Chess any Mythology

By Bill Wall


I recently read a book called The Dictionary of Mythology: An A-Z of Themes, Legends and Heroes by J.A. Coleman.  I was surprised of seeing several chess references in this nice book. 


Here are some examples.


Alardo (Allard) was the son of Duke Aymon and Beatrice of Dordonne.  He was killed by Charlot, the son of Charlemagne (742-814), who, in a fit of rage, struck Alardo on the head with a chess board when Arlado won the game against Charlot.  The same story is also said that Charlot lost a chess game to Baldwin.  After Baldwin announced checkmate “Charlot rose in a fury, seized the rich and heavy chess-board, and dashed it with all his strength on the head of Baldwin, who fell, and died where he fell.”

Baldwin, the son of Ogier and Belicene, was presented at Charlemagne’s court at an early age and became a companion to Charlemagne’s son, Charlot.  Charlot lost his temper when Baldwin was winning a game of chess and struck the boy over the head with the chess board, killing him outright.  In other accounts, Renaut killed Bertelai and Charlot killed Alardo in this fashion.

In another tale, Charlot, the son of Charlemagne, killed Baldwin, the son of Ogier the Dane, over a game of chess.  Ogier would have killed Charlot, but a servant intervened.  Another version is that he killed Alardo over a game of chess.  Rinaldo (Renaud), brother of Alardo, then killed Charlot in revenge.

Renaut (Rinaldo), was the son of Aymon and Beatrice.  In an argument over a chess game, Renaut struck Bertelai, the nephew of Charlemagne, with the chess board and killed him.  He and his brothers then fled to their father’s castle, but he threw his sons out.  In a Dutch story, Renaut killed Lodewijk (Louis) who had struck one of Renaut’s brothers with a chess board.

Art Aoinfheart was a high king of Ireland.  His father, Conn (King Conn of Ireland), married the goddess Becuma, from the land of Faery.  Becuma was previously married, but chose to leave her husband and fell in love with another in Faery land.  So she was banished to earth.  Becuma was jealous of her stepson, Art.  So to prevent problems between them, she had Conn send Art on a one year quest.  Becuma beat Art in a game of chess (with a little help from her foster sister, Aine) so he agrees to go on the quest.  Art rescued Delbchaem from the tower in the Land of Wonder where she had been imprisoned by her parents.  Art then took her home to Ireland and married Delbchaem and became king.  He then expelled the goddess Becuma from Ireland having beaten her in a second game of chess to decide which of them should leave. 

In another Irish Fairy Tale, Becuma challenges Conn’s son, Art to a game of chess and loses. As a penalty, Art instructs Becuma to leave Ireland until she locates the wand of Curoi, a task he hopes will be impossible. Becuma uses her contacts in Faery to locate it quickly, and she retrieves it. Becuma challenges Art to a second game of chess and wins. Becuma instructs Art to leave Ireland until he locates Delvcaem, daughter of the magician Morgan. Art undergoes a long quest full of trials and dangers before finding Delvcaem imprisoned by her parents. Art slays Morgan and his wife, marries Delvcaem, and returns with her to Ireland.

Blai Briugu (Blai the Landholder), a rich noble of Ulster, Ireland, was under a spell to sleep with any woman who came alone to his house.  He slept with Brigh Bretach, the wife of Celtchair.  Celtchair then killed Blai in revenge as Blai sat playing chess with the king of Ulster, Conchobar mac Nessa (son of Ness).

Cloithfhionn (Cloitfinn) was the wife of Eochaid Fredhleach (Eochu Feidlech) king of Ireland.  She fell out with her husband when they quarreled over a game of chess and left him, taking their triplet sons with her.

Congall Caoch, king of Ulster, Ireland, was said to have lost one eye when he was struck by a chess piece thrown by Suibhne Meann, a former high-king of Ireland.  Congall Caoch wonded Suibhne in a battle.  In his dying moments, Suibhne threw a chess piece at Congall, which blinded him in one eye.

Eochaid Airemh (Eochu Airem – the ploughman) was king of Ireland and married to Etain.  When Midir, the husband of Etain in a former incarnation turned up at Eochaid’s court, he and Eochard played a game of chess (fidchell).  Midir won and claimed the victor’s prize of a kiss and embrace from Etain.  Midir used his magic to claim Etain, and the pai fly away through the skylight, turning into swans as they do so.

Fidchell is a board-game like chess, played in Ireland.  The game was said to have been invented by Lugh, an Irish deity, and was played by gods as well as mortals.

Owain, a knight of King Arthur’s court, played chess (Gwyddbwyll) with King Arthur.  They became rivals, but they played chess while their armies fought on the field of battle.  A rider approached Arthur and Owein as they played chess.  He greeted Arthur and said that the ravens (Owein’s army) were killing the squires and pages.  Arthur looked at Owein and said, “Call off your ravens.”  Owein replied, “Your move, lord.”  They played on and finished their game and began another.  Another rider approached Arthur, saying that the ravens were killing the sons of the nobles.  Arthur again asked Owein to call off his ravens, and Arthur squeezed the gold men of the board until they were nothing but dust.  Owein ordered his men to lower the banner, and there was peach on both sides.  The story is found the 13th century tale, “The Dream of Rhonabwy.”

Tawlbwrdd was a chess board and set.  The set was made of gold and silver pieces which could move themselves.  It became one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain collected by Merlin.

Trendorn was a servant of Conor, king of ireland.  He had his eye knocked out by a chess piece thrown by Naisi (Naoise), a young warrior, when Trendorn was spying on him and Deirdre, daughter of theroyal storyteller,  after their return from Scotland (the couple eloped).  Trendorn climbed a ledge to a window high above the door and looked in.  Naisi and Deirdre were playing chess.  Deirdre looked up to see his face at the window, at which she let out a gasp.  Before Trendorn could get away, Naisi flung a chess piece he was holding.  It struck Trendon full in the eye so hard that it blew the eyeball from its socket and knocked him to the ground.