It is generally agreed by readers that courts are the most troublesome cards in the deck. They are difficult to read for a variety of reasons. For example, the "Magician" indicates the figure's profession. But a "Knight" is not so specific in what he does, and there are four of them. Do they all do the same thing? In addition, Courts can be difficult to read in the context of a spread. If you get the Queen of Cups in the "Health" position in a spread, what does that mean? (How would I read this? Alternative medicine, likely dispensed by a new, female healer that the querent is going to or should go to).
Court cards, however, can be very useful. They are among the best cards to signify people in the querent's life, or the querent him/herself. And once you get to know the significance of their positions better, they can quite clear in meaning no matter the position.
Let us try to demystify the court cards.
Rider-Waite style the courts are Pages, Knights, Queens, Kings. Crowley style the courts are Princesses, Princes, Queens, Knights. There are pros and cons to each. We, however, will be discussing the Rider-Waite's court system.
Ways to make reading Court Cards easier:
1) Court cards frequently indicate people, someone in the querent's life (past or present), or someone about to come into the querent's life or the querent, themselves. So when a court card appears, consider whether it might represent the querent or someone the querent knows.
Gender usually goes along with the cards, but doesn't have to. Sometimes a woman will find herself the "King/Pentacles" in a relationship with the man as the "Queen/Wands." Meaning that she is concerned with managing the home, job and finances while he is interested in passion and romance. Typically, however, Kings represent adult males, Queens adult females, Knights youths of either gender, Pages children of either gender.
Sometimes a Court will appeal so strongly to the querent that it will become their card representing them at all times. It doesn't matter if it matches their birth sign (see #3) or not. If they feel that they are the Queen/Wands then that is what they are. It is less about having the sun sign of Leo than it is about being a dramatic, passionate, artistic woman.
Most times, however, the Court representing the querent or others will change. They may be a Knight/Pents (male or female) at work, but a King/Wands (male or female) at home. If the question being asked is about how they are in a relationship, they may get the Knight/Cups as representing them, whereas if the question is about career, they may get the Queen/Swords. This tells them what matters to them in this situation, and why it may or may not be giving them difficulties.
2) Court Cards have particular, symbolic meanings. If it seems clear that the Court Card is not a person, then the reader might consider the most common, symbolic meanings of the Court Cards. Pages, for example, can indicate "messages," Knights "movement" or a "trips" (as they ride on horseback). Queens are "creators" like the Empress, building the nest of that suit, and Kings are "managers" like the Emperor, organizing and directing the suit.
3) Zodiac symbols (designations) can often help decipher Court Cards. Most deck creators assign the Kings, Queens and Knights a sign of the Zodiac. Wands are usually the Fire signs, Cups the Water signs, Swords the Air signs, and Pentacles the Earth signs. However, which card is which Zodiac symbol can differ from deck to deck. So examine images carefully to see which card is which Zodiac sign in your particular deck. The pentacle court card that has a bull in it (for example) is undoubtedly Taurus, whether it is King, Queen or Knight.
You can, of course, ignore such emblems and make your own assignments if you like. If you feel that the Queen/Swords is an Aquarius, then she is an Aquarius and it doesn't matter if the deck creator has given her Libra's scales or if another reader has her as Gemini. Whatever works for you is fine. However, it will cause problems if you insist that the Queen/Swords must be a Virgo as now you've a Pentacle Court card with no Zodiac sign, and an Air Sign with no Court Card!
Keep the suits in line with their elements and Zodiac (Wands to Fire [Air] signs, Cups to Water signs, Swords to Air [Fire] signs, Pents to Earth signs). This will avoid confusion. The job of Zodiac signs is to help find out who the card might represent. So if you get a Queen/Cups, you might ask the querent, "Do you know a Scorpio?" and that might help you discover who the Queen/Cups represents in the spread.
What the Zodiac is not intended to do is limit the Courts. Meaning that if your querent, a Leo, feels like a Queen/Swords, then there is no reason to insist that she can't be represented by that card. We are more than just our Sun Signs. Which is why we can be represented by a Knight/Pents in a spread even if we're not a Virgo.
The Zodiac signs are, in short, simply a way of narrowing down who the card might represent when it's not otherwise clear.
Learn the Court card meaning in reversal in our reversed card meanings.