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The Game and Playe of the Chesse: Preface and Table of Contents


3 endevoyred them, put themselves to the task.

5 infenyte, infinite.

6 foles, fools; emong, among.

9 dyscerne, discern; fro, from.

11 entende the same, (i.e., had the same desire to educate people).

12 Brudgys, Bruges.

13 Flaundres, Flanders (now the Flemish region of Belgium); me semed, it seemed to me.

18 depesshed, distributed.

20 longen, belong.

21 astates and degrees, estates and classes; comprysed, represented.

28 traytyes, books.

30 founden, created.

32 maad, made.

34 maners, virtues or disposition.

36 alphyns, bishops.

41 smyth, blacksmith.

42 notaries, personal secretaries or clerks; advocates, those who plead cases in a court of justice; scriveners, professional scribes; drapers, makers of and/or dealers in cloth.

44 chaungers, money changers.

45 leches, doctors; spycers, spice dealers; appotycaryes, apothecaries.

46 taverners, tavern-keepers; hostelers, keepers of hostelries or inns; vitaillers, purveyors of victuals or provisions.

47 kepars of townes, receyvers of custum, and tollenars, officials who collect customs or tolls.

48 currours, couriers; rybauldes, ribald or dissolute characters.

51 draught, move; eschequer, chessboard.

52 yssueth, issues.

55 her, their.

57 epilogacion, conclusion.


Abbreviations: CA: Gower, Confessio Amantis; CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; LGW: Chaucer, Legend of Good Women; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; PL: Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus, series Latina; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases.

The two best sources for identifying the Game and Playe’s various exempla are Alain Collet’s Le Jeu des Éschaz Moralisé, a modern edition of Jean de Ferron’s mid-fourteenth-century French translation of Jacobus’ Liber, and William E. A. Axon’s introduction to Caxton’s Game and Playe of the Chesse, 1474. I have used Axon and Collet as the base for my notes, adding a few additional sources that they did not find. I have also included modern editions and translations of these sources so that readers can easily locate them. In the notes I cite these editions by page numbers, or, in instances where the title of the work is unclear, by the title followed by the page numbers. Complete citations of these sources appear in the Biblio­graphy. All citations from the Bible are from the Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate.

When comparing Caxton’s Game and Playe to Jacobus’ Liber, I have used Marie Anita Burt’s edition of the Liber. When comparing Caxton’s text to French translations of Jacobus’ Liber, I have used Collet’s edition (above) and have also consulted MS 392 at the Regenstein Library, the University of Chicago. This manuscript, a hybrid of translations done by Jean de Ferron and Jean de Vignay, was the most likely base text for Caxton’s translation.


Caxton’s French manuscript copy may or may not have contained a prologue or preface. If it did not have one, Caxton might have returned to the Recuyell for a model.1 If it did include a prologue or preface, it was most likely from Jean de Vignay, who dedicated his French translation to Prince John of France.2 The parallels between Jean’s prologue and that of Caxton are striking. Yet it is not clear that Caxton had access to one of Jean de Vignay’s manuscripts for his translation. It is also worthwhile to note that Jean de Ferron’s translation of the Liber is prefaced by remarks that resemble Caxton’s 1483 prologue.3

1 The holy appostle and doctour of the peple, Saynt Poule, sayth in his Epystle. This saying from Romans 15:4 was a popular one both with Caxton and with earlier medieval writers, e.g., Chaucer in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale (CT VII[B2]3441–42).

5–6 And accordyng to the same saith Salamon, that the nombre of foles is infenyte. This saying is from Ecclesiastes 1:15.

9–11 Thenne emonge whom there was an excellent doctour of dyvynyté in the royame of Fraunce of the ordre of the Hospytal of Saynt John’s of Jherusalem. This is apparently a reference to Jean de Vignay, although as Axon notes this is the only reference that would place the French translator at the Order of the Hospital of St. John’s of Jerusalem. Axon also notes that Jean de Vignay “styles himself ‘hospitaller de l’ordre de haut pas,’ which was situated in the Faubourg St. Jacques of Paris” (Caxton’s Game and Playe of the Chesse, 1474, p. xxiv).

36 alphyns. bishops. In 4.2 the alphyn is defined as “juge of the kyng” and 4.4 indicates that he sits on the right side of the king. According to the OED, the term “alfin” derives from Arabic al-fil, meaning elephant; the chess piece still bears the figure and name of an elephant among the Chinese, Persians, and Indians.

Footnote 1 Arguing this point is Blake, who claims that as in the Recuyell, Caxton uses his preface to the Game and Playe to launch into “a rather extravagant praise of [his patron], which is expressed in laudatory platitudes” (“Continuity and Change,” pp. 75–76).

Footnote 2 In the introduction to his reprint of Caxton’s 1474 printing of the Game and Playe, Axon posits that the printer borrowed heavily from Jean de Vignay’s preface: “The bulk of Caxton’s work is undoubtedly from the French translation of Jehan de Vignay, whose dedication to Prince John of France has simply been transformed into a similar address to the Duke of Clarence” (Caxton’s Game and Playe of the Chesse, 1474, pp. xxiii–xxiv). Jean de Vignay’s preface reads: “A Tres noble & excellent prince Jehan de france duc de normendie & auisne filz de philipe par le grace de dieu Roy de france. Frere Jehan de vignay vostre petit Religieux entre les autres de vostre seignorie / paix sante Joie & victoire sur vos ennemis. Treschier & redoubte seign’r / pour ce que Jay entendu et scay que vous veez & ouez volentiers choses proffitables & honestes et qui tendent al informacion de bonne meur ay Je mis vn petit liuret de latin en francois le quel mest venuz a la main nouvellement / ou quel plussieurs auctoritez et dis de docteurs & de philosophes & de poetes & des anciens sages / sont Racontez & sont appliquiez a la moralite des nobles hommes et des gens de peuple selon le gieu des eschez le quel livre Tres puissant et tres redoubte seigneur jay fait ou nom & soubz umbre de vous pour laquelle chose treschr seign'r Je vous suppli & requier de bonne voulente de cuer que il vostre daigne plaire a receuvoir ce livre en gre aussi bien que de un greign’r maistre de moy / car la tres bonne voulente que Jay de mielx faire se je pouoie me doit estre reputee pour le fait / Et po’r plus clerement proceder en ceste ouvre / Jay ordene que les chappitres du liure soient escrips & mis au commencement afin de veoir plus plainement la matiere de quoy le dit liure pole” [“To the very noble and excellent Prince John of France, duke of Normandy and oldest son of Philippe, by the grace of God, king of France. Brother John de Vignay, an unworthy monk amongst the others in your realm, [wishes you] peace, health, joy, and victory over your enemies. Very dear and feared sir, because I heard and know that you see and listen willingly to things [that are] profitable and honest and lend themselves to the formation of good morals, I have translated a little book out of Latin into French that recently came into my possession in which several true stories and sayings of doctors, philosophers, poets, and wise men of old are narrated and applied to the morals of noble men and of commoners according to the game of chess. Very powerful and feared sir, I have completed this book in your name and under your shadow. Very dear sir, I beg and pray with all my heart that you deign to receive this book as willingly as if [it came] from a greater scholar than me, for the very great desire that I have to do better if I could must outweigh the deed. In order to proceed more clearly with this work, I have commanded that the book’s chapters be written and set at the beginning in order to see more clearly the matter for which this said book speaks”].

Footnote 3 Ferron writes: “Le Sainte Escripture dit que Dieux a fait a chascun commandement de pourchassier a tous nos prochains leur sauvement. Or est-il ainsi que nos prochains ne sont pas tout un, ains sont de diverses condicions, estas et manieres, sy comme il appert. Car les uns sont nobles; les aultres non: les aultres sont de cler engin; les aultres, non: les aultres sont enclins a devocion; les aultres, non” [“Holy Scripture says that God gave each [of us] the commandment to obtain the salvation of all our neighbors. Now our neighbors are not all one, but are of diverse conditions, estates, and classes, as it appears. For some are noble, others not. Some are of honest intent, others not. Some are bent to devotion, others not”] (qtd. Axon, Caxton’s Game and Playe of the Chesse, 1474, p. xx). Many thanks to Meriem Pages for help with both of these translations.










   The holy appostle and doctour of the peple, Saynt Poule,
sayth in his Epystle: “Alle that is wryten is wryten unto our doctryne and for our
lernyng.” Wherfore many noble clerkes have endevoyred them to wryte and
compyle many notable werkes and historyes to the ende that it myght come to the
knowlege and under­stondyng of suche as ben ygnoraunt, of which the nombre is
infenyte. And accordyng to the same saith Salamon, that the nombre of foles is
infenyte. And emong alle other good werkys, it is a werke of ryght special
recomendacion to enforme and to late understonde wysdom and vertue unto them
that be not lerynd ne cannot dyscerne wysdom fro folye. Thenne emonge whom
there was an excellent doctour of dyvynyté in the royame of Fraunce of the ordre
of the Hospytal of Saynt John’s of Jherusalem whiche entende the same and hath
made a book of the chesse morlaysed, whiche as such tyme as I was resident in
Brudgys in the counté of Flaundres cam into my handes, which, whan I had redde
and overseen, me semed ful necessarye for to be had in Englisshe. And in
eschewyng of ydlenes, and to the ende that somme which have not seen it, ne
understonde Frenssh ne Latyn, I delybered in myself to translate it into our
maternal tonge. And whan I so had achyeved the sayd translacion, I dyde doo
sette in enprynte a certeyn nombre of theym, whiche anone were depesshed and
solde. Wherfore bycause thys sayd book is ful of holsom wysedom and requysyte
unto every astate and degree, I have purposed to enprynte it, shewyng therin the
figures of suche persons as longen to the playe, in whom al astates and degrees ben
comprysed, besechyng al them that this litel werke shal see, here, or rede to have
me for excused for the rude and symple makyng and reducyn into our Englisshe.
And where as is defaute to correcte and amende, and in so doyng they shal deserve
meryte and thanke. And I shal pray for them that God of His grete mercy shal
rewarde them in His ever­lastyng blisse in heven, to the whiche He brynge us, that
wyth His precious blood redemed us. Amen.

This book is devyded and departed into four traytyes and partyes.

The first traytye How the playe of the chesse was fyrst founden and under what kyng. Capitulo 1
Who fond first the playe of the chesse. Capitulo 2
Wherfore the play was founden and maad. Capitulo 3

The second traytye The forme of a kyng of his maners and estate. Capitulo 1
The fourme and maners of a quene. Capitulo 2
The condicions and forme of the alphyns. Capitulo 3
The ordre of chyvalrye or knyghthode, her offyces and maners. Capitulo 4
The forme and maner of rookes. Capitulo 5

The thyrd traytye The offices and maners of laborers. Capitulo 1
The maner and offyce of a smyth. Capitulo 2
The offyce of notaries, advocates, scriveners, and drapers or clothmakers.
        Capitulo 3
The maners of marchauntes and chaungers. Capitulo 4
The forme of phisiciens, leches, spycers, and appotycaryes. Capitulo 5
Of taverners, hostelers, and vitaillers. Capitulo 6
Of kepars of townes, receyvers of custum, and tollenars. Capitulo 7
Of messagers, currours, rybauldes, and players of the dyse. Capitulo 8

The fourth traytye Of the chesse borde in genere, how it is made. Capitulo 1
The draught of the kyng and how he meveth hym in the eschequer. Capitulo 2
Of the moevyng of the quene and how she yssueth out of her place. Capitulo 3
Of the yssue of the alphyns. Capitulo 4
Of the mevyng of the knyghtes. Capitulo 5
Of the yssue of the rookis and of her progresse. Capitulo 6
Of the yssue of the comyn peple whom the pawnes represente. Capitulo 7
Of the epilogacion and recapitulacion of thys book. Capitulo 8

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