The Queen's playing chess with the devil...

The Queen's playing chess with the devil...

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The head photo is a detail from the ceiling of the Sala de los Reyes of the Granada Palacios Nazaries (Alhambra) [in wikicommons]. No direct connection with my topic, but I think a beautiful visualisation of my head title. The material of this blog is some connected highlights of the chess history during the middle ages in Europe [they were so many, I had to filtered them somehow...], and whoever is familiar with this and Murray's history could consider it as simplified but also a little updated and enriched...


1. Einsiedeln Poem, the earliest chess reference

The Einsiedeln poem is considered the earliest chess reference in Europe. It can be found in two manuscripts, located both in Einsiedeln Abbey library [Benedictine monastery], in Switzerland. The MS 365 contains the larger version of it [98 lines], dated a little earlier than the other, and bears the title Versus de scachis [no found copy online, but full text in Carmina Medii Aevi by Hermann Hagen, 1877, p. 137]. The MS 319 contains a copy of the previous, only of the last 65-98 lines, under the title De aleae ratione [in e-codides].

De aleae ratione in Einsidlensis MS 319

Concerning the dates of these two manuscripts, Helena M. Gamer, after autopsy & close examination back in the 1950s, informs us: "... that the related parts of MS 319, including the verses about chess, were written about the year 1000 AD and not much later." And a paragraph after, on MS 365, writes: "This brings us again close to 1000 AD but in this case rather before than after 1000 AD." The fact that the longer version in MS 365 is older than the one in MS 319, had been noted already by Murray after the counsel of Falconer Madan, who examined photographs of the MSS [The Einsiedeln Verses by Helena M. Gamer, in Speculum Vol. 29, No. 4 (Oct., 1954), pp. 734-750 in jstor & Murray's History 1913, p. 497].

Murray describes that the original leaf, containing the chess poem in MS 365, was one that firstly was binding an other MS [125], in such a way that only its back side, thus its last 30 lines, were visible. From there probably they were copied in the later MS 319. He adds also that it "was carefully loosened from the binding [of MS 125] by Gallus Morell, the Superior of the Monastery, in 1846, and inserted in the composite volume, MS. 365." It seemed a revealing action! I've tracked one Gall Morel, monk in the Einsiedeln monastery, best known as a poet with a many-sided literary activity [in wiki]. On these Gamer confirms the transition from one MS to the other. But she just considers as possible the copying and in any case unproved beyond doubt.

Reading the poem in Latin, I can say that is descriptive containing the older chess rules, where queen and bishop moves are as in shatranj. But I focused on the first 10 lines of the longer version of MS 365 and tried to translate them firstly word by word, and then a little more freely. Difficult task as it's in poetic latin, but I think a conclusion can be derived...

Versus de scachis from Carmina Medii Aevi by Hermann Hagen, 1877, p. 137
Si fas est ludos abiectis ducere curis
Est aliquis, mentem quo recreare queas.
Quem si scire velis, huc cordis dirige gressum,
Inter complacitos hic tibi primus erit.
Non dolus ullus inest, non sunt periuria fraudis,[5]
Non laceras corpus membra vel ulla tui.
Non soluis quicquam nec quemquam soluere cogis;
Certator nullus insidiosus erit.
Quicquid damnoso perfecerit alea ludo,
Hic refugit totum simplicitate sui.[10]
If it's a fact [divine law?] that games lead to abandoned [thrown away] concerns, there's something that can refresh mind. That if you want to understand, you should direct [arrange] the mind so far, among the pleasures it will be first to you. There's not any deceit in, there are not perjuries of fraud, [5]
nor you tear apart the body or any part of you [?]. Neither you pay anything, nor you force anyone to pay [solve, loosen ??]; No competitor will be cunning. Whatever makes dice [alea] an injurious game, it avoids it totally by its simplicity. [10]

[a translation of these lines is also given by Robert Bubczyk, in Games and Gaming in Medieval Literature /Ludus inhonestus et illicitus, p. 29, but it seemed to me a little more free than I wanted and tried it by myself]

Isn't it a little apologizing?! Or at least one can say that the poem is justifying chess compared to dice. This is strongly underlined [and causes many thoughts] by the title of the copied shorter version of the next MS 319, where however these lines are missing. De aleae ratione... on the method [play] of dice.


2. Alea... chess & dice

We learn from Murray that in the late middle ages in Europe, a confusion had occurred between chess & dice [=alea, by this was meant all the games played by dice], mostly around restrictions that catholic church had enforced. But first things first.

Dice [alea in latin, κύβοι in greek], and further of course gambling, had been an illicit avocation [in slightest words blamable] within church, orthodox and catholic, since 5th century at least. In the Canons of the Apostles [a 4th century Syrian Christian text] there was a provision concerning dice, that could bring dismissal or suspension for both clergy or laity. These Canons became corpus in the Eastern Orthodox Church through the Quinisext Council in 692 AD, that Catholic church never accepted it. However, in the western Christianity, most of these rules had been already incorporated since their translation in Latin by Dionysius Exiguus, c. 500 AD, including the dice rule [Collectiones canonum Dionysianae].

from Kassel, Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek, MS 4° theol. 1, f 9r, Translation from 42. Let a bishop, or presbyter, or deacon who indulges himself in dice or drinking, either leave off those practices, or let him be deprived. 43. If a sub-deacon, a reader, or a singer does the like, either let him leave off, or let him be suspended; and so for one of the laity.

The prohibition of the dice had been repeated many times in church decrees, something that according to many writers underlines the difficulty of its enforcement. But a connection between dice & chess comes in 1061 AD, when Petrus Damiani [benedictine monk and the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia], with a letter to the Pope-elect Alexander II, requests permission to withdraw to a monastery [full latin text in Sancti Petri Damiani Opera omnia, 1783, vol3, p. 441]. There he describes a scene between him and the Bishop of Florence:

Petrus Damiani, after learning of a previous chess game played by the Bishop of Florence, is strictly rebuking him, reminding him the alea prohibition. Bishop of Florence argues that there's a difference between alea and chess. Then Petrus underlines that "The decree does not mention scachus but includes the class of either game under the name of alea." And the Florentian Bishop admitted his mistake.

Murray devotes some paragraphs [p. 409], trying to analyze and understand this confusion between chess and dice. And in his words concludes: "There is only one conclusion possible to explain the discussion, to make the Cardinal's argument worthy of so skilled a dialectician, and to justify the Bishop's speedy submission, and that is that the two disputants knew chess as a game that was often played with the help of the dice."

Peter Damian, known as a reformer of his time, had fought against corruption and scandals of the clergy. Of this point of view, his chess approach could agree with his personality. But was he so narrow thinking, so he couldn't distinguish between a dice-game and a non-dice-game?! Even if we take for granted the alea prohibition, I couldn't easily accept that the direct conclusion of a very strict man of the church is the complete prohibition of all games, under the fear of dice.

This fear of dice could be considered severe. As Jenny Adams writes: "Dice was almost always associated with gambling, and as such it had particular resonance with the clergy, who often reminded their parishioners that soldiers gambled at the foot of the cross for Christ's seamless robe after dividing his clothes. Like the threat gambling poses to the political body, gambling in this instance metaphorically threatens to divide the unified Church, represented here by Christ's mystical body." [in Power Play, p. 49]. But there should be something more, and this thought was raising in my mind, as Damiani's chess approach wasn't a unique case. Decrees followed prohibiting chess. Maybe an answer lies in a very old and unique play Le jeu de St Nicolas...

Le jeu de St Nicolas, written around 1200 AD by Jean Bodel, is considered the first non-liturgical play in French. I won't get into the plot, but I have to mention that the play has caused some interest for the described in it dice games [check eg Dice Games.. by Carolyn Dinshaw, PMLA Vol. 95, No. 5 (Oct., 1980), pp. 802-811 in jstor].

Around verse 1074 we can find a scene, where 3 thieves are talking in a tavern. One, Pincedes, is urging an other, Rasoir, to play, throwing the dice on a chessboard.

from MS Français 25566, f. 78v // Pincedes: Rasoir, commenche pour les des. Ne ja nus l’eschekier ne moeve [in archiveorg]

The scene is described quite normally, without any specification, as it's expected to play the dice on a chessboard! Sarah Melhado White, commenting this verse, writes: "The raised sides of the medieval chessboard made it a convenient place to throw dice" [Lancelot on the gameboard by Sarah Melhado White, French Forum Vol. 2, No. 2 (May 1977), pp. 99-109 in jstor].

So we are in front of a habit of the dice players [aleatores]?! But why a chessboard? Just convenient? If we remember the alea prohibition even for the laity, what if the chessboard was used as a dice-throw blanket of the time at the beginnings of the prohibition, so the dice couldn't be heard? Meaning that the dice players were hiding their illicit avocation, pretending that were chess players, and this habit was established! Leading in the end to an identification between dice and chess players! I think that it could be... but in any case the scene connects dice and chess with a tavern as background!

The tavern was considered to be a place for gamblers. Robert Bubczyk attracts our attention in a passage written by Robert Mannyng, English chronicler and Gilbertine monk [c. 1303 AD]: "As a gambler, Who frequents the tavern, or were to any similar place, To play at chess or at tables..." [in Games and Gaming, p. 24 //original text in Handlyng Synne p. 38]. A tavern that "... tends to evoke the lower classes, since such institutions were rarely frequented by the aristocracy", as Tamsyn Rose - Steel writes [in Games and Gaming, p. 107].

Petrus Damiani & St Louis IX, king of France, from pics around the web


3. Chess under persecution

Even if my previous thought about chess and dice connection isn't correct, church surely hadn't the best opinion about taverns. Or as Andrew Cowell writes: "As a center of vice and a social disrupter of Christian brotherhood and charity, the tavern was ideally suited to be a kind of hell on earth for the church" [At Play in the Tavern, p. 46]. Keeping this in mind, we see Petrus Damiani considering chess as a vanity [scacchorum vanitate], but also inhonestum and absurdum game for a priest. This vanity of chess is repeated as a term and by Alexander Neckam, an English scholar, teacher, theologian and abbot of Cirencester Abbey, in his De naturis rerum, c. 1180 AD.

Alexander Neckam De Naturis Rerum Trinity College MS R.16.4, f. 103r
Alexander Neckam in archiveorg
Sed ad vanitatem ludi scaccorum redeamus, cui tantam diligentiam adhibent ludentes ac si magnum emolumentum ex victoria essent consecuturi. But lets return to the vanity of the game of chess, to how much diligence players show and if they obtain a big advantage from victory.

Possibly under this point of view a number of church decrees appeared, banning chess along with alea. They were quite fewer than the rest that forbade only dice, and I find it unlikely that under the name alea chess was included, as there were significant decrees mentioning chess.

I searched in the decrees of the catholic church and beyond Murray, and found the following, that I can categorize in two main groups, primarily based on the location, secondly on the language's style they used.

[main source for these texts were the volumes of Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio by Giovanni Domenico MANSI, 1758-1798, that can be tracked through]


3.1 French empire

The first prohibition comes in 1197 when Eudes de Sully, Archbishop of Paris, published his statutes. We should focus on two articles, 65 & 81. Firstly 81, that Murray also mentions, forbids the priests [sacerdotibus] to have chess sets, along with dice, in their houses. Unfortunately I couldn't check all the relative MSS [some couldn't be found, some unclear], but I surely can tell that this article is omitted in some [eg Corpus Christi College, MS 317 that is the clearest concerning its appearance]. However exists in the official edition, and in MANSI too. Article 65 has a little more complex interpretation. Firstly it prohibits to play the game of dice, while I found that in some MSS the term scaciis was added. The term scaciis doesn't appear in the so-called more official editions or in MANSI. Biggest problem for me is to whom the prohibition addresses?! Prohibetur penitus universis sacerdotibus... = It is forbidden to all inner clerics...[??]. How to explain the term penitus=inner? As monks, or something similar? Anyway...

[great help was Les statuts de Paris et le synodal de l' ouest (XIIIe siecle) by Odette Pontal, 1971, that can be found in gallica digital library].

from MS Latin 15005, f. 76v // Art.81: Et ne in suis domibus habeant scacos vel aleas vel decios omnino prohibetur.
from MS Latin 14470 f. 182r // Art.65: Prohibetur penitus universis sacerdotibus ludere cum deciis aut scaciis et in[ter]esse spectaculis vel coreis assistere et intrare tabernas causa potandi.

In 1212, and after Eudes' de Sully death, Concilium Parisiensis publishes its statutes. The text is grouped in 4 parts, 1st Ad clericos sæculares, 2nd Ad viros regulares, 3rd Ad moniales, 4th Ad archiepiscopus. In the 2nd we can find the clear prohibition of chess along with many other things, like dice or women, but to whom it addresses again?! Ad viros regulares = canonical men, in opposition to clericos sæculares = secular priests?! In the other three parts, this clear prohibition doesn't exist. Similar pattern appears and in the Concilium Rotomagensis [Rouen] of 1214.

And we come in 1255 and the Concilium Biterrense [Beziers], where Saint Louis IX, King of France, forbids chess, possibly for all, clergy and laity. The statutes of Beziers 1255 [composed after Louis' return from a crusade] were in most cases a repetition of a Paris decree of the end of 1254 and were a try for moral reformation, bearing the title Statuta Sancti Ludovici Francorum regis, pro reformatione morum... But in the 1254 decree chess and games were prohibited only to state officers [ballivi nostri // check also La France sous Saint Louis et sous Philippe le Hardi by Lecoy de La Marche, 1893, p. 73]!? Anyway...

From Beziers 1255
Præterea prohibemus districtius quod nullus omnino ad taxillos ludat , sive aleis, sive scacis. Scholas etiam deciorum prohibemus & prohiberi volumus omnino, & tenentes eas districtius puniantur. Fabrica autem deciorum prohibeatur ubique. Further we forbid strictly that no one at all plays taxillos, nor dice, nor chess. We also forbid dice-schools [?] & we want to forbid entirely & in order to restrain them they will be strictly punished. So the dice avocation is forbidden everywhere.

I think that his main target was the dice! I don't know if this kind of policy was continued and for how long. However I must say that in a following Synodus Claromontensis [Clermont] of 1268, dice were prohibited again but chess wasn't mentioned. While writer Jeffrey Richards considers that the above program was "unworkable" and afterwards modified, but speaking mainly about prostitution [in Sex, Dissidence and Damnation, p. 122].


3.2 Holy roman-german empire

Here things are clearer. The pattern is that clerics should have an honest life without public shows etc, while chess along with other hobbies are forbidden to monks and nuns. Concilium Moguntinum [Mainz] of 1261 & 1310 and Concilium Trevirense [Trier] of 1227, 1277 & 1310. This was underlined in Concilium Pragensis [Prague] of 1355, where clerics should avoid alea but monks and nuns chess too.


3.3 Great Britain

A special mention should be made around Synodus Wigorniensis of 1240 [Worcester III], of Bishop Walter de Cantilupe. In the constitutions, along with alea is prohibited the Ludos de Rege et Regina. Some claimed that the games of King and Queen were meant to be chess [eg Joseph Strutt in his Sports and Pastimes, 1833, p. lx]. But it has also been suggested, more convincingly, that it was the King and Queen of the 12th day, a summer feast derived from Saturnalia [Researches Into the History of Playing Cards by Samuel Singer, 1816, p. 4 & The mediaeval stage by E. Chambers, 1903, p. 172]. Murray didn't believe the chess case [p. 410], and probably he was right. Just consider 3 things, firstly the term schachus is already being used in other church decrees, secondly this specific article is referring to ludos [games] de Rege et Regina in plural, and finally the exact verb that is used is nec sustineant = [the priests] should not tolerate [games].


3.4 Templars

A relevant provision prohibiting chess & tables can be found in the Rule of the Temple, too. The Rule originally written in Latin, is attributed to Bernard de Clairvaux, reformer of Benedictine monasticism towards formation of the stricter Cistercian order, and Hugues de Payens, first Grand Master of the Knights Templar. It appeared firstly with 72 articles as a product of the Concilium Tregense of 1128 [Council of Troyes]. It was translated in French some years after 1129, most probably during the mastership of Robert de Craon who was Master of the order between 1136 and 1149. And a little later many articles started to be added. The one of our interest is n. 317, surely a later addition, possibly of c. 1185 AD. [see The Rule of the Templars by J. M. Upton-Ward, p. 12 & The Central Convent of Hospitallers and Templars by Jochen Burgtorf, p. 10].

Regle du Temple from MS Français 1977, f. 56v // As eschas ni a tables nul frère dou Temple ne doit juer, ne as eschaçons ~ from // I don't know but these eschas and tables reminded me the French translation of William of Tyre, mentioned in a previous blog.

However there was an other provision in Liber ad milites templi, a book-letter written by Bernard de Clairvaux, surely during the days of Hugues de Payens [1120-1136], according to Gil McHattie "after the Council at the request of Hugues de Payens" [The Knights Templar, p. 44], where, Scacos et aleas detestantur = they detest [avoid] chess and dice [cap. IV, art. 7].


4. Some medieval texts under the light of chess persecution

Chess prohibition seems that was addressed mainly to monks and nuns, or generally to monastic orders, something that troubled a little my mind, as, according to what I know, monastic communities of the time are mainly governed by the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia, a rule written as a guide for individual, autonomous, self-governing communities. Anyway... However, chess persecution can bring some light, or at least can add an other point of view, concerning the interpretation & approach of some medieval texts.


4.1 The Innocent Morality or Quaedam moralitas de scaccario

Firstly let's take a look on a noticeable short text, called by Murray the Innocent Morality. It's of english origin and it resembles the world with a chessboard. The rules of the medieval chess were following, but with some comments in it. Before anything else, here're some highlights of it.

from Harley MS 2253, f. 136r, early 14th century
from from Corpus Christi MS 177, f. 27r, 15th century
Alphini vero sunt episcopi, non ut Moyses ex colloquio divino, set potius regio imperio prece vel pretio sublimati et sic promoti. In fact Alphini are bishops, not like Moses from divine conversation [interview?], but rather of an imperial place's [region?] request or of raised and advanced reward [price].

Generally Bishops' oblique move is explained by their corruption [of hatred, love, office service, favors], while in later MSS Alphini are also the pope, archbishops and bishops with horns. Not such a positive aspect! After describing their move, few lines above, these Alphini...:

Sic diabolum ditant, unde qui debuerunt esse viciorum extirpatores, iam per cupiditatem facti sunt viciorurm promotores, et diaboli procuratores. Thus they reinforce [enrich?] Devil, from which they should uproot crimes, but already by greed [desire?] they have become crime promoters and Devil agents.

Queen's move, that is the medieval salant one, is explained in terms of misogyny. "As women's nature is greedy, she captures nothing but by robbery and injustice, unless it's given by gratitude" [=quia cum auarissimum sit genus mulierum, nichil capit nisi mere detur ex gratia nisi rapina et iniusticia]. All other chess pieces aren't described in such negative terms. King & Rook are great, Knight is a little in the middle, while pawns are seemed just doomed. It's possibly the oblique move, that is translated into something evil [check also Jenny Adams, Power Play, p. 43-45].

The text concludes describing check and mate with the more interesting way. Here the devil gives check and the man must cover so not to get mated. As when he gets mated, there's no redemption in hell [??].

from Harley MS 2253, f. 136r, early 14th century //In isto autem ludo diabolus dicit eschek, insultando vel percuciendo aliquem peccati iaculo qui (sit) percussus nisi cicius dicat liqueret, ad penitenciam et cordis compunctioni transeundo, diabolus dicit ei Mat, animam secum ail tartara deducendo, ubi non liberabitur, nec prece, nec pretio, quia in inferno nulla est redemptio.

Prime targets of this text seem to be clerics and women [the only pieces that changed their moves!]. But we surely are in front of a pure chess demonization! The defeated will lose his soul! Chess as a battle for one's soul or just an evil game full of devil's trickery?!

The text was called by Murray the Innocent morality, as one of the possible authors, that the MSS indicated, was Pope Innocent III. Well I don't know if a Pope would express such an opinion about clerics! And this as the opposition isn't between chess Bishops and actual Bishops, but between Bishops and Moses. The other, indicated by MSS, author is John of Wales, a Franciscan theologian of the 13th century. Franciscan order seemed to be very strict, teaching extreme poverty and lack of property for its members. An opposition to the clerics' status could agree with these teachings.

from from Corpus Christi MS 177, f. 27r, 15th century //indicating Pope Innocent III as author

The more realistic suggestion of John of Wales as author is also made by writer Kristin Juel, excluding the Pope and attracting our attention to a 1931 article by Lynn Thorndike, where an other MS of the poem is given, Balliol College MS 274 [in flickr]. In this MS there's a big extension at the end of the poem. [Kristin Juel, Chess in the Middle Ages /Defeating the Devil, p. 87, & Lynn Thorndike, All the World's a Chess-Board, Speculum Vol. 6, No. 3 (Jul., 1931), pp. 461-465 in jstor].

The text in Balliol College MS 274


4.2 MS Latin 3719 ~ the Deventer poem

In a previous forum, I've exposed two pages of a latin manuscript of French origin, containing the so-called by Murray Deventer poem. A poem of the early medieval chess didactic literature, describing the early chess rules. This composite manuscript is dated around the end of 12th - start of 13th century, and it isn't mentioned by Murray. It's attributed to Bernard Itier [1163-1225], monk and librarian of the Abbey Saint-Martial of Limoges [The Charm of a List by Lucie Doležalová, p. 84]. The Abbey Saint-Martial of Limoges was the basis of the medieval music school of Saint-Martial. The MS contains and other music texts and pieces.

MS latin 3719, ff.91v-92r [31 lines // without title // red sq. left and right indicate the poem's start and end]

One thing that attracted my attention is the structure of the page that contains the poem. The poem starts a little above the center of the page, as a solid continuation of the previous text. The previous text is possibly a recipe preserving the voice, while on the head of the page is written with bigger and more intense letters "Si claram vocem semper vis hic habere..." [=If you want always to have a clear voice...].

My first thought was that this poem could be part of the curriculum of the music school. It could be... but under the light of a chess persecution, an other idea occurred. One, looking quickly on the page, can't identify the poem. Must focus. As the eyes are attracted by the bigger head line of the voice recipe... What if it was the author's intention to hide the poem between irrelevant writings?!

An extreme approach, I know. And looking in Chroniques de Saint-Martial de Limoges [including Itier's], I couldn't find something towards this. But just remember the Einsiedeln MS case! However, all I can say is that it comes along somehow with the history of the time. Limoges, city of the Duchy of Aquitaine, was under the control of the English Angevin Empire, until the Anglo-French War of 1213–1214, where Philip II of France won and attached the territory into the Kingdom of France. Chess prohibitions had mainly a local enforcement & Paris hadn't yet the place of a head church in France. However, a chess demonization can be generally tracked, as we have already seen, leading to the total prohibition of St Louis IX in 1255.


4.3 Gautier de Coincy, Les miracles de Nostre Dame

Around the period of 1215-1235, Gautier de Coincy was a French abbot, poet and musical arranger, devoted to the cult of the Virgin Mary. Being a prior of Vic-sur-Aisne, he compiled a big poem under the title Les Miracles de Nostre-Dame. A long passage in it, describing an allegorical game of chess between God and Devil, has been material for many chess historians, including of course Murray.

from MS NAF 24541, f. 3v, early 14th century, Gautier de Coincy, Les miracles de Nostre Dame
Translation given by Mark N. Taylor in Chess in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age /How Did the Queen Go Mad? p. 176
Autres [fierces] ne vont qu’un tot seul point,
Mais ceste cort si tost et point
Qu’ainc qu’anemis ait del sien pris,
L’a si lacié et si souspris
Ne seit quel part traire se doie.
Ceste fierce le mate en roie,
Ceste fierce la mate en l’angle,
Ceste fierce li tolt la jangle,
Ceste fierce li tolt sa proie,
Ceste fierce toz jors l’aspoie,
Ceste fierce toz jors le point,
Ceste fierce de point en point
Par fine force le dechace.
Other ferses move but one square, but this one invades so quickly and sharply that before the devil has taken any of hers, she has him so tied up and so worried that he doesn’t know where he should move. This fers mates him in straight lines; this fers mates him at an angle [or, in the corner]; this fers takes away his bad-mouthing; this fers takes away his prey; this fers always torments him; this fers always goads him; this fers drives him out from square to square by superior strength.

The use of the term fierce, and not dame or reine etc, troubled me a little. Fierce was usually used to describe the promoted pawn in opposition to the original reine in France [in the previously mentioned Deventer poem too]. Anyway...

It's obvious why this passage is so interesting for the chess historian. We are in the early 13th century, and we are dealing with a queen of the modern chess. Murray writes [p. 749] that "The last extract from Gautier de Coincy shows conclusively that the Fers had only its weak Muslim move". But Mark N. Taylor convincingly proposes that it's a "King's hunt" and it's the King that moves from square to square. However, it must be admitted that the term "ceste fierce" [=this fers] is underlying an opposition with the autres. Meaning that an other fierce is not moving like this, only God's does?!?

In this excerpt Marily Yalom found the justification she was searching, probably towards the connection of the birth of the modern chess queen with the cult of the Virgin Mary and the rise of the political power of women in the 15th century of western Europe [Birth of the Chess Queen, chapt. 7]. Mark Taylor, examining the possible move development of chess Queen and Bishop, goes further writing: "As we have seen, the fers began to change her movement first in the medieval imagination over the course of a few centuries. Thus, it is reasonable to see the fers-move shift first to the bishop-move, and that the alfin’s shift to the bishop-move occurred as or after the fers had shifted further to the queen-move. What we cannot know, however, is whether these changes occurred in actual play over the course of a century, a decade, a month, or a single day."

But the opposition between ceste fierce and autres is something that deserves some attention, too, I think. A free interpretation can lead to the thought that Coincy is speaking about a local variant of chess, an assize, and an actual birth of the modern chess queen. But we are in the early 1200s after banning of chess in Paris and Rouen for clerics. Vic-sur-Aisne is between Paris and Reims, and possibly not under Paris' control. I think it belonged to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Soissons, suffragan to the Archdiocese of Reims. So is it a covered provocative irony?!

Approaching the text by letter the opposition lies between the God's queen and the actual chess queen. More convincing! The general chess demonization, that can be found within church, comes to justify this preference to one Queen compared to the other. The Cult of Virgin Mary is better than chess! Something that maybe underlines the chess expansion. But also comes to comfort the recently restricted priests. The same timing of both events is hard to believe that occurred by coincidence.

If that's the case, chess restriction gave the motive to the medieval mind, for the imaginary birth of the modern chess queen! Unless it wasn't a parthenogenesis, and Gautier was inspired from something he had seen... who can tell?

Gautier de Coincy looking for inspiration...


4.4 Elegia de ludo Scachorum ~ MS Clm 14836

This part comes mainly as a connective link to the next.

Murray, in his chapter Early Didactic Literature, gives a 12th c. poem with the title Elegia de ludo Scachorum. Here Bishop has the old move, as it's expected, but it's obscure concerning the Queen, describing her really strong but in a general way...

Murray gives the following latin...
Rex manet incaptus, subtracta coniuge solus,
Coniuge subtracta, nil valet in tabula.
King remains uncaptured, alone after wife is removed, After wife is removed, nothing is of value on the table

This nil valet is really strong. I searched in the available MSS, but I couldn't track it. Murray should have used as basis MS Digby 53 of 12th cent. that I can't find online. Mentioned by Murray, later versions give here rex manet [= king remains] instead. While, possibly intermediately or firstly, there's the version of nil manet [= nothing remains], version that poetically has the same meaning with nil valet. Happily here's an MS of the 12th century too.

from MS Clm 14836, f. 41r. Older name MS Mun. Emeram K 6
On a previous verse and speaking of the pawn promotion, the poem also gives:
Vir factus mulier regiferus arbiter heret,
Imperat et regnat, hinc capit inde labat.
Man becoming a woman with royal power, remains master, Governs and rules, hence captures, from there is loosened[?]

pawn promotion in the poem, the last two lines are translated above

"The writer could hardly have said more had he been writing of the Queen in the reformed game, with her greatly extended power of move"... according to Murray [p. 509], but few lines afterwards adds: "it may be due to moralizing influences". Taylor thinks that the poem should be more significant than just having moralizing influences.


4.5 Jacobus de Cessolis & the moralizing chess allegory

Towards the end of 13th century a unique chess book appeared, a moralizing allegory. De moribus hominum et de officiis nobilium super ludo scaccorum. Author was Jacobus de Cessolis, a Dominican friar, possibly born in Cessole with connections with Lombardy, but mostly activated in Genoa, NW Italy. Who, according to the prologue, wrote the book "persuaded by the requests of many brothers of our order and of different secular people". Summarizing, this widespread book was dealing with chess as an allegory of the society, where each piece, even each pawn separately, was representing professions, ranks & social classes, indicating a proper manner of behavior. Although it's a detailed essay, it's noticeable that no game is given, even as an allegory. Something that maybe indicates that Cessolis hadn't much confidence as a player.

Jenny Adams, in her Power Play [p. 23 and after], attracts rightfully our attention to the political background of the time. We are at Genoa, during the last quarter of the 13th century, in the middle of the rivalry between the fractions of the Guelves and the Ghibellines. "The Guelfs, the party of the tradesmen or popolo, supported the Church over lay authority, while the Ghibellines, usually made up of nobles, felt contrarily." It was mainly expressed as a conflict of the Pope against the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany, but not exclusively. Main union of the Guelves was the Lombard League, and Genoa was considered mostly a Guelf city.

It would be expected that Cessolis, being of the Dominican order [approved by the Pope since 1216], should probably be considered of the Guelfs. However, Adams writes that he "does not feel the need to engage in these debates: he feels free to reimagine the state in a way that broke with past representations of the political order, which had imagined the state as a human body" [p. 26], while Dario Del Puppo writes that "his opening declaration highlights his role as a mediator" [Chess in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age /The Limits of Allegory p. 223].

However, keeping some distance would be more effective for Cessolis. The fact that he gives such details for pawns separately on the basis of their professions, and writing in the familiar pawn movement chapter that "no one must look down on the common people, because we read that they, through virtue and grace, have arrived as the status of emperor or pope" [Adams' translation, p. 55], possibly with the pawn promotion rule in mind, should be considered. As they are indicating at least a Guelf background.

MS Reg. Lat. 430, f. 99v //Nemo ergo tales populares despiciat, quia tam ad imperium quam ad summum pontificatum, virtutibus et gratiis, legimus eos pervenisse

The previous Cessolis' passage possibly comes in opposition with an other writing by Adams. In an effort to date the book before 1296 AD, when a disagreement between the Pope and Philip IV of France occurred, Adams writes: "... [Jacobus] would have realized that a treatise addressing a monarch's power (without any acknowledgment of the papacy) might be seen as endorsing a secular rule unfettered by papal restrictions" [p. 26]. Obscure, clearer maybe in p. 24 where: "his decision to minimize the clergy's role on the board - the pieces commonly known as bishops are portrayed in the Liber as a community's judges - reflects the Church's decreased power over secular affairs".

But the previous pawn promotion allegory sets the place of the ruler next to the Pope's and not above. And I don't know if it would be better for Cessolis to deal with the placing of Bishops on the chessboard. Leaving them outside is more convenient, as in any case chess Bishops are under King. While it implies that clergy is above and beyond the chessboard. Anyway...

Something really interesting is that Cessolis seems to know the existence of many chess variants. It's mentioned in the end of the prologue, as he's writing about the reasons that chess was invented....

MS Reg. Lat. 430, f. 74r
Ludum variarum et innumerabilium rationum plenum invenit; propter multitudinem rationum et variarum similitudinum ac ingenia bellorum in eo decertantibus famosus fuit. [He] invents a game full of varieties and innumerable methods[or rules]; and it became famous, cause of the great number of rules and varieties and of the resemblance to the war art, in which they are fighting.

So Cessolis picked an assize to show. Probably the one of Lombard chess, but he knew that he had a choice. The assize he picked, was serving probably his writing and teaching purposes. As Bishops couldn't fit in his allegory, would an almighty Queen if she already existed?

MS Reg. Lat. 430, f. 74r //this MS has of the most beautiful illustrations, of the latin ones

On Queen's move there're many versions in MSS with slight differences, all with the same meaning. He underlines fragile Queen's nature and continues with the description of her weak move, square to square and only diagonally. Afterwards he wonders...:

MS Reg. Lat. 430, f. 97v
Sed hic quaeritur, cur regina bellis exponatur, cum condictio mulierum sit debilis et fragilis. But this is asked, why queen is exposed at wars, as women's condition is weak and fragile. the answer that it's a custom for men in war to bring wives and the whole family in the camp.

Possibly he's against this custom, and maybe against queen piece on the chessboard, too. Could a modern chess queen fit with this allegory, even in the future?

The fact is however, that after the chess restrictions for the clerics since 1198 AD [but not in Italy], we have a clear text [maybe for a first time] that justifies chess, coming from a man of the approved Dominican order, representing somehow church. And made me wonder if chess was chosen as a means for Cessolis' treatise, with this thought additionally. To justify a moralized version of chess that can be played by the clergy too. It could be... unless it was a declaration that in Italy chess is embraced by the Domenican order [and the church] in opposition to other states. In any case I think that with this book, the chess persecution & demonization by church started to be loosened... but maybe binding chess rules into an official medieval form for some time.

Typical example of the latter could be MS Latin 10286, 14th century, where the chess treatise of Nicolas de Nicolai, a Picard monk, is presented. Nicolas' treatise is mainly a copy of the Italian Bonus Socius work of 13th century, containing many medieval problems. In the MS is following a French translation of Cessolis' book by Jean de Vignay, a friar [Murray, p. 621]. An other is MS Français 24274 of 15th century, where the french translation of Cessolis' work by Jean Ferron, friar too, is followed by medieval problems of the Bonus Socius and Civis Bononiae work [Murray p. 719]. It's noticeable that all the involved were French men of religion.


5. In the end towards a Mad Queen

Middle ages were coming to an end. During the period between 1350 and 1450 AD, I don't know if any really new text or poem around chess was published, that wasn't a copy of a previous one. With an exception maybe of medieval problem collections. In the second half of 15th century the first chess texts of the modern game appeared. Four of them have survived: Lucena's Repetición de Amores, the Catalan-Valencian poem Scachs d'amor, the Göttingen MS that Murray writes was of French origin & possibly the only morality of the modern game Le Jeu des esches de la dame moralisé. Italy, France and Spain are claiming to be the country where the new game made its first appearance. But nothing is trully certain. Neither concerning exact dates. But the strongest fight, around the writing dates, seems to be between Scachs d'amor & Le Jeu des esches de la dame moralisé, c. 1475 AD.

It's noticeable that Scachs d'amor and the Göttingen MS are dealing only with the new game as it would be known enough. While Lucena & Dame Moralise are underlining the difference between the old and the new game. No one says where, when or by whom the new game was invented, even in a legend. Something that maybe indicates a folk creation. However, Lucena mentions some journeys he made in Rome, and generally in Spain, Italy and France.

It's noted that in the new morality this lack of knowledge is connected with the name of the new game, dame enragee, and possibly as an opposition to the title of the book, jeu [de la dame] moralise [=Touttefois l'invention est à moi estrange à cause que il s'appelle de la dame enragée. Et croy que c'est le tiltre que aucuns ont baillé qui estoient hommes indiscrets.].

Le Jeu des esches de la dame moralisé, copy of the Add MS 15820 in the Cleveland Digital Public Library

This new morality describes a game played by a lady and the Devil for her soul, that in the end the lady won. Far more optimistic than the writings in the Innocent Morality of 13th century as we've seen above [further reading Kristin Juel, Chess in the Middle Ages /Defeating the Devil, p. 87 and after].

The fact that the other chess texts of the time, are dealing with the game as something known, and expressions like Lucena's "the game we play now, the so called dela dama" [=el juego que agora jugamos que se dize déla dama], are surely implying that the new game has already some expansion & acceptance during the previous years. In Göttingen MS, dated between 1470-1520 AD, openings & instructions are given on how the new game should be played, without any reference on the old one or the rules of the new one. Probably it is addressing to someone who knew the rules.

Mark Taylor, in the effort to examine the move development of Queen and Bishop, considers as more possible that this took place in stages giving the lead to the Queen's move first change [p. 182]. In the present blog, trying to see chess game under the church persecution, I've noticed that a contrario, it would be Bishop that needed to change firstly his move, as he was demonized the most in the Innocent Morality and as in Cessolis' work was possibly left outside cause of his weaker move and place on the chessboard. But if a stronger Bishop had already appeared, wouldn't this be mentioned by the men of religion, who so generously gave to us the majority of chess texts?! Or he would be considered still weak compared to rook or king?!

The above led my thought to the possibility that the move changes occurred outside church & chess texts, where there was no need for an almighty Bishop, maybe even in a tavern! This would also justify a previous move development without texts. Chess texts were mostly written by men of religion. And it was in Dario Del Puppo that I've found maybe the link I was missing. He's writing about Cessolis: "It would appear in fact that noblemen are Jacobus’ primary audience" [p. 224].

Yes, who was the audience of any chess text?! It's primarily nobility and secondly clergy. Surely not common people, who maybe can't obtain such text or even read it at the time [middle ages]. And who certainly would learn about any variant of chess by playing, possibly in a tavern!

This can imply two things. Either that church was trying to impose a certain aspect of the game to the nobility, or that changes occurred outside both clergy and nobility, by common people, playing the game in a tavern.

Of this point of view, the morality of the modern chess [Le Jeu des esches de la dame moralisé] shows maybe some sense of humor.

Concluding Taylor writes [p. 183]:

"One need not even agree with my thesis to understand that, although we don’t know precisely how the queen took on her modern movement, any more than we know where this first occurred, or under what circumstances or influences, this research indicates that a tentative conclusion based on Murray’s work is not assured. Students of chess history are incredibly fortunate to have such a comprehensive work of solid scholarship. The down side is that the size and weight of this monument tends to inhibit further study. Murray is so good and so complete and so enduring that it is easy to fall into overdependence, to lack a sufficiently strong imperative to redo his work. I think it is safe to say that we do not even know to what extent Murray’s ninety-nine year-old work needs to be revised. My investigation suggests that we must return to the medieval texts and read them afresh. In some cases we need to return to the manuscripts and reedit a text before we can reread it."

It was this quote that gave me the motive to search and write this blog. I hope that offered something...

... and surely that you've enjoyed it as much as I did.

first publication on May 26, 2019, updated on Aug 14, 2020 just for typing errors


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