Sometimes a playing card is just a playing card. Sometimes a playing card may stand in as one of the minor arcana of the Tarot, and in the case of the Nine of Diamonds, it just might be a national disgrace to Scotland. This is because to the card playing enthusiast, the Nine of Diamonds is also known as The Curse of Scotland. There are several theories as to how it got this name, each with a slight hint of “aye, that’ll be right” to it. Read on to see which one you find the most convincing.
There are two tales that are more commonly given as the cause. The first is that on the eve of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Duke of Cumberland was interrupted during a card game by a young officer wanting his orders for the forthcoming battle. The order was “No quarter” was to be given, the troops were to annihilate the Jacobites. Just to be sure that the plan was carried out, the officer asked the Duke to write it down. Irritably, the Duke picked up a card, reputedly the Nine of Diamonds and scrawled on it. However, the first mention of the Nine of Diamonds as “The Curse of Scotland” pre-dates this in “Houston’s Memoirs” (1715 – 1747).
The second tale links the name to the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, when Sir John Dalrymple, the 1st Earl of Stair, ordered the slaughter of the Glencoe MacDonalds. The massacre was a national disgrace. As the Stair Coat of Arms bore a strong resemblance to the Nine of Diamonds card. This similarity may have led to it being called “The Curse of Scotland”.
There was a trend at one point for naming playing cards after unpopular Scots. For instance, Mary Queen of Scots became known as “Moll Hepburn” following her marriage to the unpopular 4th Earl of Bothwell, and the nickname was used. The aforementioned “Houston’s Memoirs”, states that another unpopular Scot was Lord Justice Clerk Ormistone, who was hated and referred to as “The Curse of Scotland”. Ladies referred to the Nine of Diamonds as the Justice Clerk when playing cards, in turn leading to the card taking on Ormistone’s unflattering nickname.
The habit of naming cards after unpopular Scots also invoked the name of George Campbell, a roustabout who stole nine diamonds from the Scottish Crown during Mary’s reign. A tax was levied to pay for the theft, which you guessed it, is another reason given for the Nine of Diamonds’ nickname. Another linked theory has it that the card is so called because the Scottish Crown could only afford nine diamonds, whilst other Crowns commonly had ten. This one was put forth by W Gurney Bentham in his 1931 “A History of Playing Cards”.
Apparently, there was once a popular card game called Pope Joan, in which the Nine of Diamonds was called “The Pope”, somewhat contentious to reformist Scots, and also posited as the reason for “The Curse of Scotland” nickname. A final, wonderfully spurious story, is that the card actually got the name because every ninth Scottish King was a tyrant; this is discredited by the argument that the ratio of tyrannical Scots Kings was a lot higher than one in nine!