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- Chess History and Reminiscences - 20/38 -


Was of a Fers so Fortunate, Into a corner drive and maat.

The old English names in Lydgate, are 1, Kynge, 2, Queen or Fers, 3, Awfn, or Alfin, 4, Knyght, or Horseman, 5, Roke or Rochus, 6, Paune.

Although Shakespeare makes no mention of chess in his works, some of his brother dramatists, and other writers who were contemporary with him, were fond of referring to it. Skelton, poet laureate to Henry the Eighth, says:

For ye play so at the chesse, As they suppose and guess, That some of you but late, Hath played so checkmate, With Lords of High estate, And again, Our dayes be datyed, To be check matyed.

Many other poets and writers of that age, drew similes and figures of speech from the chess board, including Spencer, Cowley, Denham, Beaumont and Fletcher, quaint Arthur Saul and John Dryden.

Middleton's Comedy of Chesse, 1624, was acted at the Globe. It was however a sort of religious controversy, the game being played by a member of the Church of England, and another of the Church of Rome, the former in the end gaining the victory. The play being considered too political, the author was cast into prison, from which he obtained his release by the following petition to the King.

A harmless game, coyned only for delight, T'was played betwixt the black house and the white, The white house won, yet still the black doth brag, They had the power to put me in the bag, Use but your hand, tw'll set me free, T'is but removing of a man, that's me.

Philidor states in his work that historians have commemorated the following Sovereigns as chess players: Charlemagne, Tamerlane, Sebastian, King of Portugal, Philip II King of Spain, The Emperor Charles V, Catherine of Medecis, Queen of France, Pope Leo X, Henry IV of France, Queen Elizabeth, Louis XIII, James I of England (who used to call the game a philosophical folly,) Louis XIV, William III, Charles XII, and Frederick of Russia.

Of these, Charlemagne, who reigned 768 to 814 is the earliest name. Tamerlane or Timur who dominated at the end of the 14th century is the next. The remainder date from the 16th century.

To this list the renowned and esteemed Philidor might have made some very material additions. If the first Indian account of Kings, Kaid and Porus, in Alexander the Great's time, is to be relied on, the Macedonian conqueror who was in friendly alliance with Porus in 326 B.C., might have become acquainted with chess, and Aristotle, some time his tutor, may have played it as supposed in one of the Arabian manuscripts. Chosroes, King of Persia, who reigned from 531 to 579, Harun Ar Rashid, 786 to 809, Al Amin, his first son, 809 to 813, the magnificent Al Mamun, his second son, 813 to 833, Al Mutasem, the most skilful player among the rulers, 833 to 842, and Al Wathick, 842 to 847, the five successive Caliphs of the powerful Abbasside dynasty, during the palmy period called the Golden Age of Arabian Literature, are identified with a very interesting period of chess practice and progress, and are all recorded to have been chess players. Al Walid the Sixth, of Umeyyah, 705 to 715, who through his generals, Tarik Ibn Zeyyad and Musa Ibn Nosseyr and their armies invaded, conquered and occupied Spain, is the earliest ruler we read of as a chess player after its first great friend and patron Chosroes, but it is pretty certain that Justinian, who died in 565, and was contemporary with Chosroes, was also an exponent and supporter of the game.

Of the one hundred and sixty monarchs who ruled the East Africa and Spain from the days of Bekr, Omar, and the Prophet to the downfall of Moorish ascendancy in the middle of the Thirteenth century, we read of several who emulated the tastes of their most famous predecessors, and the Rahmans, Mansur and An Nassirs vied with Harun and Al Mamum in their patronage and encouragement of all sorts of learning arts and sciences. Of the powerful Abbasside dynasty which lasted from 749 to 1258, there were 37 Caliphs whose chess doings and sayings alone would, it is said fill a good-sized volume.

NOTE. In addition to the 37 of Abbas and 14 of Umeyyah 664 to 749, there were 17 of Beni Umeyyah 755 to 1030, there were 14 Fatimites, 893 to 1169, 5 Almmoravides (exclusive of Abdullah, the founder), the Mahdi, 1059 to 1145, 13 Almohades, 1130 to 1269, and 8 Sultans of Almowat, 1095 to 1256. These with about 52 other rulers, Sultans, Emperors or Kings of Cordova, Toledo, Seville, Khorassan, Valentia and Badajoz, make up a list of about 160 rulers, who swayed the East Africa and Mohammedan Spain for about 650 years. The Moors after suffering great defeats in 1085 and 1139 received a final check in the great battle of 1212, and in 1248 when Ferdinand III of Castile took Seville their powers of aggression had vanished.

NOTE. Abbasides is the name generally given to the Beni Abbas or descendants of Abbas, who succeeded the Beni Umeyyah in the Empire of the East. Owing to their descent from the uncle of the Prophet, they had ever since the introduction of Islam been held in great esteem by the Arabs, and had frequently aspired to the Khalifate. In the year 132, A.D. 749-750, Abul-abbas Abdullah, son of Mohammed, son of Ali, son of Abdullah, son of Abbas Ibn Aldi-l-Mutalib, uncle of the Prophet Mohammed, revolted at Kujah, and after putting to death Merwan II, the last Khalif of the house of Umeyyah, was unanimously raised to the throne. Thirty-seven Khalifs of the dynasty of Abbas reigned for a period of 523 lunar or Mohammedan years over the East (Spain, Africa and Egypt) having been successively detached from their Empire, until the last of them, Al Mut'assem, was deprived both of his kingdom and his life by the Tartars under Hulaku Khan, 1258.

NOTE. The Khalif Al Mamum was one day playing with one of his courtiers, who moved negligently and in a careless manner, the Khalif perceived it and got wrath, and turned over the board and men, and said: "He wants to deceive me and practice on my understanding; and he vowed on earth that this person should never play with him again." In like manner, it is related of Walid ben Abdul Malik ben Merwan, that on an occasion when one of his courtiers, who used to play with him negligently at chess, omitted to follow the proper rules of the game, the Khalif struck him a blow with the Ferzin (or Queen) which broke his head, saying: "Woe unto thee! Art thou playing chess, and art thou in thy senses."

NOTE. The 37th and last Khalif of Abbaside, was dethroned and put to death by Hulaku. the son of Genghis Khan in 1258, when the Tartars were also sorely troubling part of the Christian world, and frightening the Popes. Unluckily for Oriental Literature we are told, scarcely any of the comparatively few works of the "Golden Age of Arabian Literature" saved from destruction, have been translated or made known to us, but we may conclude that of the one hundred and sixty rulers, not a few emulating Harun, Mamun, Walid and Mutasem, were more or less like them, devoted to the game. The powerful Abbaside Dynasty lasted from 749 to 1258, and there were 37 Khalifs of that race, the chess sayings and doings of whom alone, it is said, would fill a good-size volume, chess has had to contend against the consideration that the greatest historians and biographers, with the exception of Cunningham and Forbes, and perhaps Gibbon were not players, hence what we do possess is gathered from scattered allusion, incidental and accidental rather than sustained or connected narrative or biographical notice. Canute the Dane, 1016-1035, William the First, and other English Kings, not so well attested, are absent from Philidor's list. Henry I, John, two of the Edwards, I and IV, and Charles I are identified with the chess incidents. Accounts of Henry VII and Henry VIII, contain items of expense connected with the game. The bluff king it is said played chess, as Wolsey and Cranmer did, and as Pitt, and Wilberforce, and Sunderland, Bolingbroke and Sydney Smyth have in our generations. The vain and tyrant king, like the Ras of Abyssinia, who we hear of through Salt and Buckle much preferred winning, and was probably readily accommodated. Less magnanimous and wise, these two, Henry and Ras, did not in this respect resemble Al Mamun and Tamerlane, whom Ibn Arabshah, Gibbon and others tell us, had no dislike to being beaten, but rather honored their opponents. The chessmen of Henry VIII were last heard of in the possession of Sir Thomas Herbert, those of Charles I were with Lord Barrington. Chess men were kept for Queen Elizabeth's use by Lord Cecil, the Earl of Leicester, and Sir John Harrington.

In olden times as supposed, Alexander the Great, perhaps from acquaintance with India and its Kings, and their powerful Porus, 326 B.C., may have known chess and possibly Aristotle, sometime his tutor, who some say, invented chess, also played it. The most ancient names are the renowned Prince Yudhistheira, eldest son of King Pandu of the Sanskrit chess period, the yet earlier Prince Nala of the translated poems, and further back we have the Brahmin Radha Kants account from the old Hindu law book, that the wife of Ravan, King of Lanka, Ceylon, invented chess in the second age of the world. Associated with games not chess, but more like Draughts in China, there are Emperor Yao, 2300 B.C., Wa Wung 1122 B.C., Confucius 551 B.C., Hung Cochu, 172 B.C, and in Egypt, Queen Hatasu about 1750 B.C., Amenoph II, 1687 to 1657 B.C., and Rameses IV 1559 to 1493 B.C.

NOTE. The Throne, Cartouche, Signet, and other relics. The Draught Box and Draughtsmen of Queen Hatasu in the Manchester Exhibition 1887. Date B.C. 1600. The catalogue says: These remarkable relics, the workmanship of royal artists 3,500 years ago, i.e., 200 years before the birth of Moses, are now being exhibited for the first time, by the kind permission of their owner, Jesse Haworth, Esq. Queen Hatasu was the favourite daughter of Thotmes I, and the sister of Thotmes II and III, Egyptian Kings of the XVIII dynasty. She reigned conjointly with her eldest brother, then alone for 15 years, and for a short time with her younger brother, Thotmes III. She was the Elizabeth of Egyptian history: had a masculine genius and unbounded ambition. A woman, she assumed male attire; was addressed as a king even in the inscriptions upon her monument. Her edifices are said to be "the most tasteful, most complete and brilliant creations which ever left the hands of an Egyptian architect." The largest and most beautifully executed obelisk; still standing at Karnak, bears her name. On the walls of her unique and beautiful temple at Dayr


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