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102
CHESS

tradition about Irene’s chessmen. With respect to Harun al-Rashid, among the various stories told which connect him with chess, there is one that at first sight may seem entitled to some degree of credit. In the annals of the Moslems by Abulfeda (Abu’l Fida), there is given a copy of a letter stated to be “From Nicephorus, emperor of the Romans, to Harun, sovereign of the Arabs,” which (using Professor Forbes’s translation) after the usual compliments runs thus:—“The empress (Irene) into whose place I have succeeded, looked upon you as a Rukh and herself as a mere Pawn; therefore she submitted to pay you a tribute more than the double of which she ought to have exacted from you. All this has been owing to female weakness and timidity. Now, however, I insist that you, immediately on reading this letter, repay to me all the sums of money you ever received from her. If you hesitate, the sword shall settle our accounts.” Harun’s reply, written on the back of the Byzantine emperor’s letter, was terse and to the point. “In the name of God the merciful and gracious. From Harun, the commander of the faithful, to the Roman dog Nicephorus. I have read thine epistle, thou son of an infidel mother; my answer to it thou shalt see, not hear.” Harun was as good as his word, for he marched immediately as far as Heraclea, devastating the Roman territories with fire and sword, and soon compelled Nicephorus to sue for peace. Now the points which give authority to this narrative and the alleged correspondence are that the relations which they assume between Irene and Nicephorus on the one hand and the warlike caliph on the other are confirmed by the history of those times, while, also, the straightforward brevity of Harun’s reply commends itself as what one might expect from his soldier-like character. Still, the fact must be remembered that Abulfeda lived about five centuries after the time to which he refers. Perhaps we may assume that it is not improbable that the correspondence is genuine; but that the words rukh and pawn may have been substituted for other terms of comparison originally used.

As to how chess was introduced into western and central Europe nothing is really known. The Spaniards very likely received it from their Moslem conquerors, the Italians not improbably from the Byzantines, and in either case it would pass northwards to France, going on thence to Scandinavia and England. Some say that chess was introduced into Europe at the time of the Crusades, the theory being that the Christian warriors learned to play it at Constantinople. This is negatived by a curious epistle of St Peter Damian, cardinal bishop of Ostia, to Pope Alexander II., written about A.D. 1061, which, assuming its authenticity, shows that chess was known in Italy before the date of the first crusade. The cardinal, as it seems, had imposed a penance upon a bishop whom he had found diverting himself at chess; and in his letter to the pope he repeats the language he had held to the erring prelate, viz. “Was it right, I say, and consistent with thy duty, to sport away thy evenings amidst the vanity of chess, and defile the hand which offers up the body of the Lord, and the tongue that mediates between God and man, with the pollution of a sacrilegious game?” Following up the same idea that statutes of the church of Elna, in the 3rd vol. of the Councils of Spain, say, “Clerks playing at dice or chess shall be ipso facto excommunicated.” Eudes de Sully, bishop of Paris under Philip Augustus, is stated in the Ordonn. des Rois de France to have forbidden clerks to play the game, and according to the Hist. Eccles. of Fleury, St Louis, king of France, imposed a fine on all who should play it. Ecclesiastical authorities, however, seemed to have differed among themselves upon the question whether chess was or was not a lawful game according to the canons, and Peirino (De Proelat. chap. 1) holds that it was permissible for ecclesiastics to play thereat. Among those who have taken an unfavourable view of the game may be mentioned John Huss, who, when in prison, deplored his having played at chess, whereby he had lost time and run the risk of being subject to violent passions. Among authentic records of the game may be quoted the Alexiad of the princess Anna Comnena, in which she relates how her father, the emperor Alexius, used to divert his mind from the cares of state by playing at chess with his relatives. This emperor died in 1118.

Concerning chess in England there is the usual confusion between legend and truth. Snorre Sturleson relates that as Canute was playing at chess with Earl Ulf, a quarrel arose, which resulted in the upsetting of the board by the latter, with the further consequence of his being murdered in church a few days afterwards by Canute’s orders. Carlyle, in The Early Kings of Norway, repeats this tale, but van der Linde treats it as a myth. The Ramsey Chronicle relates how bishop Utheric, coming to Canute at night upon urgent business, found the monarch and his courtiers amusing themselves at dice and chess. There is nothing intrinsically improbable in this last narrative; but Canute died about 1035, and the date, therefore, is suspiciously early. Moreover, allowance must be made for the ease with which chroniclers described other games as chess. William the Conqueror, Henry I., John and Edward I. are variously stated to have played at chess. It is generally supposed that the English court of exchequer took its name from the cloth, figured with squares like a chess-board, which covered the table in it (see Exchequer). An old writer says that at the coronation of Richard I. in 1189, six earls and barons carried a chess-board with the royal insignia to represent the exchequer court. According to Edmonson’s Heraldry, twenty-six English families bore chess rooks in their coats of arms.

As regards the individual pieces, the king seems to have had the same move as at present; but it is said he could formerly be captured. His “castling” privilege is a European invention; but he formerly leaped two and even three squares, and also to his Kt 2nd. Castling dates no farther back than the first half of the 16th century. The queen has suffered curious changes in name, sex and power. In shatranj the piece was called farz or firz (also farzan, farzin and farzi), signifying a “counsellor,” “minister” or “general.” This was latinized into farzia or fercia. The French slightly altered the latter form into fierce, fierge, and as some say, vierge, which, if true, might explain its becoming a female. Another and much more probable account has it that whereas formerly a pawn on reaching an eighth square became a farzin, and not any other piece, which promotion was of the same kind as at draughts (in French, dames), so she became a dame or queen as in the latter game, and thence dama, donna, &c. There are old Latin manuscripts in which the terms ferzia and regina are used indifferently. The queen formerly moved only one square diagonally and was consequently the weakest piece on the board. The immense power she now possesses seems to have been conferred upon her so late as about the middle of the 15th century. It will be noticed that under the old system the queens could never meet each other, for they operated on diagonals of different colours. The bishop’s scope of action was also very limited formerly; he could only move two squares diagonally, and had no power over the intermediate square, which he could leap over whether it was occupied or not. This limitation of their powers prevailed in Europe until the 15th century. This piece, according to Forbes, was called among the Persians pil, an elephant, but the Arabs, not having the letter p in their alphabet, wrote it fil, or with their definite article al-fil, whence alphilus, alfinus, alifiere, the latter being the word used by the Italians; while the French perhaps get their fol and fou from the same source. The pawns formerly could move only one square at starting; their powers in this respect were increased about the early part of the 16th century. It was customary for them on arriving at an eighth square to be exchanged only for a farzin (queen), and not any other piece; the rooks (so called from the Indian rukh and Persian rokh, meaning “a soldier”) and the knights appear to have always had the same powers as at present. As to the chessboards, they were formerly uncoloured, and it is not until the 13th century that we hear of checkered boards being used in Europe.

Development in Play.—The change of shatranj into modern chess took place most probably first in France, and thence made its way into Spain early in the 15th century, where the new game was called Axedrez de la dama, being also adopted by the Italians