Yorkshire Chess History
Howard Staunton’s origins are unclear. It is suspected his name was not originally Howard Staunton. It is also suspected he was born illegitimately. A popular but unsubstantiated theory advanced was that he was an illegitimate son of Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle. That would explain “Howard”.
If his ages as quoted in census returns for 1851, 1861 and 1871 are correct (a big assumption), then he was born at some time from 03/04/1810 to 07/04/1810.
He appears to have been ignorant of, or evasive about, his place of birth, since censuses give his place of birth as “Westmoreland” (1851), “At the Lakes” (1861), and “Keswick, Cumberland” (1871).
He is not immediately evident as “Howard Staunton” in the 1841 census, though he was already known by that name to the chess world.
Around 1843, he seems to have started showing signs of heart disease, which is probably what ultimately caused his death.
At the age of about 38 he got married. His bride was born as Frances Carpenter Cates at Quebec Street, Marylebone, daughter of George Cates and Louisa Cates, and was baptised on 15/12/1808 at St. George’s Hanover Square. On the basis of age at death she was born 1804/05. Taking into account also her age stated in census returns (less reliable), she was born from 31/03/1805 to 02/04/1805. Solicitor William Dickenson Nethersole (born 1786/87), of St. Clement Danes parish, applied for, and was granted, a licence (dated 06/08/1825) to marry Frances Carpenter Cates while she was still a minor (under 21), with her father’s permission. Accordingly, William Dickenson Nethersole married Frances Carpenter Cates on 10/08/1825, at St. Pancras (entry no. 530 in the marriage register). They had at least eight children. William Dickenson Nethersole, then of Margate, died aged 76, in 1843, and was buried on 01/03/1843 at Kensall Green Cemetery by Joseph Snigger(?) (entry 6109 in burial register of All Saints, Kensal Green).
The marriage of Howard Staunton to the widow Frances Carpenter Nethersole took place on 23/02/1849, at St. Nicholas, Brighton.
The 1851 census found 40-year-old Howard and 45-year-old Frances living at 8 Sidney Place, in the hamlet of Brompton, in the parish of Kensington, Middlesex (London). With the couple were living Frances Nethersole, a daughter of his wife by her first marriage, and Louisa Nethersole, a sister of his wife’s first husband. Howard Staunton was described as a journalist and annuitant. The annuity is believed to have been from his father, whoever he was, and seems not to have lasted another ten years. Frances Staunton was also described as an annuitant, presumably in her own right (from William Dickenson Nethersole, probably). Louisa Nethersole was also an annuitant.
The 1861 census found Howard and Frances visiting some people resident in Isleworth. Howard was described as “author, scientific and general literature”. (“Scientific” applied to chess.)
The 1871 found Howard and Frances living at Shorne in Kent, four miles SE of Gravesend. Howard was now described as a professional writer.
He was for some time resident at 117 Lansdowne Road, Kensington Park, Middlesex, according to probate records, but at the time of his death he was resident at 29 Elgin Road, Kensington Park, Middlesex.
Howard Staunton had apparently appeared on the stage, but is better known as a Shakespearean scholar than an actor. In particular, he produced editions of the complete works of Shakespeare, with has since reappeared as a facsimile reprint.
The Chess Players’ Chronicle (now with apostrophe after the “s”) devoted a number of pages to describing Staunton’s contributions to chess (page 117 et seq.) and to literature (page 161 et seq.).
Howard Staunton died at his home, 29 Elgin Road, Kensington Park, Middlesex, on 22/06/1874. Administration of his estate was granted to John Pretyman Slingsby Roberts of 7 Leadenhall Street, London “Solicitor, a Creditor”. He left effects of under £100.
He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. In 1997 his unmarked grave was located and a contemporary memorial erected.
Francis Carpenter Staunton died 07/05/1883, aged 78, at her home, 4 Westbury Terrace, Westbourne Park, Middlesex.
He reportedly moved to London in 1836, and at first was not an especially skilled chess-player.
In 1838 he lost a match with the German Aaron Alexandre.
He was owner and editor of The Chess Player’s Chronicle which appeared first in 1840 until he transferred it to O’Brien in 1854. He continued to edited the chess column in the Illustrated London News, started in 1845. His share of control of the chess press meant it was easy to treat people unfairly, something he was sometimes said to do.
In 1840 he won a match with another German, H. W. Popert.
In the early 1840s he played numerous games with Cochrane, coming out significantly on top.
In 1843 he lost a short match in London with St. Amant of France, 2½-3½. Later, in Paris, he defeated St. Amant in a longer return match, +11, =4, -6, thereby becoming acknowledged as champion of Europe, if not the world.
His adoption of 1. c4 against St. Amant led to it being called the English Opening. The gambit line against the Dutch Defence, 1. d4 f5 2. e4, bears the name Staunton Gambit.
A third Staunton-St. Amant match was arranged to start in October 1844, but after travelling to Paris Staunton became seriously ill, and thematch was postponed and didn’t actually take place.
In 1846 he beat Bernhard Horwitz (+14,=3, -7) and Daniel Harrwitz (in matches.
In 1847 he published his Handbook. He made the mistake of retaining no rights over later reprints, which failed to be updated with later developments. His Chess Players’ Companion came out in 1849, and was largely supplementary to the Handbook, covering play at odds, and including a number of his own games.
The Chess Players’ Text-book, originating from 1849 or before, was a slim accompaniment for Nathaniel Cook’s “Staunton Pattern” chess men manufactured by Jacques.
He was primary mover behind “The Tournament” of 1851, effectively the first major international chess tournament, but he himself did badly, so losing his crown as European and/or world champion.
In 1851 he narrowly beat Lowenthal in a match, though both players were perhaps of colour at the time.
Also in 1851, he achieved a plus score in games against Anderssen, though the status of these as “serious” games has been questioned.
The tournament book of the 1851 tournament, imaginatively named The Tournament, came out in 1852, and his criticism of those by whom he personally was vanquished was noticeable.
There were at this time various different sets of rules of chess in use, so the first Northern and Midland Counties’ Chess Association Meeting, in 1853, charged Staunton with organising a review of the rules of chess, and years later he produced a set of rules or laws which became the standard in England.
In 1858 it was hoped he’d play a match with the American Paul Morphy, who came to Europe primarily, it seems, to play a match with Staunton, who reportedly used the excuse that he was too busy with an edition of Shakespeare to avoid playing Morphy. Be that as it may, Staunton would be correct in thinking a match with Morphy would have required his undivided attention if he were to do himself justice.
His Chess Praxis, published in 1860, was his last chess book published in his lifetime.
In 1876 his Chess: Theory and Practice was published posthumously.
Though his powers as a player seem to have declined after 1851, and though he may not always have been impartial in his writing, he was nevertheless as a writer and organiser one of the most important promoters and stimulators of chess in England throughout his chess career, if not the most important.
Copyright © 2013 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information