cards from around 1565 drawn by Pierre Marechal and preserved in Rouen shows each king wearing a crown over a flat cap and the long coat and stockings that were fashionable at the time. To this day, the design of playing cards is based on late medieval style, except for the queen in Pierre Marechal’s designs, who is wearing a Tudor-style headdress.

The joker was invented in America and is believed to be related to the game of euchre. Around 1880, Americans also invented the double-headed face card, to avoid having to turn the card upside down to see its value. This invention, as well as errors in printing, has resulted in lost details such as hands or symbols that may have been on the original cards.