World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Curse of Scotland

Article Id: WHEBN0042566085
Reproduction Date:

Title: Curse of Scotland  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Playing cards, Ace, History of Scotland, Playing card
Collection: History of Scotland, Playing Cards
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Curse of Scotland

The Curse of Scotland is a nickname used for the Nine of Diamonds playing card.[1] The expression has been used at least since the early 18th century, and many putative explanations have been given for the origin of this nickname for the card.


  • Earliest printed references 1
  • "Pope Joan" and 19th century speculation 2
  • More recent opinion 3
  • Other connotations 4
    • Nine of diamonds 4.1
    • Curse of Scotland 4.2
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Earliest printed references

Extract from British Apollo of 1708

In a book printed in London in 1708, The British Apollo, or, Curious amusements for the ingenious, a question is posed:

Q. Why is the Nine of Diamonds called the curse of Scotland?
A. Diamonds as the Ornamental Jewels of a Regnal Crown, imply no more in the above-nam'd Proverb than a mark of Royalty, for SCOTLAND'S Kings for many Ages, were observ'd, each Ninth to be a Tyrant, who by Civil Wars, and all the fatal consequences of intestine discord, plunging the Divided Kingdom into strange Disorders, gave occasion, in the course of time, to form the Proverb.[2]

A similar book of 1726 gives the same question and answer, still regarding the question as relating to a proverb.[3] By 1757 the card was described as "commonly called the Curse of Scotland" with the explanation that the epithet refers to Lord Ormistoune, Lord Justice Clerk from 1692 to 1735, who suppressed the Jacobite rising of 1715 and "became universally hated in Scotland".[4] In 18th-century Scotland, the nine of diamonds was sometimes called the "Justice Clerk", and was considered to be the most unlucky card in the pack.[5]

"Pope Joan" and 19th century speculation

James Mitchell's 1825 Scotsman's Library claimed that the expression originated from the

External links

  1. ^
    The Oxford English Dictionary (1971) and Chambers 20th Century Dictionary (1983) give similar definitions
  2. ^ . See also (entry for Curse of Scotland).
  3. ^
  4. ^ (entry for Lord)
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ quoting Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition
  11. ^ a b (The Spectator originally misprinted the author's surname)
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b quoting
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^

  22. ^


  1. ^ The pope was sometimes known to Scots presbyterians as the antichrist.[9]
  2. ^ The thief was one George Campbell.[9]
  3. ^ Many of the claims had been previously published in Chambers' The Book of Days (1864).[12]
  4. ^ In quoting this, Parlett regards this suggestion as "perhaps the most amusing".[15]


The expression "Curse of Scotland" is sometimes used simply to refer to an occasion of bad luck at cards and can also refer to generally unwanted situations in Scotland, such as swarms of midges.[22] There is a theatrical superstition, sometimes called the Scottish curse, that speaking the name Macbeth in the theatre brings bad luck. Hence "the Scottish Play" is used to refer to Shakespeare's play.

Curse of Scotland

An Edinburgh-based collective of magicians have given themselves the name "Nine of Diamonds", alluding to the Curse of Scotland. They have published a book of close up magic, also under this name.[21]

The 19th century Tarot of Marseilles is one of the standard designs for tarot cards. It contains a "Pope" card (and, indeed, a "Popess") but there seems to be no connection with the Pope Joan card game, even though the popess may have derived from the mythical Pope Joan.[18] In the video game Call of Duty: World at War the 9 is "Death Card 7".[19] In the Unicode playing cards block (symbols category) the nine of diamonds is U+1F0C9 (  ) supported in DejaVu Sans fonts, amongst others.[20]

Nine of diamonds

Other connotations

In the 1898 edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable the "Pope Joan" and "Comette" theories are favoured although many of the others are listed – more recent editions venture no opinion.[13][14] In Gurney Benham's book about playing cards, in describing the game of Pope Joan he gives his own explanation for why this card is known as the Curse of Scotland: "The crown of Scotland contained only nine stones, as they never could afford a tenth".[15][note 4] Eric Partridge's Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang considers: “the various theories are as interesting as they are unconvincing”.[16] Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland says for Curse of Scotland "This is usually taken to be the nine of diamonds playing card, though explanations differ".[17]

More recent opinion

Chambers' book, upon which this letter seems to have been based, describes the theories as "most lame and unsatisfactory suggestions" compared with the Dalrymple theory. The book dismisses the Culloden theory because of an earlier 1745 caricature of "the young chavalier attempting to lead a herd of bulls, laden with papal curses, excommunications &c., across the Tweed, with the Nine of Diamonds lying before them".[12]

  • "curse" is a corruption of "cross" and the nine pips on cards were in the form of a St Andrew's Cross;
  • a thief in Mary, Queen of Scots' reign attempted to steal the Crown Jewels and got away with nine diamonds, and all Scotland was taxed for the theft;[note 2]
  • James IV, before the Battle of Flodden, spent time searching for a missing card—the 9—time which would have been better spent in preparing for the battle;
  • Mary of Lorraine (or maybe James, Duke of York) introduced the game of "Comette" into Scotland, in which the 9 is the winning card, against which many Scottish nobles lost their wealth.[11][note 3]
St Andrew's Cross

Other explanations given in the letter were:

A letter written in response to The Spectator's book review pointed out that the saying was established well before Culloden, and preferred the Pope Joan theory to other explanations.[11]

Arms of the Earl of Stair. The Dalrymple family arms are in the upper left quarter (as seen when facing the shield)

In the card game Pope Joan, very popular in the 19th century, the 9 is the most powerful card, and it is called the "Pope". The game is played on a special board on which the middle is marked "Pope Joan", and it is used in association with this card. The game uses 51 cards (the 8 is excluded, making the 7 a "stop") but there is no direct relation with the 9.[10] Gomme's book goes on to claim "At the game of Pope Joan, the nine of diamonds is Pope; therefore the nine of diamonds is the curse of Scotland". The Spectator review considered the claim "more cogent in form than in matter".[8]

James Gillray caricature of 1796 showing a lady playing Pope Joan and holding the nine of diamonds

[note 1][8] (1746). However he went on to remark that the book claims that "The curse of Scotland must be something which that nation hates and detests. The Scots held in the utmost detestation the Pope."Battle of Culloden ("Butcher" Cumberland) on the eve of the Duke of Cumberland commented that the reviewer had believed that the phrase had started from an order written on a 9 by the [7]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.