Modern playing cards are filled with layers of meaning and symbology that can be traced back centuries. The four kings, for example, are based off of real rulers: the king of diamonds represents the wealthy Julius Caesar, the king of clubs is the brutal Alexander the Great, Spades represents the strong but kind David of Israel and Hearts represents the… emotionally disturbed, shall we say, Charles VII of France. It is this king that we will be dealing with today. It should also be noted that Charles was the only one of the four who was actually there to see the day that his face was printed on a playing card, which may rationalize why he acted apart from the others.
Charles’ visage was put on the king of hearts at the very beginning of his rule, but he never really got a chance to come into contact with playing cards until many years later when he became very ill with a fever and was informed that he would be bedridden for the rest of his life. It was during this period that Charles began learning card games to pass the time, such as an early version of black jack, “vingt-et-un” (twenty one).
Charles lay in his bed for two years, constantly fiddling with the cards and always getting weaker. As time continued to pass, there were reports that Charles had begun obsessing over the idea that the king being the thirteenth card in a suit was causing him bad luck. He talked about how he was starting to see the number pop up everywhere and that he was close to figuring out its secret. Of course, his ramblings were blamed on the fever, and by the end of the second year, he had been declared insane, and his son Louis XII took over the thrown.
One day, several months after the end of his reign, one of Charles’ physicians went to his chamber to find the frail old man standing in the middle of the room wielding a large sword. Before the doctor could react, the king said, “Ils m’ont montré la vérité de treize, et il n’est pas signifié pour les yeux mortels.” which roughly translates to, “They have shown me the truth of thirteen, and it is not meant for mortal eyes.” Without hesitation the king proceeded to ram the blade in through the left side of his head (between the ear and temple) until it came out the other side. He wavered a moment, before collapsing to the floor dead.
After the incident was announced and it was made public that the king had gone mad, the image of Charles on the king of hearts was altered to show himself offing himself. Although the picture is now shown significant-ly less graphically, the image of Charles thrusting the sword into his skull can still be found on modern day playing cards. Perhaps the strangest part of the whole story, however, is the day that Charles chose to kill himself: 7/6/1462. Whether or not it was intentional of the king, the facts that 6+7=13 and 1+4+6+2=13 can only be explained as coincidences.
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