Chess and Medieval Spain

Queen Isabel of Castile united Castile and Aragon to create modern Spain. She also inspired the Queen piece in the modern game of Chess.


Chess Between Christian and Muslim

Queen Isabel of Castile was an significant woman. She:

  • united Castile and Aragon to form modern Spain,
  • conquered the sole remaining Muslim state in the Peninsular,
  • introduced the Inquisition to her realm,
  • evicted the Jews from her domains,
  • sent successful armies into Italy, and
  • discovered the Americas.

So it should be no surprise that she also inspired the powerful Queen in the modern game of chess (Westerveld, 1997; Yalom, 2004). Before the Isabel came along each side in chess had a plodding Councillor or Vizier instead.

It was in the late tenth century, during the regency of Empress Adelaide, that the
vizier underwent his sex change. Five hundred years later, in Queen Isabella’s Spain, the queen
was transformed from a timid lady mincing one diagonal step at a time into what one shocked
Italian bishop called a “bellicose virago.”  (From the review of Yalom (2004) by the New

If you’re interested in how chess looked before Isabel came along, check out Chess Variants: Shatranj.

Andalusian Chess

Andalusian Chess


Chess Variants: Shatranj

Westerveld, G. (1997). The influence of the Queen Isabel the Catholic on the New Powerful Dame in the Origin of the Game of Draughts and Modern Chess. Spanish literature 1283-1700. Author.

Yalom, M. (2004). Birth of the Chess Queen: A History. Harper Collins.

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