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Art. 109, Mundus iste totus quoddam scaccarium est


Abbreviations: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); DOML: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library; FDT: French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages (Sinclair 1979); FDT-1French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages, . . . First Supplement (Sinclair 1982); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

10 familia. A collective term for the chess pieces, which, according to H. J. R. Murray, is “rare except in Latin works from the north of France and England,” and lends an interesting element to allegories that compare chess to human life (pp. 532–34).

17 ferce. The term fers refers to the queen in medieval chess. In French love poetry and Chaucer, where the chess analogy is utilized in a different context, fers may refer to the poet’s lady. See M. Taylor, pp. 303–05; and Peck 1970, p. 83.

22 Pervertisti. “You have perverted.” The Vulgate word is convertisti, “you have turned.”

26–27 exactiones iniustas. “Unjust taxations.” The author shares a concern for the overtaxed poor with John of Wales, and also with interests recorded elsewhere by the Ludlow scribe. Compare Song of the Husbandman and Against the King’s Taxes (arts. 31, 114).

39 fierce. The pawn becomes a queen (fers), perhaps with a French/English wordplay on “fierce.”

43 lyveret. A technical chess term (variant deliveret), which H. J. R. Murray defines as “covered check,” apparently meaning that a player in check is able to move out of check (pp. 532–34). Different versions agree that the word offered here is spoken by the player as he makes an evasive move in response to his opponent’s declaration of “check.” The term is French. Its Middle English equivalent is (according to Murray) neck, a technical usage that does not appear in the MED.


ABBREVIATIONS: As: Aspin; : Böddeker; Br: Brook; BS: Bennett and Smithers; BZ: Brandl and Zippel; B13: Brown 1937; Dea: J. M. Dean; Do: Dove 1969; Fl: Flood; : Förster; Fu: Furnivall; HB: Hunt and Bliss; Kem: Kemble; Ken: Kennedy; Mi: Millett; Mo: Morris and Skeat; MS: MS Harley 2253; Mu1: H. J. R. Murray; Mu2: J. A. H. Murray; NB: Noomen and van den Boogard; Pa: Patterson; Rev: Revard 2005a; Ri: Ritson 1877; Ro: Robbins 1959; SP: Short and Pearcy; Si: Silverstein; St: Stemmler 1970; Tu: Turville-Petre 1989; Ul: Ulrich; W1: Wright 1839; W2: Wright 1841; W3: Wright 1842; WH: Wright and Halliwell.

7 condicio. So MS. Mu1: conditio.

10 contingit. So Mu1. MS: contigit.

20 in linia. MS: cum linia (m abbreviated). Mu1: in linea.

21 obliquari. So Mu1. MS oliquari.

26 exigenciam. So MS (m abbreviated). Mu1: exigentia.
tertium. So MS. Mu1: tercium.
obliquant. So MS (n abbreviated). Mu1: obliquat.

31 latrant. So MS (ra abbreviated). Mu1: latrent.

32 tradant. So MS (ra abbreviated). Mu1: tradunt.

43 lyveret. So MS. Mu1: liqueret.











N; T   



N; T



N; T

¶ Mundus iste totus quoddam scaccarium est, cuius unus punctus albus est alius
vero niger propter duplicem statum vite et mortis, gratie et culpe. Familia autem
huius scaccarii sunt homines huius mundi, qui de uno sacculo materno
extrahuntur, et collocantur in diversis locis huius mundi, et singuli habent diversa
nomina. Primus enim rex est, alter regina, tertius rocus, quartus miles, quintus
alphinus, sextus pedinus.

Istius autem ioci condicio talis est ut unus alterum capiat, et cum ludum
compleverint, sicut de uno sacculo exierunt, ita iterum reponuntur, nec est
differencia inter regem et peditem pauperem quia simul in unum dives et pauper;
et sepe contingit quod quando familia scaccarii reponitur in sacculum, rex inferius
collocatur et reponitur. Sic fere quique maiores in transitu huius seculi inferius
collocantur, scilicet, in inferno sepeliuntur, pauperes in sinum Habrahe

In isto autem ludo REX vadit ubique et capit undique directe, in signum quod rex
omnia iuste corrigat et in nullo omissa iusticia obliquari debet. Set quicquid agit
rex iusticia reputatur, quia quicquid principi placet legis habet vigorem.

REGINA, que dicitur ferce, vadit oblique et capit undique indirecte, quia cum
avarissimum sit genus mulierum, nichil capit — nisi mere detur ex gratia — nisi
rapina et iniusticia.

ROCUS est iusticiarius, perambulans totam terram directe in linia, in signum quod
omnia iuste corrigat et in nullo omissa iusticia muneribus coruptus, obliquari debet.     
Set modo est quod pervertit iu|dicium, ut scribitur: “Pervertisti iu|dicium in
amaritudinem, et fructum iusticie in absinthium” [Amos 6:13].

MILES tres punctos pertransit, duos directos, in signum quod milites et terreni
domini possunt iuste capere redditus sibi debitos et iustas emendas secundum
exigenciam delicti, set tertium punctum obliquant cum tallagia et exactiones
iniustas extorquent a subditis.

ALPHIHI vero sunt episcopi non ut Moyses, ex colloquio divino, set potius regio
imperio prece vel pretio sublimati. Et sic promoti, isti alphini oblique currunt, et
tres punctos, currendo pertranseunt indirecte quia fere omnes prelati odio, amore,
munere, seu favore pervertuntur ne delinquentes corrigant. Et contra vicia latrant,
set potius annuo censu peccata ad firmam tradant. Sic Diabolum ditant. Unde qui
debuerunt esse viciorum extirpatores iam per cupiditatem facti sunt viciorum
promotores et Diaboli procuratores.

PEDINI pauperculi sunt qui, incedendo, duos punctos pertranseunt directos quia
dum pauper manet, in sua simplicitate et paupertate semper directe vivit. Set cum
capere vult, obliquat quia cum cupit aliquid temporale vel honores, consequi,
semper capiendo cum falsis iuramentis, vel adulationibus, seu mendaciis obliquat,
donec ad summum gradum scaccarii perveniat. Et tunc de poun fit fierce, et tunc
incontinenti capit cum maximo dominio, et tres punctos pertransit, quia, ut dicitur
in Alexandro, “asperius nichil est humili cum surgit in altum.”

In isto autem ludo Diabolus dicit “eschek,” insultando vel percuciendo aliquem
peccati iaculo. Qui percussus, nisi cicius dicat “lyveret,” ad penitenciam et cordis
compunctionem transeundo, Diabolus dicit ei “mat,” animam secum ad tartara
deducendo, ubi non liberabitur, nec prece nec pretio quia in inferno nulla est
¶ This whole world is a kind of chessboard, of which one square is white but
another black on account of the twofold state of life and death, of grace and sin.
Moreover, the pieces of this chessboard are the people of this world, who are drawn
out of one bag — a mother’s womb — and are positioned in various places of this
world, and every single one has a different name. For the first is the king, the
second the queen, the third the rook, the fourth the knight, the fifth the bishop,
the sixth the pawn.

The conduct of this game is such that one captures another, and when they have
finished the game, they are put back again in one bag, just as they came out of one,
and there is not a difference between a king and a poor pawn because the rich and
poor are together at the same time; and it often happens that when the pieces of
this chessboard are put back in the sack, the king is positioned and put back lower.
In this way almost all those who are greater during the passage through this world
are placed lower, which is to say, they are buried in hell, whereas the poor are
carried off into the lap of Abraham.

Furthermore, in this game the KING moves everywhere and takes from all
directions directly, to indicate that a king corrects everything justly and that in no
case ought justice be omitted and shunted aside. But whatever the king does is
regarded as justice, because whatever suits the prince has the rigor of law.

The QUEEN, who is called fers, moves obliquely and takes from all directions
indirectly, because since womankind is most greedy, it takes nothing — unless it be
given purely as a favor — if not by seizure and injustice.

The ROOK is a judge, traversing the entire board in a straight line, as an indication
that he corrects everything and that in no case ought justice be omitted and
shunted aside, corrupted by bribes. But now it happens that it perverts judgment,
as it is written: “You have perverted judg|ment into bitterness, and the fruit of
justice into wormwood” [Amos 6:13].

The KNIGHT moves three squares, two of them in a straight line, as an indication that
knights and earthly lords can justly take the incomes owed them and justly impose
correction in keeping with the requirement of the crime, but they move aside a third
square when they extort unjust taxes and exactions from their subjects.

The ALFINS are bishops elevated not like Moses, because of a discussion with God,
but rather because of royal power and thanks to entreaty or payment. And having
been promoted in this way, these bishops glide at an angle, and gliding three
squares, they pass indirectly because almost all prelates are perverted by hate, love,
bribery, or bias not to correct sinners. And they bark out against vices, but they
hand over sins for rent by a yearly payment. In this way they enrich the Devil. They
who ought to be the exterminators of vices have become through their avidity
promoters of vices and agents of the Devil.

The PAWNS are the poor and humble who, in advancing, traverse two squares in a
straight line because so long as a person remains poor, he always lives in a direct
fashion in his simplicity and poverty. But when he wishes to take, he moves at an
angle because when he desires to obtain something worldly or honors, he moves at
an angle, always taking with false oaths, flattery, or lies, until he arrives at the final
move of the chess game. And then from a poun he becomes a fers, and then
immediately he takes with greatest power and traverses three squares because, as is
said in Alexander, “nothing is harsher than a humble man when he rises.”

Moreover, in this game the Devil says “check,” insulting or destroying someone
with the dart of sin. When someone is stricken, unless he quickly says “delivered,”
passing over to penitence and remorse of the heart, the Devil says to him “mate,”
leading off his soul with him to hell, where he will not be freed by entreaty or
payment because in hell there is no redemption.

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