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.

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    +1, interesting question indeed. As a matter of curiosity, why those dates? Oct 7, 2013 at 14:40
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    @Sardathrion: 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
    Oct 7, 2013 at 14:48
  • what about if we merge the question here ? chess.stackexchange.com
    – MMD
    Oct 7, 2013 at 18:42
  • @MMD:Let's give it a try here first for a bit. The level of answer I'm looking for should be the kind that a (successful) beta can provide.
    – orome
    Oct 7, 2013 at 18:49
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    @MMD: I'm fine either way (I wish cross-posting were possible), but let's give it a bit here first and see what happens.
    – orome
    Oct 7, 2013 at 20:15

1 Answer 1


The answer can be pieced together quite well from the Wikipedia page, in my opinion, so I did that. It changes somewhat from place to place, here is the British development.

Essentially, when Chess arrives in Europe at around AD 1000, it has the following differences from now:

  • Pawn moves one square forwards only, and can be promoted to queen only.
  • The Bishop is called "elephant" and moves two squares diagonally, but jump over a piece in-between.
  • The Queen is called an "Adviser" and can move only one square diagonally.
  • The Rook is called "Chariot".
  • Stalemate was a type of inferior victory for the person initiating it.
  • No castling.

By the 12th century the pieces had gotten their modern names, and the rule that the Pawn could move two steps as it's first move had been added. There are some rules (that seem to change over time) for protecting the king by letting him jump towards a corner.

So your first checkpoint at 1450 means the major differences from the modern game is that the Queen and Bishop have very limited movement, and when playing for money, initiating a stalemate is a win that gives you only half the winnings. You can also only promote Pawns to Queens, and there is no castling, but some sort of precursor.

The "en passant capture" also first showed up during the 15th century (or possibly late 14th century), but it seems to have been controversial and not universally accepted until the 19th century. (ref) So if you included that rule or not was likely dependent on location.

By 1530 the Queen and Bishop had acquired their modern powerful moves. There would have been no significant changes by 1610, but the view of stalemate would have changed, and the one initiating the stalemate would now lose.

Changes since 1610 is that stalemate is now viewed as a draw and the modern rules for castling and promotion arrived.

This means that the game in 1450 would have played very differently. The weak Queen and Bishop means the game would have played much longer, and slower, and it would be more common with slow games played over several days. However, the 1575 and 1610 games would be very much like today’s games, and most of the modern strategies would apply then as well.

Information condensed from:

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    I'm not seeing a way to infer much from Wikipedia about the nature the Queen's and Bishop's moves (let alone the rest of the question) in England in 1530, at last not with much confidence; even in 1610 can we be sure it was played as it was in other countries; and, are we sure what version was played in 1450 (or example it could easily have been some archaic version frozen in English practice since the days it was patronized by Henry I, or since the days it was first imported).
    – orome
    Oct 7, 2013 at 17:24
  • @raxacoricofallapatorius Sorry I mistyped 1530 as 1575, now fixed. Wikipedia is quite clear that the changes of the Queens and the Bishos moves come in the end of the 15th century and spread fast. Obviously, in any game whose rules are changing, exactly where and how fast this propagates is always going to be unclear, and it's quite likely that there is a transition period where both are played. As mentioned in Wikipedia, this faster version went under the name "Queens Chess", and it's not unlikely were played in 1530. Oct 7, 2013 at 17:42
  • Sorry to be stubborn about this, but I'm not looking for likely things I might infer from a Wikipedia article. You may be right that "exactly where and how fast this propagates is always going to be unclear", but that's not a given, and if there are sources that can confirm one way or the other, that's what I'm seeking.
    – orome
    Oct 7, 2013 at 18:13
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    @LennartRegebro: When did en passant capture by pawn arrive? My recollection from reading years ago is that it might be a early 19th century development. Nov 6, 2013 at 23:26
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    This garbled estimate seems inaccurate in various respects to me. Bell's book is the authoritative source, so not using it is kind of inexcusable. Mar 29, 2015 at 20:40

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