What is a French face card in a card deck?

What is a French face card in a card deck?

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Cards are not just aesthetically pleasing due to all those varied designs but also weave interesting stories through their depictions. Puzzled? Then pick up the nearest card deck and take a look at the face cards or the court cards. The kings, and queens and jacks/ knaves are no random royalty – they are historical or mythical personas that you might have heard, seen or read about. If your curiosity has been piqued, then read on to learn more!

The origins of the French face cards

While historians continue to debate the origins of the playing cards, a known fact is that these cards were introduced in Europe by Egypt in the 15th Century AD. The Europeans modified these cards to suit their own tastes and preferences and with it ensured that the face cards represented their own royalty and famous figures.

Origins of French face cards

Standard patterns of French face cards

The French pattern of cards is known as standard pattern based on the deck size and the artwork that is on it. The cards consist of the following suits namely, the rèfles (clovers or clubs), the carreaux (tiles or diamonds), the cœurs (hearts), and piques (pikes or spades). Each of these suits have three face cards known as the Roi (king), the Dame (Queen) and the Valet (Knave or Jack).

There are several regional variations of the cards like the Parisian patter, the Lombard and Tuscan pattern, the Lyonnais pattern etc. The English pattern, based on the Rouennais pattern, is the most well-known pattern in the world.

Since these cards were introduced in Europe during a time when the society was male centric, the face cards contained only the knaves (or jacks as we know now) and the kings. The introduction of a queen card was first done by Germany and it has continued to be a part of the deck ever since. In fact, it is believed that the queens first appeared in the Tarot cards following which the Germans abandoned two kings and replaced one with a queen. Also note that the joker is a very recent addition to the pack of cards and bears no such background from history.

French face cards

Who is who in French face cards?

The following figures were chosen by the French to signify their takeover of the playing cards in the 16th Century AD. Though these are figures that are often depicted, there may be variations found here and there.

Let’s meet the kings first,

King of spades David He is best known as the brave king of Israel of the 11th Century, who slayed the gigantic Goliath with a single skilful throw of a stone.
Kings of hearts Charlemagne or Charles the First Best known as the Father of Europe or the King of Italy and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the First, is credited to having united nearly the whole of Western Europe under his name, a feat achieved for the first time after the Roman Empire.
King of diamonds Julius Caesar The General, Consul and Dictator of the Republic of Rome in the 1st century AD, his name has been popularised by Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. He was known for having created an empire that spans the whole of Western Europe.
King of clubs Alexander the Great The great king of Macedonia, Alexander, was believed to have created one of the largest empires of the ancient world that stretched from the blue expanses of the Ionian Sea to the mighty Himalayas. He is considered to be one of the most successful commanders of all times.

These French face cards are followed by the elegant, majestic queens,

Queen of spades Pallas Athena Greek mythology names Athena as the goddess of wisdom and courage. She has always been an inspiring figure for bards and literati and umpteen number of songs, monuments, and literature have been made in her honour.
Queen of hearts Judith A daring Jewish widow, Judith finds mention in the Book of Judith of the Old Testament as the saviour of Israeli people from Assyrian oppression. She is believed to have slayed General Holofernes to protect her people.
Queen of diamonds Rachel Mother of Benjamin and Joseph, Rachel, is a biblical figure known to have courageously led Israel’s tribes in exile from Egypt.
Queen of clubs Argine The Queen of Clubs represents lady Argea, the mythological mother of Argus, who built the ship Argo from the Ancient Greek story of Jason and the Argonauts.

Not to forget, the knaves in French face cards too!

Jack of spades Ogier the Dane The son of King of Denmark, Ogier the Dane, is known for his heroic act of slaying the giant Brehus while he fought by King Charles the First side against the Saracens.
Jack of hearts La Hire Étienne de Vignolles, a French military commander during the 100 years’ war, is known to be the consort of Joan of Arc. He fought by her side in the Battle of Orleans.
Jack of diamonds Hector Hector, the son of the great king Priam, was the greatest known fighter in Troy. He fought against Achilles in the Trojan war in the defence of Troy and managed to kill nearly thirty-one thousand Greek fighters in toto.
Jack of clubs Judas Maccabeus or Lancelot There exist two figures that might be attributed to this card namely, Judas Maccabeus or Sir Lancelot. While Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish priest who led the Maccabean revolt, Sir Lancelot is famed as one of King Arthur’s beloved, trusted knights and the beloved of Queen Guinevere (King Arthur’s wife).


Knowing all this history will bring your game to life. It is not just some king and queen that you are playing in your hand, but Caesar or Alexander rooting for you to win. You can almost visualise these great, heroic figures battling it out for you. And now with this new found, profound knowledge of your card deck, we wish you – ‘happy playing’!

Practise your knowledge of the French face cards by downloading the GetMega app!

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Kanchan Sharma
Kanchan Sharma

Kanchan Sharma started her career as a learning designer at an MNC while pursuing poker as a hobby. However, she soon pivoted to becoming a professional MTT (Multi Table Tournaments) player. She is currently a leading player, who has taken the male dominated poker world by storm. During her stint as a poker player, she has bagged many titles including India Online Poker Championship (IOPC) for Rs. 17,98,906, Winter Celebration Series for Rs. 6,62,500 and has final tabled multiple tournaments. She continually seeks to improve her poker game and work on her mindset to win the WSOP title soon. Her journey from being a recreational player to a poker pro is inspiring for many people out there.

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