The Curse of Scotland

There are some who refer to the nine of diamonds in a deck of cards as the ‘curse of Scotland’. But, why is this and where did this belief first appear?

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There seem to be two main stories.

Firstly, to us here at the Battle of Culloden. Here it is said that on the eve of the battle the Duke of Cumberland was playing cards with some of his men. A young officer arrived wanting to know the Duke’s orders for the next day. The Duke allegedly ordered “no quarter” to the Jacobites. Worried about the nature of the order and the outcry it could cause the officer asked for the it to be written down. In annoyance the Duke grabbed a playing card and wrote the order down. The card the Duke picked up was supposedly the nine of diamonds. This may be a good story but it is highly unlikely to be true. The first references to the nine of diamonds as the curse of Scotland existed years before Culloden took place so the true origin must be earlier.

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Culloden Memorial Cairn

 

This leads us to the second story and to the massacre of Glencoe in 1692. Here the MacDonalds of Glencoe were massacred by another clan, the Campbells, after they missed the deadline to pledge their allegiance to King William.  Sir John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair and Secretary of State for Scotland was the man who gave the order to carry out the massacre in February 1692. The Dalrymple coat of arms features nine diamonds arranged like the playing card, so it is very likely that the nine of diamonds became associated with the much-hated Dalrymple and the curse of Scotland was born. Again a good story but whether there is any truth to the matter remains to be seen.

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Dalrymple Coat of Arms

 

 

Other theories abound as to how the curse came about. It has been suggested that it is a misreading of the “Corse of Scotland” i.e. the “Cross of Scotland”. The St Andrew’s Saltire is similar in design to old style nine of diamond cards.  Whilst the cards of today  are arranged in an H pattern, early versions favoured an X shape. When viewed sideways, these cards look very similar to the Scottish flag. Some contest that it is possible the card was actually known as the Corse of Scotland and there is no curse at all.

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The Scottish Saltire

 

Finally worth mentioning is a theory from the reign of Mary Queen of Scots. During her reign nine diamonds were stolen from the crown of Scotland by an Edinburgh freebooter called George Campbell. After the theft a tax was levied on the Scottish people to pay for them and the tax apparently got the nickname “The Curse of Scotland”.

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Mary Queen of Scots

 

Who can say which theory if any is true but it is safe to say that many people still regard the nine of diamonds as an unlucky card so next time you’re playing you might want to steer clear of the nine of diamonds.

We hope you enjoyed this post and as always please like, tweet, share, comment and remember, never ask a Scotsman for the nine of diamonds if you’re playing ‘Go Fish’.

All the best, K & D

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