« PreviousContinue »
In our last chapter we have shewn-I may almost say, demonstrated that the Byzantines must have received the game of Chess from the Persians about the beginning of the seventh century. Now, we know from history, that in the eighth and succeeding centuries numerous adventurers, both Frank and Scandinavian, resorted to Constantinople, where their military services were duly appreciated and amply rewarded. These afterwards became celebrated as the Varangian Band, or Cohort; and held a position at the Byzantine court, similar to that of the Scottish and Swiss guards employed by the kings of France in more recent times. In consequence of this arrangement, there arose a constant intercourse between the east and west of Europe, and it is quite possible that the game of Chess may have found its way to the north-west at the same time.
We are further told that, "in A.D. 757, Constantine Capronymus, emperor of the east, sent to king Pepin, as a rare present, the first organ ever seen in France. This was so highly appreciated by the latter, that he placed it in his own chapel at Compiègne." Now we may, not unreasonably, conclude that the organ formed only a portion of the rare presents sent on that occasion to the western monarch. There is no small probability that the rich Chess board afterwards presented by Pepin to the monastery of Maussac, was included in the list. I am led to this consideration, simply because I do not think the state of the arts in France at that time, was so flourishing as to warrant us in concluding that the rich Chessmen above alluded to were of Gallic manufacture. Sir Frederick Madden quotes from a monkish scribe a passage relative to "the translation of the body of St.
1 Lavoisne's Historical, Geographical, and Genealogical Atlas, elephant folio, best edition, 1829, fol. 43.
Stremon, Bishop of Arverne, in the fourteenth year of King Pepin, A.D. 764, to the monastery of Maussac, 'where,' says the anonymous writer, 'in token of his reverence for the blessed Martyr, the King bestowed many precious gifts, such as a set of chrystalline chessmen, various gems, and a large sum of gold.'"2 Now, I consider these "chrystalline chessmen " to have been originally received as a present by Pepin, either from the Saracens or from the Byzantines. Allowing, however, the latter supposition to be the fact, it does not thence follow that the game was previously unknown at Pepin's court.
We see, then, that the game of Chess may have reached France about, or near, the middle of the eighth century, either from Spain by means of the Saracens, which I hold to be by far the more natural inference; or from the Lower Empire, in consequence of the intercourse then held between the sovereigns and nations of the east and the west. In either case, however, we may safely rely on the authenticity of the anecdote quoted by Gustavus Selenus, respecting the son of Pepin, and the prince of Bavaria. This is the main point which I have been endeavouring to establish; and if I have succeeded, of course all anecdotes of a more recent date referring to the game, whether in France or Germany, Scandinavia, Britain, or Italy, may be accepted as historical facts.
1 It should have been the twelfth, not the fourteenth year of King Pepin. 2 "Ubi pro reverentiâ beati Martyris, plurima reliquit [Pippinus Rex] insignia, scilicet saccho (1 schachos) crystillinos, et lapides pretiosos, et auri plurimum." Acta Benedict. Sæc. 3, pt. 2, p. 192.
Early references to the Game of Chess in Europe-Chess in France and Germany-Chess in Scandinavia-Chess in England-Chess in Italy-Chess in Russia.
It is not my intention to follow up the history and progress of Chess in Europe, during the mediaval period, i.e., from A.D. 750, to A.D. 1500; I shall therefore content myself by laying before the reader, in chronological order, a few extracts from our old chronicles and romances, which will in some degree tend to shew us the various localities in which the game made its early appearance among us.
Chess in France and Germany.
The two following anecdotes refer to the time of Charlemagne, Pepin's son and successor. Sir Frederic Madden, in p. 209, says :-" Admitting the above hypothesis' to be correct, we shall cease to wonder at the perpetual references in the ancient French romances to the game of Chess in the time of Charlemagne. This is remarkably the case in the romance of Guerin de Montglave, which turns wholly upon a game of Chess, at which Charlemagne had lost his kingdom to Guerin. The short dialogue which preceded this game, on which so great a stake depended, as narrated by the hero of the
1 Sir Frederic here alludes to the magnificent Chess board and men presented to Charlemagne by the Empress Irene, of which more at the close of this chapter.
story to his sons, is characteristic, and has thus been modernised by the Comte de Tressan. I bet,' said the Emperor to me, that you would not play your expectations against me on this chess-board, unless I were to propose some very high stake.' 'Done,' replied I; 'I will play them, provided only, you bet against me your kingdom of France.' 'Very good, let us see,' cried Charlemagne, who fancied himself to be strong at Chess. We We play forthwith-I win his kingdom-he falls a-laughing at it; but I swear by St. Martin, and all the Saints of Aquitain, that he must needs pay me by some sort of composition or other.' The Emperor, therefore, by way of equivalent, surrenders to Guerin all right to the city of Montglave (Lyons), then in the hands of the Saracens, which is forthwith conquered by the hero, who afterwards marries Mabilette,1 the Soldan's daughter."
In another romance, containing the history of Les Quatre Filz Aymon, we read that Duke Richard of Normandy was playing at Chess with Ivonnet, son of Regnaut (Rinaldo) when he was arrested by the officers of Regnaut, who said to him, (we quote from the old translation of Copeland, 1504), Aryse up, Duke Rycharde; for, in dispite of Charlemayne that loveth you so muche, ye shall be hanged now.' When Duke Rycharde saw that these sergeauntes had him thus by the arm, and held in his hande a lady (dame) of ivery, where wt he wolde have given a mate to Yonnet, he withdrewe his arme, and gave to one of the sergeauntes such a stroke with it into the forehead, that he made him tumble over and over at his feete; and than he tooke a
1 I have a shrewd suspicion that the matrimonial part of the anecdote is entirely of the romancer's own imagination. The name of the fair lady Mabilette reminds us much more of a Parisienne Grisette than of a Saracen Soldan's daughter.
rooke (roc) and smote another wt all upon his head, that he all brost it to the brayne."
The concluding lines of this last anecdote strongly confirm what I have already stated respecting the meaning of the word "Rocho" in my note page. Let it be remembered, that in those early times the Chess boards were very spacious, and the pieces large and massy. We have seen in our notice of the Caliph Al Mamun, p. 179, that his board was "two cubits by two," that is, close upon two and a half feet square, and of course the pieces must have been of a proportionate size. They were sometimes made of crystal, or precious stones, ivory or even solid silver; hence there is nothing at all improbable in the circumstances related.
2nd. Chess in Scandinavia.
Some sixty or seventy years later, we find that Chess had penetrated into Scandinavia. I hold it to be the more natural and probable inference, that the game reached the latter country from France or Germany, by way of Holstein and Denmark, rather than from Constantinople, as Sir Frederic Madden would seem to imply. Twiss, in his second vol., p. 179, quoting from northern chroniclers, says "The Norwegian Chronicle tells us that Drofen (surnamed the giant), foster-father of Harald (surnamed Hårfagra), having understood the great
1 Harald Hårfagra (i.e. of beautiful hair), about the year 880, established himself as the first King of all Norway, after bringing into subjection a number of the petty Kings of that country. Some ten years afterwards he added the Hebrides to the Norwegian crown; in whose possession they remained for the two following centuries. It is extremely probable, then, that the game of Chess was introduced into the western Isles of Scotland by the Norwegians about the same time that the Danes brought it into South Britain. This accounts for a discovery made some thirty years ago, in the parish of Uig, Isle of Lewis. A peasant, in digging a sand-bank, in the vicinity of an extensive ruin found upwards of seventy Chess-men of different sizes, belonging to various