I'm trying to reconstruct how Chess would have been played at various points in history in England, specifically at three points: around 1450, 1530, and 1610.

What rules would have been used at these dates? What kinds of boards and pieces might have been used? Who would have played and in what kinds of settings?

I have read the confused Wikipedia articles and most of the first several pages of hits from Google, but can extract little of use from them and am hoping there's an expert here who can help.

  • 1
    There might not be anything pertinent to your particular question in it, but one place to try for information would be Murray's A History of Chess.
    – ETD
    Oct 27, 2017 at 12:55
  • 6
    You asked the same question four years ago: history.stackexchange.com/questions/10433/… I think you should have mentioned that.
    – davidmacd
    Oct 31, 2017 at 22:14
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    @davidmacd I did.
    – orome
    Oct 31, 2017 at 22:38
  • I have a couple clarification questions. One: Why England specifically? Would you take any Northern European anecdotes from the time, or do you specifically want England? Two: Why these specific dates? Not a whole lot of chess development in chess is recorded other than the rule change. There wasn't a lot of theory being developed or famous champions or anything. Do you want these specific dates? What you are trying to accomplish would be helpful info, should you be able to provide it.
    – Brandon_J
    Apr 6, 2019 at 1:38

3 Answers 3


I see that you already have a lot of information in the Wikipedia page and in the answer you got to the similar question in the history forum. Maybe your problem is that this is too much information for you, so I hope to be helpful in telling you just one thing, which is the most important thing.

There is a turning point in the European history of chess. This is something that happened sometime between 1475 and 1500 (the exact year is not known) in the south of Europe (probably in Spain, but there is no consensus). This event is a change in the rules of movement of the Queen and the Bishop.

Until 1475 people everywhere in Europe played a version of chess (let's call it Middle-Age Chess) where the Queen (then called fers or visir) could move only one step diagonally, and the Bishop (then called Elephant) could move two steps diagonally. The other pieces moved as today (except for little details such as castling rules). This game was very slow because the two armies needed many moves to make contact, since the only long range piece was the Rook.

Starting from 1500 people everywhere in Europe started to play a new version of the game where the Queen and the Bishop have their modern movement (let's call this game Modern Chess, because, except for some little detail, it was basically the same game we play today). This new game was much faster, and, for this reason more fun and incredibly successful. The new rules quickly spread everywhere in Europe, and the old game was soon forgotten.

The change happened sometime between 1475 and 1500, more or less the same time when many other important events gave Europe its modern form (invention of the press, the discovery of America, unification of Spain, and more).

From this you can see that in 1450, in England people played Middle-Age Chess, while in 1530 they played Modern Chess, a very different game. In 1530, Modern Chess was a novelty, instead in 1610 the game was very well established, and by this time, many "scientific" books of analysis of the game and its strategy were already written.

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    The question is not about the history of chess generally, it's specifically about what would have been played in England. The WP article does not address this question. Do you have another source for your assertion that your repetition of the content there applies to England?
    – orome
    Jan 30, 2018 at 22:40
  • Sorry, maybe this was not clear enough. The point is that the new rules spread very quickly everywhere in Western Europe. The change is so quick that it is not possible to determine in which place the new rules were invented, because we can find sources from the same years mentioning the new rules in Portugal, Spain, Italy and France. Just a few years later, the new rules were also arrived in Germany and England. I read these things in Murray's A History of Chess, but I don't have the book with me now, so I cannot verify what he says exactly.
    – LeibnizGW
    Jan 30, 2018 at 23:38

I am unclear if this is a variety of chess played in England, or if the implication is this game is "England's Chess" but from 1550-1700 a popular game was called The Philosopher's Game. Instructions for the game were published in 1568 according to HJR Murray's History of Chess book. The Publisher's Circular of 1907 talks about a William Fulke who wrote down a list of instructions for The Philosopher's Game in 1563, a transcript of which can be read here: http://jducoeur.com/game-hist/fulke.html

It would seem Shakespeare, at least, called chess by the "The Philosopher's Game" during his lifetime, because in 1611 when Shakespeare staged The Tempest, the philosopher in that play, Prospero, is instructed in Act V by the stage directions to "[Here PROSPERO discovers FERDINAND and MIRANDA] playing at chess]"

Ann Moyer's book, The Philosopher's Game, details what she calls "the Elizabethan Rule book" for how to play The Philosopher's Game, which she says is also known as "Rithmomachia ("The Battle of Numbers"), which combined the pleasures of gaming with mathematical study and moral education" It's expensive but you can find that book here.


I think this is a fantastic excuse to contact Irving Finkel at the British Museum. See his wonderful YouTube videos. Yes he specialises in ancient board games but must surely know the British experts in more modern periods.

I am curious why these three specific years interest you. My naive guess would be that not much is known to have changed during this period, but it would be great to have a chess rules timeline up to the present day.

  • 1
    Just as landmarks. Near the end of the Hundred Years War; Henry VII; Shakespeare. If there are key dates in Chess history around those times that make a difference, I'd like to hear about those too.
    – orome
    Nov 1, 2017 at 12:48

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