The Lewis Chessmen were discovered in the vicinity of Uig on the western shore of the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, in 1831, as part of a hoard of walrus ivory. The hoard includes assembled pieces made of whale bone and walrus ivory from at least four chess sets, probably made in Norway in the late 12th or early 13th century; these are some of the largest and finest group of early chessmen to survive. It is possible that they once belonged to a merchant travelling from Norway to Ireland.
More than 80 of the 93 surviving pieces are currently housed at the British Museum in London, with the remaining 11 cared for by National Museums Scotland. For more information on the chessmen and where you can find them, visit www.nms.ac.uk.
All images © National Museums Scotland
Below, the bishop is shown giving a blessing with his right hand and wearing a mitre on his head. His left hand grasps a crosier and a floor length cope, commonly worn by members of the clergy, is draped over his shoulders.
Looking rather glum, the queen (below) cradles her chin with her right hand while her left hand clasps a drinking horn. The back of the piece (pictured right) shows the queen is wearing a veil beneath her crown, which covers her hair, and is sitting on a throne decorated with a foliage design.
The unhappy looking king below sits on a throne, holding a scabbard across his knees, right hand on the grip, left hand grasping the blade. He wears an open crown with four trefoils and his hair in braids down his back, as well as a long mantle and a vestment with sleeves and slit sides.
Seated on a horse and wearing a protective coat divided at the front and back for ease of movement, the knight piece below carries a kite shaped shield and a lance ready for battle.
Below shows a front view of a warder, or soldier, holding a shield in his left hand and a sword in his right.
According to Old Norse literature, berserkers were renowned for fighting uncontrollably while in a trance-like state. The berserker here has bulging eyes and is angrily biting his shield, ready for battle.
This article was first published in August 2011.
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