Birth of the Chess Queen: A History

Front Cover
Harper Collins, Apr 27, 2004 - Games & Activities - 272 pages
0 Reviews

Everyone knows that the queen is the most powerful piece in chess, but few people know that the game existed for five hundred years without her. In India, Persia, and the Arab lands, where the game was first played, a general, or vizier (chief counselor to the king), occupied the square where the queen now stands. Not until the year 1000, two hundred years after Arab conquerors brought chess to southern Europe, did a chess queen appear on the board. Initially she was the weakest piece, moving only one square at a time on the diagonal, yet by 1497, during the reign of Isabella of Castile, the chess queen had become the formidable force she is today.

How and why did this transformation take place? Birth of the Chess Queen examines the five-hundred-year period between the chess queen's timid emergence and her elevation into the game's mightiest piece. Marilyn Yalom, inspired by a handful of surviving medieval chess queens, traces their origin and spread from Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and England to Scandinavia and Russia. In a lively and engaging narrative, Yalom draws parallels between the birth of the chess queen and the ascent of female sovereigns in Europe, presenting a layered, fascinating history of medieval courts, with their intrigues and internal struggles for power. Further, she shows the connection between the chess queen, the cult of the Virgin Mary, and the cult of Romantic Love, all of which influenced European society for centuries to come.

Illustrated with beautiful art throughout, this book takes a fresh look at the politics and culture of medieval Europe, the institution of queenship, and the reflections of royal power in the figure of the chess queen.

What people are saying - Write a review


User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Some tenuous speculations about the co-emergence of powerful political women and the most puissant piece on the chessboard.Feminist historian Yalom (A History of the Wife, 2001, etc.) first became ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - chibiju - LibraryThing

I adore this book. Its not only the history of the Chess Queen piece, its also the history of chess and European queenship. You learn about how chess came to Europe and how European culture and ... Read full review

Other editions - View all

References to this book

About the author (2004)

Marilyn Yalom is a former professor of French and a senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She is the author of widely acclaimed books such as A History of the Breast, A History of the Wife, Birth of the Chess Queen, and, most recently, How the French Invented Love. She lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband, psychiatrist and author Irvin D. Yalom.

Bibliographic information