Scottish Gaming Folklore and History

Originally published October 2007.

Scottish Gaming Folklore and History

Some fun tidbits and miscellaneous notes and folklore about games played in Scotland.

Playing Cards With the Devil

In the 15th century the 2nd Lord of Glamis (known as Earl Beardie) was said to be avid card player. Earl Beardie and the Earl of Crawford were playing cards late on a Saturday night. According to legend, a servant came to remind Earl Beardie that it was nearing midnight. The servant urged them to stop playing saying it was sacrilege to play cards on the Sabbath. Lord Glamis shouted that they would play until Dooms Day if they wanted and ordered the servant out of the room. The game continued and at five minutes to midnight the servant again warned the Earl of the time. Earl Beardie said he would play with the Devil himself and ordered the servant out. At the stroke of midnight there was a knock on the door and a tall stranger dressed in black entered asking to join the game. The stranger sat down and placed a handful of rubies on the table. Soon after, an argument was heard to erupt between the two Earls. When the servant peered into the room he saw the two men engulfed in flames. It is said that Earl Beardie had played cards with the Devil and for playing on the Sabbath he was condemned to play until Dooms Day. His ghost still roams the halls trapped for eternity doomed to return to the room to play cards with the Devil. Sounds of stamping, swearing and dice rattling are heard from the tower where Earl Beardie is said to have cursed God and played with the Devil.

A similar story…
Lordscairnie Castle, Fife. Little remains of the original keep and tower of the 15th century building which was built for the Earls of Crawford. The loch which used to surround the castle has been drained and it is said that treasure is buried nearby. The 4th Earl of Crawford is said to be seen playing cards with the devil at midnight each New Year’s Eve.

The 9 of Diamonds is Nicknamed the “Curse of Scotland”

There are several explanations, but none have been proven as the true reason.
1. In the once popular card game ‘Pope Joan’, the 9 of diamonds was called the Pope, the antichrist of Scottish Reformers. (MacGregor Games’ Pope Joan set.)
2. That the 9 of diamonds was the chief card in the game ‘cornette’, introduced into Scotland by the unhappy Queen Mary.
3. That ‘Butcher’ Cumberland wrote the orders for “no quarter” for the Battle of Culloden, 1746, on the back of the card.
4. That the order for the Massacre of Glencoe (1692) was signed on the back of this card.
5. That the dispositions for the fatal field of Flodden (1513) were drawn up on it by James IV of Scotland.
6. That it is derived from the nine lozenges that formed the arms of the Earl of Stair, who was especially loathed for his connection with the Massacre of Glencoe and the union with England (1707).
7. That it was a misreading of the “cross of Scotland” not “curse” the St Andrew’s cross or saltire and the resemblance of the layout of the diamonds on the card.
8. Supposedly 9 diamonds were stolen from the crown of Scotland and a tax was levied to replace them and the tax was termed the “curse of Scotland.”
9. Finally, the oldest explanation seems to be a proverb that every 9th Scottish king would be a tyrant.

More Historic Games

Scottish Lifestyle 300 Year Ago (Kelsall, Helen. John Donald Publishers Ltd. Edinbugh, 1986.) is a look at Scotland in the 1690’s based on surviving diaries, household records from a number of Edinburgh and Border families. Here are some of the games that are mentioned in the records.

“Ninepins of Ivory”. Bowling games of various kinds are nearly universal in every European culture.

Piquett: a 2-player game played with a short deck of 32 cards the cards 2-6 omitted from the deck. Seems to have originated in France possibly as early as the 1400?s but is most often mentioned in the 16th century.

Ombre: 3-player game also played with a short deck of 40 cards the 8s, 9s, 10s, removed. A trick-taking game that originated in Spain in the mid 16th century as a 4-player game, but had evolved to a 3-player game by the 17th century.

May 22 1695 the Burgh Council of Edinburgh recommended that an act be passed to allow the keepers of Billiard tables, kyle alies, and bowling greens, and shuffle board type games to let the college students to play their games.


Evolved from a lawn game similar to the croquet played sometime during the 15th century in Northern Europe and probably in France. Play was moved indoors to a wooden table with green cloth to simulate grass and a simple border was placed around the edges. The balls were shoved, rather than struck, with wooden sticks called “maces”; The term “billiard” is derived from French, either from the word “billart,” one of the wooden sticks, or “bille,” a ball.

The game was originally played with two balls on a six-pocket table with a hoop similar to a croquet wicket and an upright stick used as a target During the 18th century, the hoop and target gradually disappeared, leaving only the balls and pockets. Most of our information about early billiards comes from accounts of playing by royalty and other nobles, but there is evidence that people from all walks of life have played the game since its inception. In 1600, the game was familiar enough to the public that Shakespeare mentioned it in Antony and Cleopatra. Seventy-five years later, the first book of billiard rules remarked of England that there were “few Towns of note therein which hath not a publick Billiard-Table.”

The cue stick was developed in the late 1600 ‘s. When the ball lay near a rail, the mace was very inconvenient to use because of its large head. In such a case, the players would turn the mace around and use its handle to strike the ball. The handle was called a “queue”-meaning “tail”-from which we get the word “cue.” For a long time only men were allowed to use the cue; women were forced to use the mace because it was felt they were more likely to rip the cloth with the sharper cue.


Seems to have been known, but was not taken seriously in England until the late 18th century But by the early 1700 it seems to have become popular in Scotland apparently influenced by contact with the Low Countries where it was popular early on. One author suggested it may have been Scottish soldiers having served in the Dutch Wars may have helped popularize it in Scotland. A Scottish term for the game “Dams” make come from the Dutch term “Damspel.” Both the Scottish and English Draughts organizations were founded by the 1890?s. The Scottish influence on the history of Checkers are evident in some of the terms used for standard opening moves: Ayrshire Lassie, Laird & Lady, Flora Temple, Maid o?the Mill, as well as Glasgow, Dundee.

games, Scotland
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