14. Yes, chess twaddle!
The common medieval gaming board was folding and two-sided: on one side it had a 64 squares pattern and on the other side a tables pattern, we can deduce from inventories. The four boards that has come down to us from the Middle Ages have this very construction (chapter 13). A standard assessory were a set of flat circular pieces and a set of chess pieces. My cautious conclusion: in the Middle Ages, the better social circles played tables and chess, they had no preference.
Common medieval gaming board
I use the word cautious as I need more certainty, and I think I can get it from the following inventories of board and pieces that I selected from the list behind the link in chapter 13.
1380. Ung tablier et les eschetz (a board and chess pieces).
1412. Ung eschiquier et un marellier et est garni d’eschéz (a chess board and a lined draughts board, with the belonging chess pieces).
1418 (1420?). Un tablier et le jeu des eschiéz (A gaming board and chess pieces).
1469. Ung eschiquier garny par des eschés (A chess board with the pieces).
1502. Une bouète en la quelle a des eschès (a box for chess pieces) and Ung tablier pour servir auxd. eschès (A board for these chess pieces).
1410. Ung tavelier et les taules (A board for tables (?) with pieces for tables).
1412. Un tablier pour juer as tables, avec les tables (A gaming board to play tables).
1417. Ung tablier garni de tables (A board for tables (?) with pieces for tables).
1467-77. Ung tablier et ung eschiquier garni de tables (A board for tables and chess with pieces for tables).
1470. Une bourse à mettre les tables d’un tablier (A bag to put the pieces for tables).
Flat round pieces and chess pieces:
1396. Un tablet et quatre autres tables et six pyonnés (Five pieces for tables and six pawns (?)).
1408. 1 jeu d’esches et de tables (a set chess pieces and a set pieces for tables).
There is no difference between the number of inventories I quoted, so that I conclude with more confidence: in the Middle Ages, the higher social circles in Western Europe played tables and chess, the inventories don’t indicate a preference for a game. This conclusion is inconsistent with what “they” always whispered in my ears about chess that outstripped all other board games, tables included.
From chapter 15 on I shall prove that the common vision of medieval chess is absolutely wrong. By way of foretaste a short comment. Chess historians typify medieval chess as a slow and actually boring game. Therefore I wonder if we don’t need to make a differentation like: “A game of tables was much more exciting than a game of chess; is it not more likely that the noble ladies and gentlemen played more often tables than chess?”
I shift back to chapter 9. In the manuscript that in the late 13th c. described the board games played at the court of king Alfonso X of Castile and León, chess received by far the most attention. In chapter 9 I draw the conclusion from that that the court with its Arab influences liked to play chess. The inventories in chapter 13 however, for the greater part of French origin, make me doubt. Could it be possible that the great attention for chess in the Alfonso manuscript is simply the effect of the availibility of chess compositions they knew from the Arab literature?