The Lewis Chessmen

Les pièces de Lewis

Quoi de neuf ?

Mes livres

Histoire des échecs




These Chessmen set was discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

They are 93 pieces forming parts of four or five sets, two complete. 82 are in the British Museum in London and 11 are in the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. They are 8 Kings, 8 Queens, 16 Bishops, 15 Knights, 12 Warders (Rooks) and 19 Pawns. In addition, they are 14 plain disks for Tabula game (Backgammon ancestor) and 1 belt-buckle.

The vast majority is carved from walrus tusk, a very few from whale teeth. Some are stained with red. The dimensions are from 7 to 10.2 cm for major pieces and 3.5 to 5.8 cm for Pawns. In his booklet, Neil Stratford says that if the Lewis chessmen were to be placed on board, each square would have to be at least 10.3 x 10.3 cm. Such a board would have been 82 cm across. It is most likely excessive. Francine Johnson from Rose Cottage Industries, Isle of Harris, Western Isles, Scotland pointed to me they place those pieces on 5 x 5 cm boards and that fits perfectly.

It is believed that those chessmen were crafted in Scandinavian, probably Trondheim in Norway were fragments and drawing of similar chessmen have been found. Until 1266, the Outer Isles were politically subject to the kingdom of Norway. The Lewis Chessmen belong the Scandinavian Romanesque art of the mid XIIth century. (See papers authored by Morten Lilleören in the Library)

Click to see 4 Lewis Kings

Click to see 4 Lewis Queens

Click to see 6 Lewis Bishops

Click to see 5 Lewis Knights

Click to see 9 Lewis Warders

Click to see 6 Lewis Pawns


click to enlarge

 A long-lost Lewis Chessman found in a drawer in Edingburgh !

A newly discovered Lewis chessmen piece that was bought for £5 in 1964 has sold at auction for £735,000 in 2019. The piece was bought by an antiques dealer for £5 in 1964 and passed down through his family, who mostly it kept out of the way in a drawer. The family were unaware of its significance until the piece was taken to Sotheby’s for assessment in June 2019.

The images and photographs shown on this page are coming from the following sources :

The authors of theses works, books and photographs, are kindly acknowledged.

Thanks to Francine Johnson
If there is any problem with their presence here, please do
mail me.


(modified 28/11/2021)