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Lewis Chessmen

Lewis Chessmen



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12 Berserk Facts About the Lewis Chessmen

The Lewis Chessmen are the most important chess pieces in history. Ever since the ivory pieces were discovered sometime before 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, these kings, queens, knights, rooks, bishops, and pawns carved from walrus tusk and whale tooth have long fascinated us due to their exquisite craftsmanship, unusually evocative faces, and strikingly Norse character.

Today 82 of the 93 known pieces are in the British Museum, and the remaining 11 are at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Despite their fame, some key details about them remain unknown. Here are 12 facts we recently learned about the Viking ivory chessman. Most are found in Nancy Marie Brown’s new book Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them, which draws upon Icelandic sagas, archaeology, history, and forensics to locate the chessman in a time in history when the Norse ruled the North Atlantic.

1. NO ONE KNOWS EXACTLY WHERE, WHEN, OR HOW THEY WERE FOUND.

They may have been unearthed from beneath 15 feet of sand at the head of Uig Bay. Or perhaps they were found in a sandbank by a dim-witted farmer who mistook them for elves and promptly fled, only returning to retrieve them at the urging of his braver wife. Or perhaps the survivors of a shipwreck buried treasure they salvaged from the wreck but never returned for it. Yet another theory places them in the ruins of the House of the Black Women, an abandoned nunnery. These various tales have one thing in common: they put the discovery of the chessmen in Uig. All we know for sure is that the chessmen had to have been found before April 11, 1831, when they were displayed in Edinburgh at the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland.

2. WE ALSO DON'T KNOW WHERE THEY WERE MADE OR BY WHOM, BUT SOME SUSPECT THE ARTISAN WAS A WOMAN.

The most widely accepted theory puts their place of origin as Trondheim, Norway. Another has them carved at the see in Skaholt, Iceland, where, according to the Saga of Bishop Pall, Margret the Adroit, the high-status wife of a priest, “was the most skilled carver in all Iceland” and was regularly commissioned by the bishop Pall to craft walrus ivory gifts he sent to friends in high places overseas. In this theory, that could be how the chess pieces got to the Isle of Lewis, which was an important trading center at the time. Some archaeologists have floated the idea of excavating the see in Skalholt to look for Margret’s ivory workshop.

3. OTHERS SAY UP TO FIVE ARTISANS CARVED THE PIECES.

Two museum artifact specialists have proposed that based on the varying quality of the chessmen, at least four carvers created them. And in 2009, forensic anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson, a specialist in facial reconstruction who has given flesh to the skulls of King Richard III, Mary Queen of Scots, and Johann Sebastian Bach, put that number at five based on her analysis of the varied faces on 59 chessmen. She sorted them into five groups based on common characteristics like “round open eyes” and “inferiorly placed nostrils.” (Perhaps we can combine these theories and speculate that Margret the Adroit had four assistants in her workshop.)

4. BASED ON THE ROOKS' WEAPONRY AND THE BISHOPS' MITERS, THEY WERE LIKELY CARVED BETWEEN 1150 AND 1200.

There's no archaeological context for the pieces, so we can't date them precisely. But their duds give us reliable clues. The rooks are all warriors decked out in a fashion typical of the late-Norse period: long leather coats, kite-shaped Norman shields, expensive swords, and mostly pointy helmets (two look more like a bowler hat and a bucket, respectively). As for the bishops’ miters, or pointed hats—the way they’re peaked front and back identifies them as a style worn in the late 12th century.

5. FOUR OF THE ROOKS ARE BERSERKERS.

How do we know? They’re biting their shields. Berserks (“bear shirts” or “bare shirts”), according to a 13th-century account by Icelandic writer Snorri Snurluson, “wore no armor and were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, were as strong as bears or bulls. They killed other men, but neither fire nor iron could kill them.” The battle frenzy depicted on the chess pieces marks the warrior rooks as being from the North. As Brown wryly notes: “No other culture claims shield-biters.”

6. BISHOPS MAY HAVE MADE THEIR DEBUT ON THE BOARD WITH THE LEWIS CHESSMEN.

The 16 bishops in this set are unarmed, richly clothed, and well fed. How did these chubby men of the cloth get onto the battlefield of the board? As the oldest extant chess set that clearly includes bishops, the Lewis set could mark their debut. Perhaps their inclusion was ordered by Pall, bishop of Skalholt, and commissioner of Margret the Adroit’s famed ivory works. (See #2.)

7. THE KNIGHTS' HORSES HAVE COMICALLY—BUT ACCURATELY—STUBBY LEGS.

The tall steeds we picture knights in the Middle Ages mounted on weren't actually very common in the 12th century from Italy to England, most people rode stocky breeds, with the rider's legs dangling well below the horse's belly. The Lewis knights' horses are no different. Even today, Icelandic horses, purebred since the 12th century—the time of the Lewis chessmen—are strong and agile, but they are also pony sized. Brown writes, "A popular cartoon, printed on postcards, shows an Icelandic rider wearing roller skates."

8. THE QUEENS ALL HOLD ONE HAND AGAINST A CHEEK—A GESTURE YET TO BE UNDERSTOOD.

At the time, the queen was the weakest piece on the board, moving only one space per turn it wouldn’t be until the late 15th century that the queen began to emerge as the most powerful piece in the game. Does that lowly status account for the intense emotion on the queens’ faces, and the position of their hands? All eight queens are crowned, seated on thrones, bedecked in elaborate gowns, and hold their right hand to their cheek. The emotion behind this distinctive pose has been variously read as grief, despair, patience, calculation, disapproval, or surprise, among others. Despite these wildly different interpretations, Brown writes, “everyone can agree that the Lewis queens do not look pleased. Though not warrior women, they are women at war.”

9. WE MAY BE ABLE TO IDENTIFY TWO OF THE KINGS.

Like the queens, the eight kings sit on thrones, and their faces are equally grim (except for the two young ones, who are a bit eager). They have swords across their laps and all but one sport long hair twisted into locks. If the pieces do indeed date to the late 12th century, we may be able to identify two of them: Magnus V, crowned in Norway in 1164, and Sverrir (1184–1202), who followed him.

Magnus V—not to be confused with Magnus the Bare-Legs or Magnus the Blind—became king at just eight years old, but his father Erling Skew-Neck really ruled Norway until he died in 1179, by which time Magnus was a handsome man fond of drink and women. Sverrir, on the other hand, was stout and broad, and “looked most kingly when he was sitting down,” Brown writes.

When Magnus died in 1184, Sverrir took the throne, but clashes with the archbishop led to his excommunication, and he soon had an armed rebellion on his hands. Eventually the rebels were trapped at Viken and reduced to eating their walrus-hide ropes, and Sverrir gave them quarter. A kind of peace ensued, but Sverrir died months later of illness, still excommunicated. The year was 1202. According to the Saga of King Sverrir, the king griped towards the end, “Being a king has brought me war and trouble and hard work."

10. HARRY AND RON PLAY WIZARD CHESS WITH THE LEWIS CHESSMEN IN HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE.

11. AS SCOTLAND CONSIDERED INDEPENDENCE, THE LEWIS CHESSMEN WERE CONSIDERED A NATIONAL ASSET ALONGSIDE OIL AND THE MILITARY.

There have been calls to “repatriate” the Lewis chessmen from the British Museum for several years. This push dovetailed with the movement towards Scottish independence in 2012, when the pro-independence, center-right Scottish Democratic Alliance party published a white paper titled “The Future Governance of Scotland” that included five key aspects of the “exit strategy from the U.K.” Number 3 on the list: “Negotiation on division of the U.K. assets (oil, financial, military, Lewis chessmen, etc.).” In 2014 Scotland voted against independence.

12. SIX CHESSMEN WILL RETURN "HOME" NEXT YEAR TO A CASTLE ON THE ISLE OF LEWIS.

The 19th-century Lewis Castle is slated to be the home of six chessmen on permanent loan from the British Museum. The castle was supposed to open to the public this month, but concerns about security measures and environmental conditions in the exhibition room at the castle have delayed their return until next year.


The Lewis Chessmen

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Exclusive to the British Museum, and part of the Objects in Focus range of books, a guide to the Lewis Chessmen.

This lively book considers the various fascinating stories which have evolved to explain the ownership, concealment and discovery of the pieces whilst also placing them in the wider context of the ancient game of chess and secular art of the middle Ages.

About the Lewis Chessmen:

The Lewis Chessmen consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales’ teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, mitred bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks. They were found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis, but were probably made in Norway, in around 1150-1200 AD. At this time, the Western Isles where the Chessmen were buried were part of the kingdom of Norway, and not Scotland as they are today.

Although very few details of the origins of the Chessmen are known, it is possible that they belonged to a merchant travelling from Norway and that they were buried for safekeeping on route to be traded in Ireland. This seems likely as there are enough pieces, though with some elements missing, to make four sets.

No exact account of the discovery remains, but they apparently came to light after the collapse of a sand-bank on the coast of the island revealed their hiding place to a passing islander. All that is certain is that they were found some time before 11 th April 1831 when they were exhibited at the Society of the Antiquaries in Scotland.

Of the original 93 pieces discovered on the Isle of Lewis, 82 pieces are now housed in the British Museum.

An exciting read for anyone interested in the history of the famous chess pieces.

  • Product Code: CMC50239
  • Theme: The Lewis Chessmen
  • Author: James Robinson
  • Pages: 64
  • Dimensions: H21 x W0.5 x L15cm
  • Brand: British Museum
  • Illustrations: 15 colour illustrations
  • Postage Weight: 0.16 Kg

Exclusive to the British Museum, and part of the Objects in Focus range of books, a guide to the Lewis Chessmen.

This lively book considers the various fascinating stories which have evolved to explain the ownership, concealment and discovery of the pieces whilst also placing them in the wider context of the ancient game of chess and secular art of the middle Ages.

About the Lewis Chessmen:

The Lewis Chessmen consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales’ teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, mitred bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks. They were found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis, but were probably made in Norway, in around 1150-1200 AD. At this time, the Western Isles where the Chessmen were buried were part of the kingdom of Norway, and not Scotland as they are today.

Although very few details of the origins of the Chessmen are known, it is possible that they belonged to a merchant travelling from Norway and that they were buried for safekeeping on route to be traded in Ireland. This seems likely as there are enough pieces, though with some elements missing, to make four sets.

No exact account of the discovery remains, but they apparently came to light after the collapse of a sand-bank on the coast of the island revealed their hiding place to a passing islander. All that is certain is that they were found some time before 11 th April 1831 when they were exhibited at the Society of the Antiquaries in Scotland.

Of the original 93 pieces discovered on the Isle of Lewis, 82 pieces are now housed in the British Museum.

An exciting read for anyone interested in the history of the famous chess pieces.


Comparisons and Contradictions

Too late for that. I’d already spent an hour handling four of them. Out of their glass display case, they are impossible to resist, warm and bright, seeming not old at all, but strangely alive. They nestle in the palm, smooth and weighty, ready to play. Set on a desktop, in lieu of the thirty-two-inch-square chessboard they’d require, they make a satisfying click.

The king, queen, and rook I chose are all about the same size: two and three-quarters to three and a quarter inches tall. The bishop is much bigger—over three and a half inches to the peak of his pointed miter—obviously from a different set, I thought, though it’s hard to sort the fifty-nine face pieces by size. You can make two sets—then the system falls apart. The Lewis hoard may represent more than four chess sets. There may be more pieces missing than we think.

The bishop piece from the Lewis chessmen set. Photo courtesy of National Museums Scotland.

Perhaps some—broken or decayed—were left behind in that sandbank or cist by whoever discovered them. Written accounts of the find are contradictory. But the collection does seem to have been sorted. The chessmen we have are remarkably well preserved for having lain in the ground for six hundred–some years.

Except for the spider web of surface cracks no one can explain (worm channels? etching by acids secreted by plant roots? damage by marine gastropods?) and a dark mottling to his creamy color, the bishop in my hand looks brand new. Dressed in chasuble and miter, he clasps his crozier close to his cheek and raises his right hand in an awkward blessing. He has an enormously long thumb. His nose is straight, his eyes close set, his mouth crooked with a bit of an overbite. He’s a jowly fellow, too—no ascetic here. He’s carved from a prime section of walrus tusk, I see, turning him upside down: I can barely tell where the smooth ivory surface of the tusk gives way to its darker, grainier core.

The rook, too, was made of quality ivory. He’s uniformly shiny, though he sports the same speckling of fine cracks as the bishop. He brandishes his sword and bites his kite-shaped shield, berserk fashion . His buck teeth aren’t straight. His nose isn’t either: It looks broken. Like the bishop’s, his garment is simple. It seems to be just a long coat, perhaps of leather. A few strong grooves mark the fabric’s folds a line of dots on his cuff suggests ornament. His helmet is a plain conical cap.

A rook gaming piece from the Lewis chessmen set. (Nachosan/ CC BY SA 3.0)


Lewis Chessmen: The Discovery, The Importance, And An Auction

Imagine finding a medieval chess piece. What would you do? An antiques dealer who bought one in 1964 in Edinburgh stored it in his home without realizing its importance. After he died, his daughter inherited the piece and occasionally would admire it but still kept in tucked away in a drawer, where it was stored for 55 years, also without understanding its value as a historic artifact.

The newly discovered medieval chess piece. Photo by Tristan Fewings of Sotheby&rsquos.

The 8.8-centimeter (3.5-inch) piece has now been identified by Sotheby&rsquos auction house in London as an important part of a collection known as the Lewis Chessmen that were found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis, the largest and northernmost island in the Outer Hebrides, which is west of mainland Scotland. The British Museum in London is home to 82 of the pieces of the collection, and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is home to 11 more. At each museum, the chessmen are a major attraction. However, the collection has been missing five pieces.

Lewis Chessmen on display in a cabinet in 1875 in British Museum&rsquos Medieval Gallery. Photo by Frederick York.

Carved from walrus ivory in the 12th century, the piece will go on display in Edinburgh tomorrow (June 4, 2019). It will be sold at auction on July 2 in London by Sotheby&rsquos as part of the Old Master Sculpture and Works of Art Sale. Before the sale, the piece will be moved to London where it will again be on display. Sotheby&rsquos estimates that the piece is worth not less than 600,000 British pounds and may bring a price as high as 1 million British pounds. This will be the first time that any of the Lewis Chessmen have ever been auctioned. (The antique dealer who bought the piece in 1964 paid only 5 British pounds for it. What a bargain!)

What are one million British pounds worth? Here&rsquos a comparison (as of June 3, 2019):


The History of The Isle of Lewis Chessmen

The Lewis Chessmen are one of, if not the most important and significant archaeological finds ever to be made in Scotland. These chessmen date back to the 12th century and are currently on display at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Did you know these recognisable chess pieces were intricately detailed and originally made from whale bone and walrus ivory.

In this blog, we will be bringing the Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces to life with an amalgamation of facts, information and beautiful images. Let’s make a start!

The Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces were discovered in the vicinity of Uig, on the western shore of the Isle Of Lewis, Scotland in 1831, during a hoard of walrus ivory. The discovery saw at least four chess pieces situated amongst walrus ivory and whale bone. It is thought that these chessmen most likely originated from 12th century Norway It is believed that the chessmen belonged to a merchant who was travelling from Norway to Ireland at the time.

Did you know that more than 80 of the 93 remaining chess pieces are currently held in the British Museum, London? With the remaining 11 being housed at the National Museum of Scotland.

Below, you can see the bishop in the stance of him offering blessing with his right hand, note that he is also wearing a mitre on his head, whilst his left hand holds a crosier and long cope, which is commonly worn by members of the clergy.


Did you know that the cope is a robe for processions that are worn by all ranks of the clergy and are usually worn when assisting at a liturgical function, but it is never worn by the priest and his sacred ministers during mass.

Looking somewhat Solemn , the queen (above) caresses her chin with her right palm while her left hand grasps a horn flask. The reverse of the piece (right image) details the queen's veil that hides her hair, she is also seated on a throne which is expertly detailed with foliage design.

The equally as Solemn looking king that is featured below, also sits on a throne-styled platform, he holds a scabbard (also known as a dagger or blade) across his knees, with his right hand situated amongst it, whilst his left hand grasps the blade tight. The king wears an open-crown that details four trefoils and his hair in Viking-style braids, lusciously flowing down his back. Amongst the detail is a long mantle and a robe (also known as a vestment) that has sleeves and slit sides.


Perfectly situated amongst a steed the knight piece amongst the Isle of Lewis Chessmen is a favourite amongst chess-collectors. The knight is fashioning a protective coat that is divided near the front as well as the back for ease of movement during battle. The knight piece pictured below holds a kite-shaped armour shield and a spectacular lance that certainly makes him a knight to be intimidated by.



The image below features the front view of the warder chess piece (also known as the soldier) He is perfectly poised and is seen to be grasping a shield in his left hand and a sharp sword in his right.


Did you know that the warder is the equivalent of a castle or rook, was recently identified and was sold for £735,000 in July 2019.

Berserkers (pictured below) were known for fighting uncontrollably, in a trance-like state. According to Old Norse literature, the berserker here has bulging eyes and is biting his shield to show his aggression and readiness for a battle.

Four major pieces and many pawns still remain missing from the original chess set. But while you are still on the hunt to find the original Uig chessmen, why not invest in am Isle of Lewis reproduction chess set? We have a large variety of outstanding quality reproductions chess piece available in our online chess store.


The Lewis Chessman…and the Woman who Created Them

The Lewis Chessman, c. 1150-1175 CE. The British Museum.

The Lewis Chessmen are one of the most famous sets of chess pieces in the world. Prominently displayed at The British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland, these pieces have been publicized as being made in Norway by men.

But that&rsquos probably not the truth.

The Lewis Chessmen are 93 gaming pieces found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis around 1831. The pieces include 78 chessmen, 14 tables-men, and a buckle to secure a bag. All are made of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whale teeth to form the shapes of kings, queens, bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders, and pawns. Most scholars estimate that the find is actually four or more chess sets, though no one knows for sure.

Together, they represent a late Norse army &ndash including the mix of queens, Christian bishops, and Viking berserks (or &ldquoshield-biters&rdquo) known at the time throughout Norse countries. Yet analyzing all the evidence, historian Nancy Marie Brown recently published a book that refutes traditional ideas about where the chessmen came from &ndash and who they were made by.

The new theory, based on recently translated Norse sagas, posits that the Lewis Chessmen were made by a woman, Margaret the Adroit.

Margaret lived in Skaholt, Iceland, during the late twelfth century. She was hired by Bishop Pall Jonsson to carve gifts for his colleagues in Denmark, Norway, Scotland, and Greenland &ndash a tradition of gift-giving that was widespread. This was because Iceland was at the height of its golden age as a rich, independent country, it was full of artistic creation and widely connected to Europe and beyond. It was an unprecedented time for the exchange of ideas, so much that it&rsquos difficult to tell what art comes from where. Artists were known to travel widely and learn from one another, creating a cross-cultural artistic exchange that influenced the whole of Europe.

Margaret was one such artist. In the Saga of Bishop Pall, she is credited with carving &ldquoa bishop&rsquos crozier of walrus ivory, carved so skillfully that no one in Iceland had ever seen such artistry before it was made by Margaret the Adroit, who at that time was the most skilled carver in all Iceland.&rdquo We know that the Saga itself is true &ndash archaeologists have found the sarcophagus of Bishop Pall, exactly as it is described in the Saga, and he was holding a crozier that matched the description of Margaret&rsquos work. So we can assume that Margaret was real, too &ndash and we know that she lived and worked in Skalholt, making &ldquoeverything that Bishop Pall wanted&rdquo in wood and ivory.

Yet despite all the evidence, many scholars still assume &ndash based on scant evidence &ndash that the chessmen were made in Norway by a man, or by several men. Yet Nancy&rsquos book shows, through various types of evidence, that it&rsquos more likely the chessmen were made in Iceland by Margaret &ndash or, at least, by those in her workshop. They may have even been made over a long period of time &ndash showing variation and stylistic similarity that suggests Margaret may have made them as she slowly developed her craft. The faces may even reflect ones that Margaret knew in real life.

Like much of history, Margaret&rsquos story is highly debated. No one knows for sure, because no archaeologists have yet excavated twelfth-century Skaholt, where Margaret lived and worked, or Uig on the Isle of Lewis where the chessmen were found. Both locations were notable during Margaret&rsquos lifetime &ndash Skaholt as the bishop&rsquos seat, and Lewis as an administrative center in Iceland with thriving international ties. Unless we go looking for the evidence that Nancy and others believe may be there, we&rsquoll never know for sure.

But we do know that Margaret and Bishop Pall lived. That they loved art. And that Margaret had the skill and renown in her craft to be charged to create these fascinating chessmen.

-Tiffany Rhoades
Program Developer
Girl Museum Inc.

This post is part of our 52 Objects in the History of Girlhood exhibition. Each week during 2017, we explore a historical object and its relation to girls&rsquo history. Stay tuned to discover the incredible history of girls, and be sure to visit the complete exhibition to discover the integral role girls have played since the dawn of time.


History

Bernara Iron Age Building Callanish Standing Stones Carlow Broch Uig Chessmen
Lattas Mill Norse Mill Norse history The Trussel Stone

History

The story of the Isle of Lewis is steeped in both history and mystery. Man has inhabited Leodhas, meaning marshy, for probably 5000 years.

The Standing Stones and Stone Circles bear witness to this early occupation, as do the Iron Age forts and archaeological sites scattered around the Island. Brochs, hill forts and the evidence of the Iron Age that we see today, were constructed from about 250 B.C. to 500 A.D., and mainly on the coastal fringes.

We now observe Lewis with large areas of peat land and bog. However, this was not always the case. Up until about 1500 B.C. the island was fertile, warmer, and much less wet. Farming was predictable, secure and the seafood plentiful. Prior to this time was when most of the monoliths and stone circles were constructed.

When the climate changed the people of Lewis adapted, but had to move to the coastal machair areas to survive. The acidic bog areas developed and the peat is the result. A major date in the Lewis historical calendar was 1150 B.C. when mount Hekla in Iceland erupted, producing the equivalent of a ‘nuclear winter’ for Scotland.

The effect on Lewis, Harris and the rest of Scotland was devastating. For an interesting article on the subject, click on Hekla

Before and after the re-population of the Hebrides, the history of Celtic peoples were the predominant social group, with roots back into central Europe. The fortifications that were built on Lewis must have been to defend themselves from other Celtic groups, as this was well before the days of the Viking raiders.

Duns and Brochs are basically fortifications, the only difference is that Brochs tend to be bigger. Domestic dwellings had a similar history, but simpler construction. An excellent example can be seen at the West end of Bernera where a reconstruction has been made next to the existing iron age village.

Throughout the years from the late 500’s Christianity made its presence felt throughout the Western Isles, mainly through the work of the Monks of St Columba. St Columba brought Christianity from Ireland and established a Christian settlement and Abbey on the Isle of Iona.

One fine set of ruins can be visited on the area of land a few miles beyond the airport at ‘Point’ . The ruined church is called St.Columba’s.

Towards the end of the 800’s the relative stability of the Island was rudely awakened by summer visitors from Scandinavia. The Vikings were on opportunist raids to begin with, but by the middle of the 900’s settled in many of the coastal areas and made farms and permanent residences.

A few Viking era buildings remain, the best examples for the visitor to see are the Mill and Forge near Shawbost, now renovated and Liamshader near Carloway. The Vikings history also left a very important set of artistic relics in the Lewis Chessmen. The real impact of the Vikings though was on the environment.

The Vikings were heavy users of timber and relied on it for their houses, boats and fuel. The native woodlands were soon consumed and this vital resource was finally seriously reduced by a Viking leader called Magnus III who instigated a ‘scorched earth’ policy.

The Vikings history influenced the building techniques for years to come and even during the last few hundred years, the traditional ‘Black house‘ has elements of Viking construction.

The Viking era came to an abrupt end after the Battle of Largs in 1263 when King Haakon of Norway was defeated by King Alexander the third of Scotland. Within three years, all of Norway’s lands in the West were returned to Alexander. Probably this political change meant very little to the well settled Viking farmers who must have been well integrated into the island.

However, several clan families were able to establish themselves under the new Scottish regime. The Clans were of mixed Viking and Celtic origin, some of them with traceable names from Norse leaders like ‘Leod’. His sons were therefore Son of ‘Leod’, or MacLeod. Other dominant clans were Morrison and MacAulay, mainly due to their loyalty to the Lords of The Isles, MacDonalds.

The place names of Lewis maintain a mixture of Viking and Celtic origin as do many Gaelic words, however, the enchanting soft lilt to the inflexion within the dialect of the modern Leoisher is probably the most noticeable trace of this ancient fusion of history.


Ten things you didn&rsquot know about the Lewis Chessmen

The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked exhibition in Edinburgh brings together the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland’s collections of the Lewis Chessmen – a set of medieval gaming pieces, originating most likely from Trondheim in the 12th or 13th century, which were discovered on the Hebridean island of Lewis sometime between 1780 and 1831.

Individually hand-carved from walrus ivory, and numbering 93 pieces in total – 82 of which are held by the British Museum, the remaining 11 by the National Museum of Scotland – the Lewis Chessmen are world famous for their mysterious origins, unique design and curious, almost comical expressions, which range from moody kings to a frightened-looking warder biting down on his shield. They even made a cameo in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Lewis Chessmen Unmasked curator Dr David Caldwell revealed ten fascinating facts about the artefacts, covering everything from the story behind their enchanting expressions to a new theory on when and where on Lewis they were found, why it’s unlikely that a handful of missing Chessmen will ever be discovered, and why the 82 pieces owned by the British Museum will most likely never be repatriated.


Contents

The chessmen were probably made in Norway, perhaps by craftsmen in Trondheim, in the 12th century, [4] although some scholars have suggested other sources in the Nordic countries. [4] During that period the Outer Hebrides, and many other Scottish islands, were ruled by Norway. [4]

There is a broken queen piece in a similar style from an excavation of the archbishop's palace, similar carving in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the excavation in Trondheim of a kite-shaped shield similar to shields on some of the pieces and a king piece of similar design found on Hitra Island, near the mouth of Trondheim Fjord. Woolf has said that the armour worn by the chess figures includes "perfect" reproductions of armour worn at the time in Norway. [5]

Another suggestion is that the chessmen originated in Iceland. [6] It is not possible to decide between Norway and Iceland on the evidence available, and the date of the set is also somewhat uncertain.

Some historians believe that the Lewis chessmen were hidden (or lost) after some mishap occurred during their carriage from Norway to rich Norse towns on the east coast of Ireland, like Dublin. The large number of pieces and their lack of wear may suggest they were the stock of a trader or dealer in such pieces. [4] Along with the chess pieces, there were 14 plain round tablemen for the game of tables and one belt buckle, all made of ivory, making a total of 93 artifacts. [7]

After their discovery by Malcolm Macleod in 1831 they were sold on, and shown at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The chessmen were soon after split up, with 10 being purchased by a Kirkpatrick Sharpe and the rest (67 chessmen and 14 tablemen) were purchased on behalf of the British Museum in London.

Kirkpatrick Sharpe later found another bishop to take his collection up to eleven, all of which were later sold . Eventually they were bought by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who donated them to the Royal Museum in Edinburgh. The eleven are now on display in the National Museum of Scotland.

The pieces given to the British Museum still exist, and most can be found in Room 42 with the registration numbers M&ME 1831, 11–1.78–159. Some have been lent to Scottish museums and temporary exhibitions. [4] A range of resin replicas are popular items in the Museum shops.

The chessmen were number 5 in the list of British archaeological finds selected by experts at the British Museum for the 2003 BBC Television documentary Our Top Ten Treasures. They feature in the 2010 BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects as number 61, in the "Status Symbols" section.

An exhibition entitled "The Lewis Chessmen: Unmasked" that included chesspieces from both the Museum of Scotland and the British Museum collections, along with other relevant objects, toured Scotland in 2010/11. [8]

An exhibition entitled "The Game of Kings: medieval ivory chessmen from the Isle of Lewis" at The Cloisters in New York City included 34 of the chess pieces, all on loan from the British Museum. The exhibit ended April 22, 2012. [9]


Watch the video: Lewis S02E01 - And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea FULL EPISODE (August 2022).