H.M. Queen Isabella, the monarch who unified Spain and sent Christopher Columbus to discover America, was also the inspiration for the figure of the queen in modern chess.


In 1475, just 17 years prior to the discovery of America, the newest piece in the game, the Chess Queen, was introduced.

The Arabs brought chess to Spain when they invaded it in the 8th century, but, it was not until the late 15th century, when Queen Isabella was at the height of her powers, that the chess queen becomes the most powerful piece, according to research by chess historians.



King Alfonso X and Queen playing Chess1

King Alfonso X the Wise, wrote one of the first western chess treatises Libro de acedrex, dados e tablas ("Book of chess, dice and tables", in Old Spanish) in 1283, with an extensive collection of chess problems.

"In its original form, the equivalent of the queen was male, a piece known in Spanish as alferza, from the Persian, meaning something like vizier or adjutant".

The figure was weak, and its movements limited. Later, around 1475, when H.M. Queen Isabella was crowned queen of Castile, the figure became female but able to move only one square at a time, like the king.

A Spanish poem called "Lovers' Chess", written in 1475, the year of Queen Isabella's coronation, described for the first time the present day moves of the queen on the chessboard. The work is an allegory that describes a complete game of chess, and includes explicit allusions to the royal court of the time.

It was not until 1495, when H.M. Queen Isabella was the most powerful woman in Europe, that the present rules of chess were established, in which the Queen moves in all directions on the board.

The Queen was more powerful than her husband Ferdinand, but at the same time the King was the most important.
The same analogy applies to the Chess Queen which is the most powerful piece in the game, but, not, the most important.

No accident that the appearance of the first female chess piece, bearing a crown, sword and sceptre, coincided with the emergence of H.M. Queen Isabella, who astonished Europe with her powers of leadership, bravery and determination.

H.M. Queen Isabella married Ferdinand of Aragon and soon showed herself the stronger monarch. In 1495, three years after Columbus's landfall in America, Europe's first treatise on chess, which is known as Llibre dels jochs partits dels schacs en nombre de 100, by Francesch Vicent, was published in Valencia.
The work lays out the new role of "la dama poderosa" - the powerful lady (or queen) - and reflects, changing customs in warfare and the life of women.

It is interesting that this venture was supported by H.M. Queen Isabella, who had the vision to appreciate the potential of Columbus's idea.

In this day and age, respect is paid to the H.M. Queen Isabella, as she graces the chess board with her powerful moves.



1 Book of games: Libro de los Juegos was commissioned by King Alfonso X

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