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garos 100 ( +1 | -1 )
Medieval Chess I am currently looking into chess in the medieval period (approx 500AD - 1500AD)as a university research project. I would be grateful for any suggestions for reputable books, websites etc. you may know. There is a lot of information out there, (much of it useless!) so if it can be narrowed down a little it would help immensely.

One interesting point I have noticed so far is that in paintings of chess games of the period, the board is usually set up with a black square at each players' right-hand corner. Is this a mistake on the part of the artist? Did it matter during this period which way the board was oriented? Did it change at some stage? When did it become usual (or the 'rule') to set up with a white square on the right?

I would also appreciate any information about the 'mad queen', so called when the rules were changed so the queen could move around the board freely, as she does now.

If anyone has an interest in this chess from this era I would be pleased to hear your views.
maca 210 ( +1 | -1 )
Very interesting You have a very nice topic right there. Unfortunately, I don't have much information about the chess on that era. Most written history of chess (in terms of chess books or game notations) start at 17th century if I remember correctly.

Regarding the "mirrored board", I believe this is fairly widespread mistake that is sometimes made even today. For some reason, H8 is often set up as white, not black. I never knew this went that back in the past, though. I wouldn't be surprised if the way the board was set up had changed in the past, and I'd expect the could even be local variation in this. With no written rules, this seemingly insignificant detail could have easily been not taken into by the carpenters who made the chess boards, but could have had very little information about the game itself. In arts, it would seem plausible that artists would use each others' paintings as models, which could partially explain why the "mistake" is so wide-spread.

As for the Vizor-Queen transition, I believe Queen was already a well-established piece when the written history of chess began. Therefore, I would guess it happened at the range of 15th-16th century, but a quick search at the books or Internet could easily beat my estimate in here.

Here are some ideas you might look into. Mostly speculation from my part, though:

- In Middle-Ages, chess was an integral part of the training of knights and other nobility in some countries. You could search the cultural effects of chess starting from this.

- The Oriental trade strongly influenced the culture in Europe, and chess is not an exception. Chess was a very popular game around India, and I think they crafted a lot high-quality chess sets.

- Chess is a special game in that it was rarely banned by church, due to the fact that it was considered excellent training for warfare. You could look into the relationship of chess and religion.

chessnovice 175 ( +1 | -1 )
some suggestions Maca is right that you'd be lucky to find works from the medieval period, since most of chess history is written from a retrospective point of view. A good idea if you're running low on sources in a research project is to look at the work of someone who preceded you (like "A History of Chess" by H. Murray), and look through the acknowledgments of works he cited. Then find the works that you find most applicable, and look through the acknowledgments of those works cited.

I'd also recommend Henry Bird's "Chess History & Reminiscences" for some basic insight. You can find the full text online, here:

This is just me musing out loud, but I think the reason you find diagrams with the wrong colored square in the right corner is due to the same reason that you'll have trouble finding documentation on chess history before the 17th century. The Renaissance, among many things, brought about a lot of organization to the game. Design of the chess board probably depended on the locale. Or there's the possibility that artists (which I believe were commissioned by authors at the time) didn't know enough about the rules of chess to keep the "white on right" rule in mind.

With regards to when the queen became mad:
"Chess as now played with the Queen of present powers, imported into the game dates back about four centuries, to near the time when the works of the Spanish writers, Vicenz and Lucena, appeared in 1495, and shortly before that of Damiano the Portuguese in 1512." -- Bird
wschmidt 283 ( +1 | -1 )
Check out...
Birth of the Chess Queen: A History by Marilyn Yalom, a relatively recent full-length analysis of that aspect of your question.

Here are a couple of descriptions of it culled from Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly
A senior scholar at Stanford's Institute for Women and Gender who has written extensively on women's history, Yalom (A History of the Wife; etc.) sees the rise of female power throughout the centuries reflected in the history of the chess queen: "She has entered the academy of gendered icons, alongside the Earth Mother, the Amazon, and the Virgin Mary." For 500 years, chess was played in India, Persia and the Arab world minus a queen; she finally made her entrance in southern Europe around A.D. 1000. Drawing parallels between "symbolic queens on the chessboard and living queens at numerous royal courts," Yalom introduces readers to significant queens, empresses and countesses as she traces the spread of chess across Europe. With anecdotes, art, legends and literature, she shows how the chess queen became "the quintessential metaphor for female power in the Western world." Yalom offers an outstanding glimpse at chess as a courting ritual: "The chess queen and the cult of love grew up together and formed a symbiotic relationship, each feeding on the other." She also addresses the current status of female chess players—only 5% of the world's chess players are women—and wonders if "the best female players [will] ever be able to beat the best male players." Combining exhaustive research with a deep knowledge of women's history, Yalom presents an entertaining and enlightening survey that offers a new perspective on an ancient game. B&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker
Chess was invented in India in the fifth century and was spread by Islamic conquests to Europe, where the piece known as the vizier became the queen—the only female in the all-male club of chess pieces. Yalom makes a credible, though circumstantial, case that this rise reflects the power intermittently accorded to, or seized by, female European monarchs. It was in the late tenth century, during the regency of Empress Adelaide, that the vizier underwent his sex change. Five hundred years later, in Queen Isabella's Spain, the queen was transformed from a timid lady mincing one diagonal step at a time into what one shocked Italian bishop called a "bellicose virago." But there's a sting at the end of this feminist historical fable: the queen's supremacy made the game so much faster and more competitive that it was considered unsuitable for upper-class women.

thunker 91 ( +1 | -1 )
Chessmen by A.E.J. Mackett-Beeson I have a book "Chessmen - Pleasures And Treasures" by A.E.J. Mackett-Beeson.
While most of the book is dedicated to various ornamental chess pieces, the first chapter is a good history of the game. It actually traces the origins of the game that would evolve into chess back to the Chinese game of Chaturanga as around 2500 BC
evolving to The Chinese Game (Chong-Ki or Choke-Choo-Hong-Ki) in 105 BC. Then to the Burmese game (Chit-Ta-Reen) 600 AD. Next Shogi, 1200 AD and then Shatranj from 500 AD to the 8th Century and beyond.

The game of Chaturanga, in its earliest form, was actually played by 4 persons, each of whom controlled eight chess pieces: a king, a rook, and knight and a bishop, toghether with four pawns. The chessboard still had 64 squares.
ionadowman 105 ( +1 | -1 )
Possibly ... ... Marilyn Yalom is overstating the case, since the Queen wasn't originally a queen at all - the Vizier (Wazir), a kind of Prime Minister. That this worthy seems to have become transgendered might be due to a rise in female power, but I'm more inclined to the view that as Europeans had no sufficiently prominent equivalent to the Wazir, the queen was settled upon, faute de mieux. Or maybe the appearance of the piece (bearing in mind the Staunton pattern was centuries in the future) might have suggested the King's consort rather than some male functionary of the royal court. As for the possible reflection of the theoretical dual governance, secular and ecclesiastical, in Europe, it is unlikely that the one would accept subordination to the other on the chessboard - hence the absence of "Cardinal" or equivalent. Mind you, in 17th Century France, the Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin would have been very like Viziers...

But then, why did "rook" survive unstead of "castle"? Well "castle", as "tour" did replace the chariot ("rook") in many languages...
ionadowman 47 ( +1 | -1 )
it has occurred to me... ... that perhaps the popularity of "tour" in European nomenclature for the rook was due to the rise in the power of fortification - castle-building, Renaissance military engineering and the protection of strategically important points, culminating in the complex masterpieces of Vauban and his contemporaries. Britain never really went in for this sort of thing so much, once castles went out of fashion, which might explain (but probably doesn't) why English speakers retained the word 'rook'.
garos 119 ( +1 | -1 )
Thanks for all your suggestions. I have tracked down some interesting sites and discovered some intriguing facts. Regarding the set-up of the board, until some time around 1000AD the squares were all one colour. After the Normans invaded England in 1066 it seems taxes were counted and divided up on a large board with a checkered cloth on it - hence the title in England of The Chancellor of the Exchequer, which comes directly from the French for chess - échecs. I have since found some pictures from The Book of Games, commissioned by Alfonse X of Spain (1221-1284) which all show the board set up with the white on the right, except for the fellows playing in the tent. So the ones mentioned earlier were either cases of artistic licence, or the artist wasn't familiar with chess. You can see pictures from the book at this address.

The 'Mad Queen' was also variously know as 'alla rabiosa' and 'de la dame enragée', both terms fairly self-explanatory.
ionadowman 65 ( +1 | -1 )
I was intrigued by ... ... the Great Chess. Any idea what pieces were used? capablanca invented a couple of extra pieces for play on a 10x10 board (subsequently amended to a 10x8): a cardinal(?) that combined the moves of knight and bishop; an a Marshal that combined rook and knight. No doubt the great chess had no such pieces, but perhaps they had extra other pieces and/or pawns?

I can't get over what a clod-hopping piece the elephant was - there were just 8 squares on the board any given elephant could visit, and the move ExE was never possible. It must have made for some weird strategy...
garos 29 ( +1 | -1 )
I wonder just who still plays Great Chess? The set up looks unusual. The pawns all appear to be placed along the fourth rank. It is also interesting how the artists have drawn the boards vertically so the pieces can be seen. Or perhaps these were the first magnetic chess sets?
wulebgr 85 ( +1 | -1 )
Two books As already mentioned, Marilyn Yalom's _The Birth of the Chess Queen_ is an exceptional history. Do not be deterred by arguments with summaries posted on Amazon. Read the book itself for yourself and make your own judgements. Yalom is a very good historian.

Second, H.J.R. Murray, _History of Chess_ (1913) remains the standard work on the full run of the history of chess from its misty beginnings in India (or possibly China). its spread through the Muslim world (by which it entered Europe probably via three routes (Spain, Italy, and the Caucasus), up through the nineteenth century.

Beware of what you will find on the internet. Especially with respect to the medieval period, misinformation abounds. Most of the information I've seen on the internet in either unsubstantiated, or flat wrong. The rest comes mostly from Murray.
kinderboy 5 ( +1 | -1 )
where did the name of the rook come from
heinzkat 4 ( +1 | -1 )
Rook - from the Persian word... Rukh, which means "chariot".
wuzzie 13 ( +1 | -1 )
here are some pics