hist-games: Gala, Courier Chess, Frisian draughts

Peter Michaelsen PMI at KM.DK
Tue Aug 8 16:01:11 PDT 2006

Hello Damian,

I find your idea about a possible relationship between the courier in Courier Chess and the Horsa/Bishop in Gala quite interesting.

Concerning your question about geography: Halberstadt, and thus also the village Ströbeck nearby, is situated c.200 km south east of Dithmarschen. As mentioned in one of my mails, Selenus in 1616 mentions Courier Chess as beling played in neighbouring countries (according to D.B. Pritchard, ECV 1994). It is thus not impossible that one game did influence the other concerning some of the rules.

Another example of a game played mostly in a very small geographical area for centuries, is Frisian Draughts/Checkers, which probably goes back into the late 17th century, being first mentioned by Willem van Swaanenburg (1679-1728) in 1725. This game did, however, spread to other areas, even if it disappeared again there. It gained some popularity in Paris around 1736, but did soon disappear, according to Manoury 1787. A French manuscript from 1796 testifies that some Frenchmen did still have an interest in the game at that time. The game did spread to Stockholm before 1770, and was mentioned in a Danish game book from 1802 and in a Swedish game book from 1838-39. Two German game books from c.1820 describes the game under the name "englisch". Richard Twiss made a short description of this and other Dutch 18th c. variants of draughts in a book published in London 1805, but we do not know, if any Englishmen did actually play this variant. The game was also described - very shortly - in a Norwegian and in an Icelandic booklet from the early or mid-19th c., but as the descriptions are clearly translated/copied from the Danish game book of 1802, it is impossible to say, if the game did actually spread to the mentioned countries.

The main distribution area of Frisian draughts was restricted to only a part of the province of Friesland, namely the north-western part.
The game did therefore apparently not spread to the German neighbours on the other side of the border, or to the East Frisians or North Frisians along the German North Sea coast. The two German game books printed in Berlin and Lüneburg c.1820 might testify that the game was actually played in Germany, but we cannot know for certain. Why was the variant then named "englisch"? Perhaps it was played very sporadically there, and also very sporadically in Denmark and Sweden. 
Today this variant is played by c.300 club players in 10 clubs in the province of Friesland, but thanks to Internet and Mind Sports Olympiads, international tournaments have been arranged with participants as far away as Turkmenistan.

Gala, however, seems to have never spread to other regions of Germany, nor to Scandinavia. If it was originally a Viking game, somehow related to hnefatafl, as suggested by Mats Winther, one might add that hnefatafl was played in Haithabu/Hedeby near Schleswig - pieces and board fragments have been preserved at the Wikingermuseum Haithabu, where I saw them a few weeks ago - 
and apparently also in the area of Oldenburg in Eastern Holstein, where a set of pieces has been found. This is less than 50 km from Dithmarschen.

Best wishes,
Peter Michaelsen.

More information about the hist-games mailing list