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Some notes on Finnish playing cards

© Kaj G Backas 2001, 2018, information may be used if source is mentioned.

How it started

It all started because I knew that the court cards of the playing cards show real people that have been involved with ‘Åbo slott’ (in Finnish Turun linna). Åbo is the Swedish name of a town Finland that had been a market place for a long time before building of a cathedral and a castle (in Swedish: slott) was started in 1280. Finland belonged to Sweden for several hundred years. The playing cards with portrayed Swedish royal persons had been printed for the first time in the 1930-ies, but I think they were unavailable for nearly two decades. When I found new ones printed by Piatnic in Austia’s Vienna I thought that it would be nice to know something more.

Fortunately I have met one of the foremost specialists about Scandinavian medieval history Mr. Carl-Jacob Gardberg on some occasions. I asked him about the pictures and he could readily tell me that they showed persons that have been kings and queens of Sweden, and closely involved with Åbo slott. In fact their paintings are still preserved in Åbo slott and the pictures were photographed and by Rainer Baer to be adopted as court cards. Carl-Jacob tells me in a letter of 2001-August-22 that he immediately recognized the kings and queens and that in his opinion the jacks are characters of pure fiction.

Starting from the information supplied by Carl-Jacob, I have used encyclopedias to get more information.

All dates will be shown in the form yyyy-mm-dd. The day or month can be omitted if they are not known.

Kings and queens

I will try to supply the information in pieces, starting with the primary information. Then I will cover the relationships and wills supply pictures in color. The names will be supplied in Swedish, some of them will have German and Polish names, that can be found in encyclopedias of other languages. The king and queen of same suit have always been married for some time, some kings did have another wife after the death of the first (pictured one). At his time it was usual for the king to have bastard (illegitimate) children too. It might be that the jacks show a child, but at time let me sidestep this, just look at the knave of hearts that at least for me seems to have feminine features.

Card Person Life span Regent time in Sweden
King if spades Sigismund 1566-06-20…1623-04-19 1594-02…1599
Queen of spades Anna av Habsburg 1573…1598 (first wife)
King of clubs Johan III 1537-12-21…1592-11-17 1569-06…1592
Queen of clubs Katarina Jagellonica 1526-11-01…1583-09-16 (first wife)
King of diamonds Karl IX 1550-10-04…1611-10-30 1607…1611
Queen of diamonds Maria av Pfalz 1561…1589 (first wife)
King of hearts Erik XIV 1533…1577-02-16 1560…1568
Queen of hearts Karin Månsdotter 1550…1612  

Sigismund as Swedish king is used without number, but the same person as Poland’s king was named Sigismund III. All queens were of noblesse or royal birth except to Karin Månsdotter.


Gustav Vasa (also denoted as Gustav I) that was king between 1523 and 1560 had three sons Johan III, Erik XIV and Karl IX all at some time were kings of Sweden. Sigismund is the son of Johan III. Gustav I first wife was Katarina av Sachsen-Lauenburg (1513…1535) queen 1523…1535, his second was Margareta Leijonhufvud (1516…1551) queen 1536…1551 and the third one Katarina Stenbock (1535…1621) queen 1552…1560.

Gusav I was born 1496-05-12 and died 1560-09-29.

Erik XIV was son to Katarina av Sachsen-Lauenburg and Margareta Leijonhufvud had three sons Johan III, count Magnus and Karl IX.


In the following is listed only children that reached at least adolescence.

Sigismund: Vladislav IV (1595…1648) and Johan II Kasimir (1609…1672)
Johan III:    Sigismund, Anna (1568…1625)
Karl IX:      Katarina(1584…1638), Gustav II Adolf (1594…1632), Karl Filip (1601…1622), Maria Elisabet (1596…1618), (Carl Carlsson (1574…1650))
Erik XIV:   (Virginia), Sigrid (1566…1633), Gustav, (1568…1607)

For a more complete list here is a link.

A pure guess

Jack of spades is Johan Kasimir (in polish Jan Kazimierz)

Jack of clubs is Sigismund

Jack diamonds is Gustav II Adof

Jack of hearts is Sigrid, here are some portraits of her

sigrid_gripsholm.gif (122516 bytes)sigridvaasa.jpg (100485 bytes)sigrid_1.jpg (212876 bytes)





Kaarina.jpg (141038 bytes)karin_1.jpg (234890 bytes)sigismund_bw.jpg (129893 bytes)Gustav.jpg (41487 bytes)

SLOTT.JPG (22073 bytes)
Above from left to right
row 1: Karin Månsdotter; another picture of her, a pictuer in color
row 2:  Sigismund, Gustav II Adolf, Vladislav,
row 3: Johan Kasimir
row 4:  Åbo slott on old painting, and areial view of Åbo slott today

Above from left to right:  Karl IX, Johan III, Erik XIV, Sigismund



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