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 Arab 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.
How and why did this transformation take place? Birth of the Chess Queen examines the five-hundred-year period between the chess queen's timid emergence and her elevation into the game's mightiest piece. Marilyn Yalom, inspired by a handful of surviving medieval chess queens, traces their origin and spread from Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and England to Scandinavia and Russia. In a lively and engaging narrative, Yalom draws parallels between the birth of the chess queen and the ascent of female sovereigns in Europe, presenting a layered, fascinating history of medieval courts, with their intrigues and internal struggles for power. Further, she shows the connection between the chess queen, the cult of the Virgin Mary, and the cult of Romantic Love, all of which influenced European society for centuries to come.
Illustrated with beautiful art throughout, this book takes a fresh look at the politics and culture of medieval Europe, the institution of queenship, and the reflections of royal power in the figure of the chess queen.
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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.From Publishers Weekly:
A senior scholar at Stanford's Institute for Women and Gender who has written extensively on women's history, Yalom (A History of the Wife; etc.) sees the rise of female power throughout the centuries reflected in the history of the chess queen: "She has entered the academy of gendered icons, alongside the Earth Mother, the Amazon, and the Virgin Mary." For 500 years, chess was played in India, Persia and the Arab world minus a queen; she finally made her entrance in southern Europe around A.D. 1000. Drawing parallels between "symbolic queens on the chessboard and living queens at numerous royal courts," Yalom introduces readers to significant queens, empresses and countesses as she traces the spread of chess across Europe. With anecdotes, art, legends and literature, she shows how the chess queen became "the quintessential metaphor for female power in the Western world." Yalom offers an outstanding glimpse at chess as a courting ritual: "The chess queen and the cult of love grew up together and formed a symbiotic relationship, each feeding on the other." She also addresses the current status of female chess players—only 5% of the world's chess players are women—and wonders if "the best female players [will] ever be able to beat the best male players." Combining exhaustive research with a deep knowledge of women's history, Yalom presents an entertaining and enlightening survey that offers a new perspective on an ancient game. B&w illus.
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