Game of the Oxford Martyrs

And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” (Mark 6:31) 


The mind needs time off for regular periods of leisure to recharge, and many do that with computer games and amusements. However, many of these entertainments are often carnal and do not edify the Christian. Some can be even addictive or demonic. The child of God should find briefly refreshing activities to engage the mind that are not a danger mental or spiritual health. Puzzles, musical instruments, and challenging games like chess are good alternatives.

Foxes’ Book of Martyrs describes the godly life of Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, two of the Oxford Martyrs burned at the stake by English Roman Catholics in 1555, played the game of chess daily for wholesome relaxation:

“[Bishop Ridley’s] tenacious memory, extensive erudition, impressive oratory, and indefatigable zeal in preaching, drew after him not only his own flock, but persons from all quarters, desirous of godly exhortation or reproof. … His first duty in the morning was private prayer: he remained in his study till ten o’clock, and then attended the daily prayer used in his house. Dinner being done, he sat about an hour, conversing pleasantly, or playing at chess. His study next engaged his attention, unless business or visitors occurred; about five o’clock prayers followed; and after he would recreate himself at chess for about an hour, then retire to his study till eleven o’clock, and pray on his knees, as in the morning. In brief, he was a pattern of godliness and virtue, and such he endeavoured to make men wherever he came” (Foxes’ Book of Martyrs)

“[Bishop Cranmer] followed closely the charge of St. Paul.—Diligent in duty, he rose at five in the morning, and continued in study and prayer till nine: between then and dinner, he devoted to temporal affairs. After dinner, if any suitors wanted hearing, he would determine their business with such an affability,that even the defaulters were scarcely displeased. Then he would play at chess for an hour, or see others play, and at five o’clock he heard the Common Prayer read, and from this till supper he took the recreation of walking. At supper his conversation was lively and entertaining; again he walked or amused himself till nine o’clock, and then entered his study. He ranked high in favour with king Henry, and ever had the purity and the interest of the English church deeply at heart.” (Foxes’ Book of Martyrs)

If you don’t have another person willing or able to actually play chess with you, there are many free computer programs available. One excellent chess software with a built in tutoring function that provides learners with beginner play levels and gives hints and suggestions is called “Lucas Chess” – the program available for free download from the webpage of its author Lucas Monge.


Chess is overwhelming if you take each turn try to think of the millions of possible moves that could happen. It is much easier if you learn basic principals, follow them, and save your mental ‘heavy lifting’ for when it is really needed. Unfortunately it is very hard to find a book that just contains the rules of thumb, common errors, basic tricks, and best strategies for each piece. Almost all chess books are boring and pretentious and employ the infuriatingly inept inductive method of teaching a series of specific game examples and puzzling “problems” with unclear general rules and that are impossible to memorize.


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