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Chess History : The Queen

Chess History : The Queen

Sep 15, 2013, 5:24 PM 8

Ever since when the book titled "Birth of the Chess Queen" by Marilyn Yalom (published in 2001) was recommended to me a year ago, my interest in chess increased vastly, particularly the queen chess piece. 

The earliest forms of chess, particularly the Indian and Persian precursor games, thanks to google search, the names and capabilities of the pieces are not the names we are accustomed to today. "The game of Kings we have today is due to an evolution of many centuries" ~ H.J.R Murray, but namely the evolution of the Queens role on the chess board. 

For instance after searching the web for a while, I read that the pieces of the ancient Indian chess game were first named in India by Ratnakara in his Haravijaya (circa 850), according to H.J.R. Murray in his "A History of Chess" (Oxford 1913), "India was and still remains poor for achaeological findings and it is not before the end of the 16th century that the oldest piece is known". 

Heres a comprehensive list of conjonctural names of pieces in the primitive game :











Vazir1, Rani2


Mantri1, Rani2










Ghora5, Na'ita





Nouka7, Ruka



Pyada, Sainik


Bore, Pana









The king acting as the king, the queen in this variations acting as the minister, the bishop as an elephant according to wiki, the knight as the horse, the rook as the chariot and finally the pawn as what can be assumed to be a footsoldier. Murray also explains that the pieces have had different and varying moves allocated to each piece throughout time. The link above will provide you an in-depth view of how the original chess pieces moved. 

The moves of the King have remained pretty much the same, a single in any direction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King). The only modern innovation being the castling technique. 

There are many online reviews and references to Ms Yaloms book: The Birth of the Chess Queen including on chess.com, if you have not been introduced to an insightful informational walkthrough of female monarchs influence on chess, then allow me to now.

The first segment to Marilyns thesis which caught my eye was in the introduction where she wrote:"...I became fascinated with the chess queen as an icon of female power. How did she come to dominate the chessboard when, in real life, women are almost always in a position of secondary power?". Once I read this I began thinking about the role of women during the medieval times... enslaved, dictated lifestyle and over-worked were the initial thoughts that sprung to mind, I too now shared a similar stance to Marilyn, I wonder if and how the role of women in society influenced the development of the chess queen. Visit http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_women.htm formore information.

Ms Yalom quotes portions of H.J.R. Murrays work A History of Chess "The piece we call the "Queen" today was originally called the "fers"or advisor" (Birth of the Chess Queen), after researching the piece, I quickly gathered it was one of the most weakest pieces and it was only till the 15th century until new revisions were made to what we now understand as the Queen piece. So during medieval times the value of "women" was accurately presented and conveyed to the game. Hence my second knotch of interest was gearing up... so what made it change.

The question which likewise buggered Marilyn for a while was... "why?", it kindled a similar inquiry as why was the Queen piece so undervalued and how did the pieces limited potential play (in comparison to other pieces) come about to become the powerfullest, I certainly don't know for sure but I found Marilyn Yalom's "Birth of the Chess Queen: A History" for one interesting theory. The author Ms Yalom connected the rise of the chess Queen with the rise of female monarchs in Europe...interested? Read on...

According Ms Yalom, the queen became the most powerful piece back in c.1475 because of the likes of Elizabeth I (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England), Catherine of Aragon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_of_Aragon), Isabella of Castile (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabella_I_of_Castile), Mary Tudor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Tudor,_Queen_of_France), Lady Jane Grey (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Jane_Grey), Countess Ermessenda of Catalonia to name a few, all powerful Queens whose history to this day is not forgotten. 

Ms Yalom claims that "the ascent of female sovereigns in Europe and their lives of internal struggle for power plus their medieval courts/politics greatly influenced the chess piece Queen". 

I recommend any chess enthusiast to read Ms Yaloms Birth of the Chess Queen as it sheds light on the general role of women through the 11th - 16th century. I thought it was interesting to see how the game evolved from a vehicle for romance to a more super-concentrated metaphoric warfare challenge and most importantly a snapshot into the lives of some women who went against their "roles"!







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