Chapter 38

38. Chess and draughts in The Netherlands, 16th c.
 In chapter 36 and chapter 37 I determined the position of chess and draughts in post-medieval Germany and France. The source for my information was the language. The Germans associated the 64 squares board with draughts, never with chess. For the French the gaming box, a piece of furniture for several board games, was chiefly a draughtboard. And in France chess was such an unknown game that players of tables could call their game eschecs. Eschecs was the name for chess, but nobody needed it, and therefore using it in the meaning of tables did not cause difficulties.
In three chapters I try to determine the position of these two board games in The Netherlands, today Holland and Flanders. There has been much Dutch research into the history of draughts, and as a consequence I have more detailed information. Will this have consequences? Do we get the same image: draughts a major game and chess a minor game, or another one?

The position of draughts
 There is little information which gives us insight into the social position of draughts in the Netherlands of the 16th c. I have two sources.
The first one is an expression which was incorporated in a book with proverbs and expressions printed in 1550: “Hij kan poffen en blazen”, literally “Het can pant (puff) and blow”. The Duth words puffen and blazen are synonyms, but blow ‒the English equivalent is huff‒ was also a highly peculiar use in draughts, see chapter 30 and chapter 31: if a player forgot to take, his opponent took the failing piece from the board, huffing it. When in the 16th c. draughts was used in an expression, we may assume that all members of the community in question were familiar with the game.
The elite included. Like everywhere in Europe, the higher and middle class sent their sons (not their daughters!) to the Latin school. In The Netherlands too Latin was a condition to be successful in life, which meant to be able to do a religious training or a university study. The first Dutch university was founded in Leiden 1575, under a Latin name; the main subjects were given in Latin.
How to teach Latin at the Latin school? In the 16th c., the Frenchman Mathurin Cordier wrote a popular method: the “Colloquia”. He was an educator par excellence, wrote several books to educate youth, as his “Miroir de la Jeunesse, pour la former a bonnes moeurs (…)” (Mirror of youth, to teach them good morals). We may suppose the Roman Catholic Church did not hold with Cordier’s principles, as he adhered to the doctrines of Protestantism. He taught in many French cities. One of his pupils was Jehan Cauvin (John Calvin), with whom he became friends.
In his “Colloquia”, Cordier incorporated thousands of French sentences, with the Latin translation. His method met approval with colleagues all over Europe. In a certain sense their task was easy: they translated the French sentences into their mother tongue and took over Cordier’s Latin sentences. The “Colloquia” were translated into Dutch too, and there the Dutchman Rob Jansen found the second source. An edition published in Antwerp 1552 under the name of “De quotidani sermonis locutione cum Flandrica et Gallica interpretatione” contains the sentence “Laet ons dammen. Wij en hebben gheen damberdt” (Let us play draugths. We don’t have a draughtboard”). I don’t have the equivalent in the French edition.

The position of chess
 There are two proofs that chess was played in The Netherlands, at last in the South. This scene was painted by the Fleming Frans Pourbus the Older (1545-1581), who worked in Bruges and Antwerp. My source is Diepstraten 2001:31-2. The couple is playing for a stake: coins. The young man, who is losing and is at his wits’ end, called on a monkey for help. The animal can stand for self-conceited ability.
Pourbus, Frans
 What about the North? One of Holland’s greatest sons was Hugo de Groot (Grotius). A child prodigy, who wrote Latin poems when he was only eight years old, went to the University of Leiden three years later, and was promoted to doctor in Orléans on a juridical subject when he was 16 years old. In the early years of the 17th c., probably in 1602 or 1603, he wrote a number of epigrams about games played in the family circle entitled “Instrumentum domesticum”. They were only published in his “Poemata omnia”, Leiden 1645:305. Among these games also the Game of the Goose; nice to mention as in Amsterdam 2019, in the very month I am writing this chapter, Adrian Seville’s book was published entitled “The Cultural Legacy of the Royal Game of the Goose. 400 years of Printed Board Games”. For de Groot, four board games were worth to be mentioned: 2×3 morris, 2×9 morris, tables and 2×12 draughts.
 Chess is lacking. Obviously, chess was for de Groot not a game played at home as a recreation. Does it lead us to the conclusion that in the northern part of The Netherlands chess was rather unknown?
We might draw the same conclusion from three 16th c. inventories where the notary or his clerk calls a checkered board a draughtboard. In 1569 at the widow Dirixse’s, a merchant from Haarlem. At a castle in Hoogstraten, the East of the country, also in 1569. In 1599 at Jacques van Hanswijk’s from Amsterdam. Three 8×8 boards? In that case there is a repetition of the pattern in Germany, where the 8×8 board was seen as a board for draughts playing and not as a board for chess playing. We cannot exclude, however, that the notary or his clerk registered a draughtboard because he counted 10×10 squares. I enter more detailed into this problem.

The northern Netherlands, 16th c.
 In his 1599 dictionary, the Fleming Cornelis Kiliaan distinguished two draughts varieties. One variety had the name tweelf-stecken, literally “to play with twelve pieces”, the other variety dammen, with the Latin equivalent ludere duodecim scrupis, also literally “to play with twelve pieces”. And draughts with 2×12 pieces is played on the 8×8 board. So, the Dutch played two varieties on the 64 squares board? Probably not, because in the 17th c. notaries distinguished between chessboard and draughtboard, based on the number of squares: chessboard 64 squares, draughtboard 100 squares. Later lexicographers, for instance Jean Waesberghe 1618, never mention draughts a game with 2×12 pieces. In all likelihood, in The Netherlands two varieties were played, the old one on the 64 squares bard, the new one on the 100 squares board. The rules were identical. The origin of the 10×10 board has to be found in the region Amsterdam, second half 16th c. Probably Kiliaan, living in Duffel in the province of Antwerp, knew the names for the older game: tweelf-stecken, and for the new game: dammen (draughts), but not the enlarged draughtboard. It is plausible that in de late 16ht c. the 10×10 board had not yet reached the south of The Netherlands because of the war waged between The Netherlands and Spain between 1568 and 1648. When Kiliaan wrote his dictionary, the mercantile center Antwerp was one of the richest cities of The Netherlands. The flourishing period came to an end when in 1585 Spanish troops took the city after a siege of more than a year. It led to a brain drain of prominent Flemish scientists, artists and manufacturers to the free cities of the north. They gave the cultural life and economy of Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden a great impetus. Antwerp, on the contrary, fell into a decline, only in the 20th c. the city underwent a recovery.
The fall of Antwerp hampered contact with the north, and it is conceivable that at the end of the 16th c. Kiliaan was unaware of the 10×10 board. This explanation is an assumption, but I don’t have a better one.
I conclude this chapter with a reproduction of a work of Karel van Mander (1548-1606) from Flanders about 1603: he painted William Shakespeare (right) and Ben Jonson playing chess. My source is The reproduction in both Faber [1988:43] and Diepstraten [2001:33] is based on a photocopy of poor quality.
ben-jonson-and-shakespeare-playing-chess-by-karel-van-mander-2402 Van Mander was born into a noble family in a village in West-Flanders, studied in Ghent and Kortrijk, then travelled to Rome (1574-1577). On his return journey he passed through Vienna. In 1578 he settled in his native village, which he left in 1580 for Kortrijk. Because of religious troubles and the epidemic of plague he fled to the north, to Haarlem.
So, he never visited England, and nevertheless he depicted the two greatest English playwrights. And why are they playing chess? There must be literature on this riddle; I don’t know it.