The Valencian reform:
At the end of the 15th century, a major reform occurred which definitely changed the rules of Chess. Queen and the Bishop gained their modern moves with unlimited action. It is now generally assumed that this "fashion" was born among a circle of intellectuals, related to the Conversos and Jews, living in Valencia, Spain and who have been brutally expelled out of the country by the Catholic Kings in 1492. The consequence has been fortunate for Chess, since the new rules were quickly disseminated in Italy and in South of France with the exodus of the persecuted Spanish Jews.
The text here below has been widely emprunted to Dr. Ricardo Calvo's paper intitled: "Valencia Spain: The Cradle of European Chess", presented to the CCI (Chess Collector International), May, 1998 - Vienna, Austria. (José Ricardo Gomez Calvo (1943 - 2002) was a Spanish chess player and historian, International Master in 1973). Dr. Calvo sets forth evidence and arguments that Spain was the incubator and situs of the monumental changes that occurred in chess in the late 15th century, that resulted in the game we know as chess today.
A reform with huge consequences on the game
Towards the end of the 15th century, Medieval chess underwent a dramatic change with new rules - those we call now "modern chess": the Queen was now able to move freely on the 8 directions (horizontally, vertically and diagonally) and the Bishops were now moving at will on the 4 diagonals.
Before this reform, the rules of pieces' movements of what we call now Medieval chess were directly adopted from Islamic Chess. The Queen, called then "Alferza" in Spanish, or "Fers" as still today in Russian, could only reach an adjacent diagonal square. The Bishop, or "Fil" in Arabic, ("Arfil" in Lucena) could only jump to a third diagonal square regardless of the occupation of the intermediate point.
The change was a revolution indeed. The new form of playing chess adopted in the chess circle of Valencia completely changes the picture. With the rapid movements of Queen and Bishop, the theory of opening play becomes very important because it is possible to checkmate the opponent in a few moves. Arab players, with the old rules, didn't bother too much about the opening because the chess armies deployed slowly. So, each player, when beginning the game, had in mind a distinct order of battle or "tabiya" which he intended to obtain, without caring about the opponent's moves. The real chess battle started in the middle game. Modern chess changes also all principles of attack and defense, because the new moves of Queen and Bishop increase tremendously the possibilities. Likewise, previous endgame theory is quite thoroughly shaken since a single Pawn could from then on decide the issue of the game by promoting into the powerful new Queen.
A completely new game has emerged.
It suited very well the spirit of the time. At the end of the 15th century the geographic discoveries broadened the mental horizon, and the possibility of printing books speeded the codification of accumulated experience. A new role for women in society and politics appears. A changing social structure towards unitarian states where only the king could afford the costly artillery dismantles the political and military influence of feudal lords. All this is also reflected in the chess board, and the modern way of playing chess, tailored for a new era, expands rapidly and is immediately accepted in the leading European countries. From that moment down to our day, the chess game has grown and grown, becoming an impressive corpus of accumulated knowledge.
Some relevant questions are: Where did this tremendous change take place? Who had the idea? When? Why? How was the cultural frame inspiring this unique development? There has been some confusion among chess historians, trying to answer in many ways these questions mostly with a mixture of intuition and speculation, because decisive sources were unknown to many of them.
The oldest appearance: the "Scachs d´amor"
The first recorded game of modern chess appears in a Catalan manuscript towards the end of the 15th century in a manuscript entitled "Scachs d´amor".
The complete title of the manuscript is:
"Hobra intitulada scachs d'amor feta per don Franci de Castellvi e Narcis Vinyoles e mossen Bernat Fenollar sota nom de tres planetes ço es Març Venus e Mercuri per conjunccio e influencia dels quals fon inventada".
So, the names of the players were Castellvi (white) and Vinyoles (black), with a referee named Fenollar.
The MS bears no date and directly says nothing about the city were the events took place. But Castellvi, Vinyoles and Fenollar were three well-known members of an active literary circle in Valencia, at the end of the 15th century, and their works are of paramount importance to the questions of the origins of modern chess. These three chess players and writers enjoyed in Valencia, during the last quarter of the 15th century, a remarkable social prestige and political influence. Catalan scholarship has therefore paid a lot of attention to them.
The game is described in the form of an allegory. Mars, playing with the red pieces, tries to obtain the love of Venus, playing with the green pieces. Mercury acts as an arbiter. The three speak in turn, in Catalan verses, probably improvised, as is possible to see even today in literary contests in Valencian towns. Some scholars wrote that it showed a very primitive level of playing. This is questionable. White has made 21 moves, also 21 strophes in verse. Black has produced 20 strophes. The arbiter, another 20. Altogether, 61. There are 3 introductory strophes (or stanzas) explaining the allegory, which adds up to the sum of 64 strophes, as many as there are squares on the chess board, which was obviously one of the purposes of the allegory. The authors stated it explicitly: "suma lo nombre de les cases, que son sexanta-quatre / a les quals corresponen sexanta-quatre cobles". The moves were as follows:
The MS was discovered relatively late, in 1905 but apparently it has disappeared during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It was found by the Jesuit P.Ignasi Casanovas in 1905 ("Codexs de l¨Arxiu del Palau", Revista de Bibliografía Catalana, VI, 1905, pp 32-34) in the Real Capilla del Palau (Barcelona) as a legacy from the Counts of Sobradiel.
The dating of the MS, and therefore the first appearance of a modern chess game can be done by indirect evidence linked with the biographies of the involved actors.
It is relevant to date the "Scachs d'amor" manuscript to the early youth of Vinyoles. First, because it is a manuscript and not a printed book, and the first printed book - "Obres e trobes en llaor de la Verge Maria", by Lambertus Palmart - appears in Valencia around 1474 (containing, by the way, poems of Fenollar, Castellví and Vinyoles). Secondly, because the literary play, where Vinyoles acts as Venus, does not look appropriate to the high politician Vinyoles was during his late years. Thirdly, because the manuscript does not mention the title of "mossen" when referring to Vinyoles and this title is, on the contrary, given to Fenollar alone. Castellvi, at least, has a "don" preceding his name, but Vinyoles is referred to with his name alone. Vinyoles appears with the title "lo magnifich" in 1488, in a literary contest in honour of Saint Cristopher.
Taken together, these facts point to a probable dating of the manuscript which should be set in the decades of 1470 or 1490 at the latest. In any case, in all probability, the "Scachs d'amor" manuscript must be older than Vicent's printed chess book of 1495. Recently, the Spanish historian José Garzón demonstrated that this poem was most probably composed in 1475.
The first printed Chess books
Following the "Scachs d'amor", two printed books were issued, both in Spain.
The first printed chess book was the lost incunabulum by Francesch Vicent, in Valencia in 1495. It contained almost certainly material on modern chess. The second, the oldest preserved book on modern chess was written by an Aragonese "converso" named Lucena, printed in Salamanca by Hutz and Sanz in 1496 or 1497, and was dedicated to Prince Don Juan (1478-1497). These three work were closely connected.
Vicent's book was writen in Catalan. The complete title of this incunable was:
"Libre dels jochs partits dels schacs en nombre de 100, ordenat e compost per mi Francesch Vicent nat en la ciutat de Segorb e criat e vehi de la insigne e valerosa ciutat de Valencia"
(Book of Chess games in the number of 100, ordered and composed by Francesch Vicent, born in the city of Segorbe and living in the famous and valorous city of Valencia)
This book was known by descriptions made by bibliophiles at the end of the 18th century who knew the latest extant copy in Montserrat. That book had a colophon which was:
"A loor e gloria de nostre Redemtor Jesu Christ fonc acabat lo dit libre que ha nom libre dels jochs partits dels schachs en la insigne ciutat de Valencia e estampat per mans de Lope de Roca Alemany e Pere Trinchet librere a XV dies de Mag del any MCCCCLXXXXV".
From that mention we know the date, May 15th, 1495, and the name of the printers: Lope de Roca Alemany and Pere Trinchet.
The German printers
It is a well-established fact that most of the early printers in Spain were Germans. In Valencia, the Mediterranean culture centre of the 15th century, there were many German printers, working alone or in couples. This is relevant to us because it shows his relationship with the printers of the chess books.
The lost Vicent's book let some traces in the following centuries. Ricardo Calvo has demonstrated that a Chess book writen by the physician, astrologist and humanist Girolamus Cardanus (1501-1576), was referring to Vicent's work. Cardano or Cardan (inventor, among other things, of the wheel transmission known in mechanics as "cardan transmission") gives an important clue about the content of the lost incunabulum of Vicent. A brilliant doctor and mathematician, Cardan spent in Milano most of his life. He was a welcomed guest in many European courts of the time, though always under suspicion of harbouring in himself "a genius and a demon". He left 249 written works, which are collected in the ten volumes of his "Opera Omnia" Lyon 1663. Many other writings went lost. Cardan wrote also a chess book, which likewise disappeared. In Chapter XIX of "De vita propia" Vol. I, p. 14 Cardano complains about the time he lost by playing chess and "io capisco di essere degno di censura per la smodata passione da me risposta negli scacchi e nei dadi. Giocai nell´una e nelláltra maniera per molto tempo, a dli scacchi per più di 40 anni e ai dadi per circa 25.; ne solo per tanti anni, ma, ho vergogna di dirlo, in quegli anni quasi tuttii giorni; e cosi perdei insieme reputazione, denaro e tempo". The chess treatise of Cardanus should have been written between 1521-22 and according to his own words was finished in 1524. The text began with the sentence "Non per vitio alcuno" ("It is not a matter of vice"). Cardanus seems very proud of his achievements, due to the big amount of chess materials included in his book. "40 combinazioni, i tranelli che in esse si possono fare, le regole aritmetiche per vincere e un modo cosi mirabile che i molti i quali lessero il libro, da ciò trassero per noi fiducia in più seri argomenti, ammirandone l´impegno e la meravigliosa abilità". Some of the positions must have been rather complicated: "per quanto io trovi ancora nel mio libro sugli scacchi molte e belle trovate, parecchie tuttavia andarono perdute, essendomi dovuto occupare di altro; ve ne furono poi 8 o 10 che non potei più riconstruire e che mi sembrava sorpassare veramente ogni umana destrezza e ingegnosità di invenzione." The important point is that in his treatise "De rerum varietate" (1557), Cardanus remarks that he composed his chess book with great effort, and makes several comments about the best way of printing diagrams. The practical problem was to print a black piece on a black square, and Cardan suggests a sensible way of solving it: instead of making the square completely black, it is better to make the square "striped". The Latin paragraph reads: "Loci nigri lineis nigris, quasi cancellis sunt distinguendi...latrunculorum vero figurae nigrae quidem tota superficie atramento tingantur..". Cardan mentions as a bad example that "those who printed the Spanish book confounded everything": "Qui hispanicum librum emiserunt, omnia confunderunt". The question is, which Spanish book is Cardan referring to? Lucena's book contains no mention of his printers, and only typographical research has established recently that the printers were Leonard Hutz and Lope Sanz. But on the contrary, Vicent's book stated clearly in the colophon that the book had been printed by Lope de Roca "Alemany" and Pere Trincher. So, Cardan was obviously referring to Vicent's book, and this book was therefore well known in Italy in the middle of the 16th century. This point suggests that at least part of the 100 chess problems compiled by Vicent were already modern chess.
In his very rare book "Il giuoco degli scacchi", Naples 1723, (which had its first partial edition in 1604), Salvio describes a chess match between Michele di Mauro and Tommaso Capputi. The astute Capputi prepared for the match by reading the chess book written by his opponent. On the contrary, Michele di Mauro used for his training other chess books: "...prende il Bove, il Rui Lopes e il Carrera, L'Alemanni, il Gironi e gli altri erranti..." These books are known: " il Bove" (The Ox) is Paolo Boi's book. Ruy López, Carrera and the Spaniard Girón also had chess books in use. But no one knows "L'Alemanni". Chicco deduced that Salvio, who frequently misread names, was referring to Vicent's book, confounding the name of the printer Lope de Roca "Alemany" with the name of the author. So, the book of Vicent was still known and used in Sicily in the 17th century.
Lucena, the second treatise
Moreover, it has been proposed that the second printed book of Chess, was most probably a mere translation into Spanish of the Catalan Vicent's book. This second work is "Repeticion de amores y arte de Acedrex" composed by Lucena and printed in Salamanca by Lope Sanz and Leonard Hutz, in 1496 or most probably 1497.
The book is very rare, and comparatively, only a few scholars have paid some attention to it. Upon opening the book, the impression of heterogeneity is unavoidable. The chess treatise, with the 150 diagrams printed as woodcuts, is by far the most significant and voluminous section of the book, but is preceded by other chapters which have little to do with chess. On purpose, scholars have excluded those parts that did not appear relevant to their particular field of interest.
The largest section of the book is the chess treatise. This is preceded by an extensive dedication to the Prince Don Juan, heir to the Spanish throne. The chess section has the following title: "Arte breve e introduccion muy necesaria para saber jugar al axedres, con ciento y cincuenta juegos de partido: intitulada al serenisimo y muy esclarecido don Johan el tercero, principe de las Spanas. Por Lucena, hijo del muy sapientisimo doctor y reverendo prothonotario don Johan Ramirez de Lucena, embaxador y del consejo de los Reyes nuestros senores, studiando en el preclarisimo studio de la muy noble cihdad de Salamanca".
When explaining the rules of the game, Lucena makes a careful distinction between the new way of playing chess, called "de la dama", and the ancestral rules, called "el viejo" (the old one). All 150 chess problems are equally classified in either group, 75 belonging to modern chess and 75 to medieval chess. So, both forms of play were, therefore, still coexistent in Salamanca when Lucena wrote his treatise.
Lucena's book bears no date, but it is dedicated to Prince Juan. Since the prince was born in 1478 and died tragically in 1497, this is the general chronological frame. In fact, much informtion focuses upon the lattter period of Prince Juan’s life and demonstrates that it is entirely concordant with the period during which Lucena wrote his book.
The prince was the second child and only male born to Fernando and Isabel. Therefore he was declared heir to the throne and assumed destined to reign someday as "Juan the Third", which is how Lucena lauds him. For this reason, great care was given to his education both in political science and in the development of his artistic skills. King Fernando himself was an inveterate player: in the words of Hernando de Pulgar, the official chronicler, he spent "a bit more time than he should have" on this game. Lucena was surely well informed by his father of this characteristic of the Spanish Royal Court, which allowed him to speculate with his intentions. In his dedication student Lucena praises the prince to an exaggerated degree, calling Don Juan's attention to his own chess proficiency as though he were trying to become a sort of chess mentor at the court.
Lucena played his card and destiny proved to be adverse. The addition about the prince grafted onto the dedication turned out to be decisive for the future of Lucena's work. Only this can explain the book's lack of circulation, the virtual ignorance concerning it almost all over Italy, the lack of repercussion across the rest of Europe and the absence of translations or reprints. The dedication to Prince Juan dragged the book to an early grave.
The political activity of Castellvi, Fenollar and Vinyoles, and their good relationship with King Ferdinand, gives us a very plausible link to Lucena. The Lucenas belonged to the Aragonese crown. Juan de Lucena , the father of the chess player Lucena, was ambassador of King Ferdinand, and when the Inquisition prosecuted him, in Zaragoza in 1504, there is a dramatic letter still preserved wherein Juan de Lucena reminds the monarch of all his past services to the crown. It seems likely that chess circle of Valencia was known by the Lucena clan, if not as a group of chess players, as it could be, at least as a team of high ranking officers in Valencia. Also to be remembered is the fact that Lucena the chess player had travelled "in Italy and France" with his father before writing his chess book, and the port of Valencia was the most sensible departure route when going to Italy. Altogether, a probable connection between Lucena and the chess circle of Valencia looks decisively reinforced, and not only limited to the well-established link through the printer Leonard Hutz. The Lucena clan was of Jewish origins, and the "conversos" had a close network of contacts among them. There is a lot of literature about the "conversos". Their special condition must be understood as situated in a peculiar "no man's land", in ideology as well as in religion. Under the pressure of their entourage, on the one hand, and of their roots, on the other, they were driven to an "escape forward" in a society, the Spanish society, which at the same time tried to destroy them. Seen globally, the conversos were decisive in almost every important event of this time, and Spanish history cannot be correctly understood without this particular fraction of society.
Castellvi was related to conversos, as a son of the "conversa" Violant d´Esplugues. Maybe Fenollar too, because some connotations of his name. Vinyoles was surely connected with another well- known group of "conversos", the famous Santangel clan, and therefore, a relationship between the Lucenas and the Valencian group seems highly probable. Vinyoles had to rescue his wife, who was charged of being "judaizante" from the furies of the Inquisition.
Part of the political success of Vinyoles could be due to this close connection with an influential family of "conversos", the Santangel family. Luis de Santangel was the most important banker in the Kingdom of Aragon, including the Italian parts of this kingdom. King Ferdinand relied very much not only on his money but also on his advice, and Santangel was the one who backed financially the first expedition of Columbus. Vinyoles was a relative of Santangel since he married Brianda de Santangel, the niece of the great banker. The couple lived in 1513 in the parish of Saint Valery. Endogamy was a constant among the conversos, and according to Caro Baroja not only because of natural attraction towards persons of the same kind, sharing the same "Weltanschauung" and the same sense of humour, but also for safety (less risk of being betrayed) and in many cases, common properties of material inheritances.
The marriage seems to have been one of those dictated by political convenience, with a certain difference of age between Vinyoles and Brianda. Vinyoles died in 1517, but Brianda was still alive in 1543, when she wrote her testament stating that her marriage with Vinyoles had no children. The eldest brother of Brianda, also named Luis, was abbot at St. John of Fiore in Naples in 1511. This branch of the Santangel clan lived in Naples for several years, which explains the Italian connections of Vinyoles. As a matter of fact, Vinyoles spoke not only Catalan, Castillian and Latin, but also Italian, in which he was fluent enough to write verses. So, we can establish yet another relevant link, connecting the Valencian chess circle with southern Italy. This may explain why the Vicent book, with problems of modern chess, was known by Cardan and Salvio as late as the 17th. century. It also explains the Valencian influence, so far completely neglected by scholars, in Italian chess works as important as the famous "Scacchia Ludus" of Vida, where Greek gods also appear playing chess in verses. The rapid spread of the new way of playing chess in Italy can be more easily explained through these links than through the book of Lucena, which remains unmentioned by the later authors from Damiano on.
In memoriam of Ricardo Calvo (1943-2002), International Master and Chess historian
(Created 23/04/2012, modified 09/03/2014)