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Royalty in All Ages

Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer

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Royalty in All Ages: The Amusements, Eccentricities, Accomplishments, Superstitions, and Frolics of the Kings and Queens of Europe, is a book by Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer, first published in 1903. Chapters include: Royalty At Play; Freaks Of Royalty; Royal Revelry; Royal Epicures; Curious Fads Of Royalty; Dancing Monarchs; Royal Hobbies; The Royal Hunt; Royal Masques And Masquerades; Royalty In Disguise; Royal Gamesters; Royalty On The Turf; Royal Sports And Pastimes; Court Dwarfs; Royal Pets; Royal Jokes And Humour; Royalty And Fashion; Royalty Whipt And Married By Proxy; Court Jesters And Fools; Royalty And The Drama; Royal Authors; Royal Musicians; and, Superstitions Of Royalty.

This book has 191 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1903.

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Excerpt from Royalty in All Ages

The great Mogul Emperor was a chess player, and was generous enough to rejoice when he was beaten by one of his courtiers, which was the exact reverse of Philip II. of Spain, who, when a Spanish grandee had won every game in which he had played against the King, could not conceal his vexation. Whereupon the skilful but injudicious player, returning home, said to his family: “My children, we have nothing more to do at Court. There we must henceforth expect no favour; the King is offended because I have won of him every game of chess.” Napoleon did not like defeat even at chess, for, if he perceived his antagonist gaining upon him, he would with one hasty movement sweep board and pieces off the table on to the ground.

In some cases, however, if we are to believe the traditions of history, chess has been responsible for some serious fracas. Thus a story is told of William the Conqueror, how when a young man he was invited to the Court of the French king, and during his stay there was one day engaged at chess with the King’s eldest son, when a dispute arose concerning a certain move. William, annoyed at a certain remark made by his antagonist, struck him with the chess-board, which “obliged him to make a precipitate retreat from France to avoid the consequences of so rash an act.”

A similar anecdote is told of John, the youngest son of Henry II., who quarrelled over the chess-board with one Fulco Guarine, a Shropshire nobleman, receiving such a blow as almost to kill him. John did not easily forget the affront, and long after his accession to the throne showed his resentment by keeping him from the possession of Whittington Castle, to which he was the rightful heir. It is also said that Henry was engaged at chess when the deputies from Rouen informed him that the city was besieged by Philip, King of France; but he would not listen to their news until he had finished his game. A curious accident happened to Edward I. when he was playing at chess at Windsor, for, on suddenly rising from the game, the next moment the centre stone of the groined ceiling fell on the very spot where he had been sitting, an escape which he attributed to the special protection of Providence. It is further recorded that Edward I. received from one of the dignitaries of the Temple, in France, a chess-board and chess-men made of jasper and crystal, which present he transferred to his queen; hence it has been concluded that she, too, was skilled in the noble game.

But his son, Edward II., got into disrepute by playing at chuck-farthing, or cross and pile, which was held to be a very unkingly diversion, “and sufficient to disgust the warlike peers who had been accustomed to rally round the victorious banner of his father.” In one of his wardrobe accounts these entries occur: “Item—paid to Henry, the King’s barber, for money which he lent to the King to play at cross and pile, five shillings. Item—paid to Pires Barnard, usher of the King’s chamber, money which he lent the King, and which he lost at cross and pile to Monsieur Robert Wattewille, eight-pence.”

De Foix, on hearing that the Queen of Scots had resolved on the marriage with her cousin Darnley, went to Elizabeth that he might discuss the matter. He found her at chess, and, profiting by the opportunity of discussing the matter, he said: “This game is an image of the words and deeds of men. If, for example, we lose a pawn, it seems but a small matter; nevertheless, the loss often draws after it that of the whole game.”

The Queen replied, “I understand you. Darnley is but a pawn, but may well checkmate me if he be promoted.”

Charles I. was occupied, it is said, at chess when he was informed of the final resolution of the Scots to sell him to the Parliament; but he was so little discomposed by this intelligence that he continued the game in no way disconcerted. A similar anecdote is told of John Frederick, Elector of Saxony, who, having been taken prisoner by Charles V., was condemned to death—a decree which was intimated to him while at chess with Ernest of Brunswick, his fellow-prisoner. But after a short pause he challenged his antagonist to finish the game, played with his usual attention, and expressed his satisfaction at winning. And coming down to the reign of her late Majesty, Queen Victoria, it is said she was fond of most games, enjoying chess or draughts, which in her later days she exchanged for patience. When more actively inclined she would play at ball or battledore and shuttle-cock with the ladies of the Court, a practice which she continued till middle life.

As a warning against the perilous habit of playing chess with a wife, it is related of Ferrand, Count of Flanders, that, having constantly defeated the Countess, she conceived a hatred against him, which reached such a height that when the unfortunate Count was taken prisoner at the battle of Bouvines, she suffered him to remain a long time in prison, although, according to common report, she might easily have procured his release.

It was while playing at chess with a knight, nicknamed the “King of Love,” that James I. of Scotland referred to a prophecy that a king should die that year, and remarked to his playmate, “There are no kings in Scotland but you and I. I shall take good care of myself, and I counsel you to do the same.”

Don John of Austria had a room in his palace in which there was a chequered pavement of black and white marble, upon which living men attired in varied costumes moved under his direction according to the laws of chess. It is also related of a Duke of Weimar that he had squares of black and white marble, on which he played at chess with red soldiers.

Although Louis XIII. firmly prohibited all games of chance at Court, he had so strong an affection for chess that he rarely lost an opportunity of playing a game in his coach whenever he went abroad. In this respect he was very different to Louis IX., who forbade any of his officers to play at dice or at chess; and report goes that his anger on one occasion, at finding the Duke of Anjou engaged in a move of chess, knew no bounds.

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