SWYOR-D37EE5: Medieval chess piece

Rights Holder: West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
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Rights Holder: West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
CC License:

Rights Holder: West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
CC License:

Rights Holder: West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
CC License:

Rights Holder: West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
CC License:

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Unique ID: SWYOR-D37EE5

Object type certainty: Possibly
Workflow status: Published Find published

Possible chess piece depicting a knight, probably dating to the late 12th or early 13th century. The piece is solid and cast from copper alloy, and weighs 71.8g. The object is a fairly minimalist depiction of a knight; some detail may be missing due to surface loss. There appears to be no weapon present, but the knight holds a kite-shaped shield and wears a conical helmet suggesting the 12th- or 13th-century date. The knight sits on top of a horse with a caparison and saddle cloth (again suggesting the above date). A sermon text based on the allegory of chess written by Jacobo de Cessole (1407) describes the knight thus: 'The knight on the chess board must be mounted on his horse in a complete suit of armour. His horse should be covered with a caparison' (Hall, pers. comm.) This object fits in with the established sequence of elaborate ivory and bone chess pieces (with the Lewis chess pieces at one end of the range and pieces such as the Salisbury knight and Louvre knight at the other end).

The figurine has been studied by James Robinson at the British Museum, and metal analysis of the uneven base has revealed remains of solder indicating that the piece was soldered onto something else. It is unlikely that chess pieces would have been mounted onto a base and we therefore cannot be sure of the object's function. The piece measures 49.75mm in length (from head to base), 37.25mm in width (from the front to the back of the horse) and 16.15mm in thickness. The base of the object is slightly uneven, which may suggest that it was unfinished or reflect production at the cheaper end of the market; this would probably not have affected its use. Evidence of some sort of tinning/silvering can also be seen on the base where there is a slightly shiny residue in places. This has been interpreted as solder to attach it to a base, but alternatively may have been used in order to differentiate the pieces on the board, particularly if both 'teams' were made from copper alloy (differentiation may have also been achieved through painting, enamelling, gilding or having one set made from a different material). A comparable example of a metal chess piece can be seen in the 1940 MoL Medieval Catalogue, Plate XCII., No.1 (nos. 2 and 3 are pipeclay chess pieces). The Lewis chess set shares some similar characteristics. A similar horse-and-rider figurine can be seen on the PAS database at HAMP-8FE574.

This object has been published in Geake (2005, 342; fig. 7a).

Find of note status

This has been noted as an interesting find by the recorder.

Subsequent actions

Current location of find: Bassetlaw Museum
Subsequent action after recording: Acquired by a museum - not a Treasure case


Broad period: MEDIEVAL
Period from: MEDIEVAL
Period to: MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 1150
Date to: Circa AD 1250

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 49.75 mm
Width: 37.25 mm
Thickness: 16.15 mm
Weight: 71.8 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Tuesday 1st June 2004

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Ms Anna Marshall
Identified by: Ms Anna Marshall
Secondary identifier: Mr Mark Hall

Materials and construction

Primary material: Copper alloy
Manufacture method: Cast

Spatial metadata

Region: East Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Nottinghamshire (County)
District: Bassetlaw (District)
To be known as: Carlton in Lindrick

Spatial coordinates

Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 100 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
Current location: Bassetlaw Museum
General landuse: Cultivated land

References cited

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: SWYOR
Created: 13 years ago
Updated: 3 years ago

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