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Did you know these recognisable chess pieces were intricately detailed and originally made from whale bone and walrus ivory.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

isle of lewis chessmen original x1


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.
isle of lewis chessmen history bishop piece

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.

isle of lewis queen chess pieces

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.

isle of lewis chess pieces king

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.

isle of lewis chess pieces knight

isle of lewis chessmen complete set
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.
isle of lewis wanderer

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.
isle of lewis berserker

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.