Synopses & Reviews
Everyone knows that the queen is the most dominant piece in chess, but few people know that the game existed for five hundred years without her. It wasn't until chess became a popular pastime for European royals during the Middle Ages that the queen was born and was gradually empowered to become the king's fierce warrior and protector.
Birth of the Chess Queen examines the five centuries between the chess queen's timid emergence in the early days of the Holy Roman Empire to her elevation during the reign of Isabel of Castile. Marilyn Yalom, inspired by a handful of surviving medieval chess queens, traces their origin and spread from Spain, Italy, and Germany to France, England, Scandinavia, and Russia. In a lively and engaging historical investigation, Yalom draws parallels between the rise of the chess queen and the ascent of female sovereigns in Europe, presenting a layered, fascinating history of medieval courts and internal struggles for power.
“A well-researched and enjoyable book.” The Economist
“An enticing portal into the past…. Yalom writes passionately and accessibly about this esoteric topic.” Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Marilyn Yalom has written the rare book that illuminates something that always has been dimly perceived but never articulated.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Both chess fans and those unfamiliar with the game will enjoy this absorbing look at the evolution of chess.” Booklist
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 Ara + 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.
They say that behind (or in this case beside) every great man lies a great(er) woman, but this was not always so in the game of chess. First played in India, Persia and the Arab lands, the original game of chess had the king accompanied by his vizier rather than his queen, but only 200 years after the introduction of the game into Europe, the queen had made her debut. This intriguing book looks at how and why the queen appeared on the chessboard and what this might reveal about contemporary attitudes towards women, politics and queenship. At first limited in her movements and power, from 1200 to 1500 the queen became tactically superior to the king and other pieces, and was permitted unparalleled movement around the board. Was the introduction of the queen merely the desire to have a female presence on the board, or was it more inherently linked to the rise of powerful European queens such as Isabella of Castille. From the Arab lands to Spain, Italy, France, Germany, England, Scandinavia and Russia, Marilyn Yalom tracks the rise of the queen.
About the Author
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.