In a recent post How exactly is “to checkmate” used as a verb?, the answer given by @WS2 listed some OED examples of metaphorical usage of 'to checkmate'. Among them:

[1649 A. Ascham Bounds Publique Obed. 58 At this distance he [sc. Jas. I] contrived how to extinguish or check that mate [sc. the Kirk] there.]

(emphasis mine; cannot access OED; unlike other given examples enclosed in square brackets)

I find this example peculiar. In what sense does 'checkmate' occur as a verb here? And what is actually going on in this sentence? Is the word mate as occurring here cognate with -mate in 'checkmate'?

Can anyone shed some light on this? (I cannot even decipher the source.)

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    It's 350 years old. None of us are that old, even the ones in Scotland who play chess. I.e, it doesn't make any sense to us, either. Feb 19, 2015 at 22:56
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    The source is Antony Ascham’s 1649 work titled The bounds & bonds of publique obedience. Or, A vindication of our lawfull submission to the present government, or to a government supposed unlawfull, but commanding lawfull things. Likewise how such an obedience is consistent with our Solemne League and Covenant. In all which a reply is made to the three answers of the two demurrers, and to the author of the grand case of conscience, who professe themselves impassionate Presbyterians, available (but not OCR’ed, alas) here. Feb 19, 2015 at 23:10
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    It is also the only citation on the page that separates check and mate into two words. The square brackets surrounding it “indicates a quotation is relevant to the development of a sense but not directly illustrative of it” OED how-to. My guess is this isn’t really the word checkmate (‘your king is dead’), but the verb check (‘stop’) and the noun mate (‘friend’) being used to make a play on words. Feb 19, 2015 at 23:24
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    Context: “For how came she [Mary Queen of Scots] to be Beheaded in England, but by Mr. Knox (and the Kirkes having done little better than) put her into the hands of those who could not keepe her long alive with security to themselves? King James hath writ and argued largely concerning his dangers & sufferings under it, & it is yet remembred in what Dialect they of the Presbytery were wont to Preach and Pray against him to his face, and he not know how to remedy it, or by what right to top theirs. When he came into England he profest his deliverance from that subjection not [cont’d-->] Feb 19, 2015 at 23:31
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    [-->cont’d] of small satisfaction to his minde and therefore at this distance he contrived how to extinguish or check that mate there, & after some progress in that worke he himselfe dyed peaceably in a milder Country.” Feb 19, 2015 at 23:32

1 Answer 1


This citation is listed under an entry for checkmate in OED which reads:

  1. transf. To arrest or defeat utterly, discomfit. In mod. use, often: to defeat or frustrate the ‘game’ or scheme of (any one) by a counter-movement.

This at least tells us which meaning of checkmate this is supposed to be relevant to (but not a direct example of, based on the OED's use of brackets).

I cannot explain the use of mate but it would appear that the Kirk in the note immediately after is the Church rather than a person.

If I were to speculate I would guess at a play of words between checkmate and this meaning of mate, from OED or some variation thereof:

†2. A suitable associate or equal adversary; an equal in status. Obs.

  • I am aware that 'the Kirk' usualy refers to the Church of Scotland. However, in the larger chunk of text retrieved by @Janus, in the phrase '(and the Kirkes having done little better than)', I read 'the Kirkes' as a plural. That would point to some kind of synecdoche, a 'Kirk' meaning a cleric (i.e., a person). If 'the Kirk' stands for 'the Church', what does 'the Kirkes' stand for?
    – anemone
    Feb 22, 2015 at 20:59

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