Chess history: a shocking position

 The history of chess shows itself as a science keeping aloof from new developments and views, at least developments in the discipline of the writer of this site. He cannot judge on other fields of study.

 First, chess historians miss, or ignore, evolutions in the field of etymology. Etymology tries to explain the origin of our words.

 Of old, chess historians racked their brains about the origin of the name for the chess queen that was introduced in the late 15th century. Her name was dama (Spanish), dame (French). Because they presupposed that in this time chess was a highly respected game, they looked for a highly respected woman who could have served as the model for the new queen. As long as the etymology was still in its infancy, this might be considered as the method of pretty guesses. After an evolution of more than an age, etymology has become a valuable science. Some chess historians, however, continue the traditional guesswork, ignoring the results of scientific progress.

 Please click here for an etymological proposition of the name for the chess queen where scientific tools were applied for.

  Second, chess historians miss, or ignore, a development that might lead to a reconsideration of their 19th century vision on medieval chess. In the Middle Ages chess was a beloved game, chess historians claimed hundred and fifty years ago, basing themselves on the literature from before 1500.

 Since about 1950 scholars of the literary theory wondered to what extent it is permitted to use literature as a source to pronounce upon the real world. The answers they found throw a new light on the role of chess in Europe in the period 1100-1500. Every chess publication from the past 75 years keeps silence about this field of inquiry. The chess history stands still, unable as it is to climb out of the pit of anachronism where it landed one and a half century ago.


 With the knowledge of the 21st century, it is unfair to criticise scientists born and educated in the 19th century. Criticism is only justified if they made reprehensible faults.

 There was such a reprehensible fault: all chess historians agreed about the position of chess, which they considered as the greatest game of the Middle Ages. This pronouncement might be right or wrong, it is only well-founded after having determined that rival board games have been less popular, but this essential inquiry was not made. Certainly, we may assume they missed the tools for this inquiry, but there is no indication that the founders of chess history were aware of their methodological inadequacy.