Posts Tagged ‘The Play of Chess’


I’ve come across this interesting information. I hope you will also enjoy the first Chess book that was published in English. I’ve found a couple of interesting links for you too, hoover over the links with your mouse  and you will see what you’ll get to look at. The links will all open in new windows. What I also found interesting about the book is that Caxton explained every single pawn separately and not pawns in general. You will see on the different pages where he wrote about the pawn, he mentioned e.g. “the fourth pawn before the King”…etc. This is “olde” English…so I guess a bit “different” to read. I’ve only uploaded a few pages for you, on the link you will find all the others. It’s worth to follow all the links if you’re really interested in this book.







The first book printed in English
The first book which Caxton produced in the Low Countries was The Recuyell of the Histories of Troy, translated by himself from the French original of Raoul Lefèvre. He had begun the translation in 1469, taken it further at the behest of Margaret of York, the Duchess of Burgundy, continued the work in Ghent, and completed it in Cologne on 9 September 1471. This was the first book ever to be printed in English.

The book is a collection of stories very loosely based on the tales of the Trojan Wars. Caxton aimed for a court readership. Stories of war, knightly exploits and love were popular courtly reading. To ensure that his book also looked appealing to his readers, he had a new typeface created, closely based on the handwriting used in manuscripts made for the Burgundian court. In all probability the type was created by Johann Veldener, who had also made Caxton’s Cologne type. While in the Low Countries he printed another book in English, The Play of Chess. It was also translated by Caxton himself, from Jean de Vignay’s French translation of Jacobus de Cessolis’s Latin original. This is Caxton’s first dated work, finished 31 March 1474. The Play of Chess was another text popular at the Burgundian court, an allegory of fixed social structures where each rank has its allotted role. This book was dedicated to George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV and, perhaps more importantly, of Margaret of York, who promoted the cause of her favourite brother, the ‘false, fleeting, perjured Clarence’, as he is described in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Not surprisingly, given Clarence’s fall from grace, the dedication does not appear in the second edition of the book dated c.1483.



De Ludo Scachorum was first translated into French in 1347. In 1474, 2 years before it was printed in French, William Caxton translated the text from the French (of Jean de Vignay) into English and printed it under the title, The Game of Chess.
The Game of Chess was the second book printed in the English language. The first book, also printed by Claxton was The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, also translated from French (of Raoul le Fèvre) and also in 1474. Caxton printed almost 100 books, and of these 20 were translations from French or Dutch into English.
The Game of Chess has the second distinction of being the first book to be reprinted! The second printing of the book in 1483 had an interesting sidebar. It was printed in Westminster. The first edition was printed in Bruges where Caxton had been politically involved in the local merchant’s association. He had ingratiated himself with Margaret, the Duchess of York, the sister of King Edward IV – in fact it was under her urging that he translated The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye to begin with. The book was dedicated to Edward’s son and Margaret’s brother – George, Duke of Clarence by his humble and unknown servant, William Caxton. Claxton set up a press in Westminster in 1476 and, when in 1483 he reprinted the book, he praises the book in the dedication for it’s moral value and …woodcut illustrations but doesn’t mention George who happened to have been beheaded for treason in 1478.

16th Century Chess Literature

By the beginning of the 16th century, the new Queen and Bishop were well accepted in Spain and the option of moving the pawn 2 squares on the first move was common – as demonstrated in the Valencian poem Eschacs d’amor which was written probably around 1490. This is a manuscript, not a printed book but it’s importance lies in its revelations not in its influence. Castling and Queening of pawns were still in the future but for all intents and purposes, modern chess had arrived. Eschacs d’amor is very important historically because it contains the first recorded instance of a chess game using modern moves. The poem was a joint effort among three Valencian poets: Francí de Castellví, Narcís Vinyoles and Bernat Fenollar who each play the part of Mars, Venus and Mercury respectively in the 576 lined poem. In the poem Mars is playing Venus for her love in a game of chess while Mercury arbitrates. All three of these men were active members in the literary and chess circles in Valencia and because of that a lot is known about them and because a lot is known about them, this work is a key element to understanding the origins of modern chess. The game itself was probably manufactured for the purpose of the poem.

The game contains 21 moves for white and 20 for black – a ply count of 41. The poem contains 21 stanzas: Mars with the red pieces, has 21 stanzas; Venus with the green pieces has 20; Mercury, the arbitrator, also has 20 stanzas; there are 3 introductory stanzas – totaling 64 stanza (9 lines each, totaling 576 lines).
The Game
[Event “Scachs d’amor”]
[Site “Valencia”]
[Date “1490.?.?”]
 [White “Castellvi, Francisco -Mars”]
[Black “Vinoles, Narcisco -Venus”]
[ECO “B01”]
[PlyCount “41”]
[Result “1-0”]

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd8
4. Bc4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. h3 Bxf3
7. Qxf3 e6 8. Qxb7 Nbd7 9. Nb5 Rc8
10. Nxa7 Nb6 11. Nxc8 Nxc8 12. d4 Nd6
13. Bb5+ Nxb5 14. Qxb5+ Nd7 15. d5 exd5
16. Be3 Bd6 17. Rd1 Qf6 18. Rxd5 Qg6
19. Bf4 Bxf4 20. Qxd7+ Kf8 21. Qd8#

To play through the game, please click HERE and it will open in a new window.

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