Some say that the four kings in a deck of cards represent four leaders from history: Charlemagne, David, Caesar, and Alexander. This is probably not true, at least in all cases, since playing cards have differed widely from country to country through history. Playing cards most likely became popular in Europe in the second half of the fourteenth century, and were originally expensive, hand-painted luxuries. As card games grew in popularity, more affordable versions, created in greater volumes by the use of stencils, became available for a wide range of people. The early hand-painted versions of face cards may have depicted any person the artist chose, not necessarily the four rulers commonly stated to represent a king of each suit.
Even though we can’t take the face card representation as a solid fact, I was intrigued by the idea that the cards represented these four historical figures. Being a history nerd, I couldn’t help it, and I thought this presented a good opportunity to brush up on who these figures were, and learn something new about them.
Hearts – Charlemagne
Charlemagne ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814. A medieval emperor with skill in military strategy, he sought to unite the Germanic people into one kingdom, and convert his subjects to Christianity.
A devoted father, Charlemagne apparently had up to 18 children, and encouraged their education. He was allegedly so fond of his daughters that he refused to let them marry while he was alive. If this is true, he must be confirmed as the worst (potential) father-in-law of all time.
Spades – David
The King of Israel is widely known for killing the giant Goliath, and for his love for Bathsheba. He struck Goliath in the forehead with a stone, thrown from a sling, and then beheaded the giant with his own sword. A skilled warrior, it is said that, while a young boy, David also slew a lion and a bear.
Not only was he talented with a sword, David was also a poet and musician, as well as a shepherd. During his reign, Jerusalem was sometimes referred to as the city of David.
Diamonds – Caesar
Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, rose to almost unheard of political heights for the Roman Republic, and was eventually assassinated on the floor of the Senate.
When in his mid-twenties, Caesar was captured by pirates while travelling to the Aegean island of Rhodes to study oratory. He befriended the pirates, although this camaraderie was proven false when Caesar was eventually freed and promptly arranged to have the pirates executed.
Caesar also implemented the Julian calendar, which was the first to include a leap year. This calendar remained in use until the late 16th century, when the Gregorian calendar, a slightly modified version, came into effect. The Gregorian calendar is still in use today.
Clubs – Alexander
Alexander the Great was a Macedonia king and warrior who conquered Persia and Egypt, creating a kingdom that ranged from the Mediterranean to the border of India. He died of malaria at the age of 32.
A skilled horseman, Alexander took charge of the Companion Cavalry at age 18. In his youth, he also tamed a wild horse, whom he called Bucephalus and was very fond of. Later, he renamed a city in India for Bucephalus.
Just wait, next time someone suggests a game of poker or the more rousing game of Prez (I’ll share my house rules sometime), you can now astonish your friends with these historical facts!
Have a great week everyone!