Sarah's Chess Journal

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         The History and The Culture of Chess

Chess: the Game of Kings
March  2006

according to Anne Sunnuck's Encyclopedia of Chess


Chess is known as The Royal Game, probably because of the numerous historical references to Kings playing or patronizing the game.

                King Canute

English history records that in 1027 King Canute [son of Sweyn Forkbeard] (9951035), believed to be the first English king who played chess, ordered the execution of the Earl Ulf, following an incident at the chessboard. The Earl lost his temper because the King took back a move and overturned the board, an act for which he was condemned to death. Several royal tempers seem to have been lost over the chessboard.

         William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror (10271087) is said to have broken a chessboard over the head of the Prince of France after losing a game, and his youngest son, later King Henry I (10681135), had some chess pieces thrown in his face by the French Dauphin, Louis le Gros, after the Dauphin had lost a game to him.


                      King John

In 1213 King John [John Lackland] insisted on finishing a game of chess before he would give audience to a messenger bringing news of the siege of Rouen, and in 1647 King Charles 1 (16001649) was playing chess when the news was brought to him that the Scots had agreed to surrender him to the English.


Other English monarchs who played chess were
                                           Henry II (11331189)
Richard 1(11571199)
Edward I (12391307)
Henry VI (14211471)
Elizabeth I (15331603)
Charles II (16301685)
George III (17381820)
Victoria (18191901)
Edward VII (18411910)
George V (18651936)
            Prince Leopold
H. R. H. Prince Leopold, later Duke of Albany, was President of Oxford University Chess Club in 1875 and used to play chess with Bird.

              King Knute
Other European monarchs were just as keen as the English monarchy on chess. Alfonso the Wise of Spain (12211284) was a keen player and caused a treatise to be written on the game, while another Spanish King, Philip II (15271598), a great lover of the game, had the first international match played at his court in either 1574 or 1575, between Spain and Italy. Kings Alfonso VI and X of Castile, John I and Martin of Aragon, Louis XIII and Louis Philippe of France and Knut V and Valdemer of Denmark were all keen players. King Knut V was killed while playing chess with Valdemer, by his enemy King Sweyn. Valdemer escaped after defending himself by using the chessboard as a shield.


Ivan the Terrible (15301584), first Tzar of Russia, died at the chess board.

The East also produced chess enthusiasts among its heads of state. In 808, during the siege of Baghdad, the Caliph Al Amoun protested at being disturbed during a game when the news was brought to him that the city was in danger of falling. The Mogul conqueror, Timur the Terrible (13361405) was reputed to have been. a strong player, and the Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Hamid 11(18421918) would never allow affairs of state to interfere with his chess and employed a Hungarian
player as court chess player.

        The Pachesi courtyard Chess garden)of Fatehpur Sikri

The Great Akbar (15421605) had a gigantic board laid out in his palace grounds at Fatehpuri, near Agra, and used real horses, elephants and camels as pieces; and about 300 years ago Shah Jehan [builder of the Taj Mahal] built a chess palace at Jehanpore, using ladies of the harem as pieces and serving boys as Pawns.

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