How Playing Cards Got Their Queen

Can you imagine a royal flush without a queen?

For almost a thousand years, women were not represented on playing cards.  The earliest evidence for playing cards could be found in 9th century China, but didn’t arrived in Europe until the late 1300s as an import from Egypt.  These early European decks infiltrated France in 1377 and made their way to Germany by 1480.  None of them depicted women.  Scholars believe this is due to the male-dominated ruling system of China, as well as the male-dominated royal courts of Europe.  Instead of a queen these early decks included footmen, soldiers, knights, or marshals as the middle face card.

Queens began making appearances on the tarot decks of the 15th century.  At that time select German decks replaced 2 kings for 2 queens.  The association of mystical decks with playing cards caused many decks dropped the queen.  French playing cards reinstated the missing kings and replaced the knights with queens.  But even then, this female wasn’t referred to as a queen.  The words for king and queen begin with the same letter in many European languages, thus the female face card was referred to as the Dame (“lady” in French).

By the 1780’s the Paris pattern dominated French playing decks.  In this design, the face cards are associated with historic or mythical personages.   The queen of hearts represented the biblical figure of Judith, while the queen of diamonds was the Bible’s Rachel.  The queen of spades depicts Pallas, another name for the goddess Athena, and the queen of clubs is Argine, an anagram for the Latin word “queen” (regina).

While it’s hard to imagine a deck without a queen, it wasn’t so long ago that women were excluded from even playing cards.
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