The Curse of Scotland

By Paul Adams

Why is the nine of diamonds referred to in card games as “The Curse of Scotland”?

The nine of diamonds
The nine of diamonds: just another ordinary playing card?

Some of the most popular reasons relate to two of Scotland's most infamous massacres.

The Battle of Culloden

The first story goes that on the eve of the Battle of Culloden the Duke of Cumberland was playing cards with his senior staff.

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A young officer arrived wanting to know the Duke's orders for the battle. The Duke allegedly ordered "no quarter" to the Jacobites. Fearing the bloodbath to come the young officer wisely asked for the order to be written down.

In annoyance the Duke grabbed a playing card and wrote the order down. That card was supposed to be the nine of diamonds.

A great story but unlikely to be true since the first mention of the Curse of Scotland dates back to 1708: 38 years before the battle.

The Glencoe Massacre

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The second story dates back to the ruthless massacre at Glencoe where Sir John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair, ordered the massacre of the Glencoe MacDonalds.

The massacre caused an outcry across Britain and since the Stair coat of arms bears a striking resemblance to the nine of diamonds the card was forever to become known as the Curse of Scotland by association.

Many other theories exist ranging from the theft of Mary Queen of Scots' diamonds to a card game where the nine of diamonds was called the Pope – for devout 18th century Presbyterians a curse indeed.

As for the truth? The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang sums it up perfectly: “the various theories are as interesting as they are unconvincing”.

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