Did the phrase "Dutch defence" pre-date the use of the term in chess?

The Wikipedia article on Dutch Defence says the concept described by the term originated in the 18th century:

Elias Stein (1748–1812), an Alsatian who settled in The Hague, recommended the defence as the best reply to 1.d4 in his 1789 book Nouvel essai sur le jeu des échecs, avec des réflexions militaires relatives à ce jeu.

Stuff Dutch People Like claims that Dutch defence is one of those "Dutch words" and was first recorded in 1749, but it doesn't give a citation:

Dutch defence: a legal tactic whereby you rat someone out in order to get off free (first recorded in 1749)

I've also heard of "Dutch defence" having another meaning:

Dutch defence: retreat, rather than fight.

The Online Etymology Dictionary doesn't have an entry for "Dutch defence" (or defense), nor does Wiktionary.

  • The only OED entry for Dutch defence is the one from 1749: H. Fielding Tom Jones III. ix. v. 351, I am afraid Mr. Jones maintained a Kind of Dutch Defence, and treacherously delivered up the Garrison without duly weighing his Allegiance to the fair Sophia. There is no mention of it as a term in chess.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 7:09

2 Answers 2


There are a few examples of Dutch defence usage before 1789 that refers to war terminology, plus the Phrase Finder cites its usage in legal context. It is reasonable to assume that Elias Stein referred to an existing expression and adopted it to describe a tactic in chess game.

  • To confess the Truth, I am afraid Mr. Jones maintained a Kind ' of Dutch Defence, arid treacheroufly delivered up the Garrison, with- ' out duly weighing his Allegiance to the sair ' Sophia. In short, no sooner had the amorous,...

The The Phrase Finder cites the legal meaning from 1749:

  • There are a host of phrases in English that include the word 'Dutch'; that's hardly surprising as The Netherlands is just a few miles across the sea from England. We don't have anything like as many expressions that include 'French', so why the interest in 'Dutch'? Two reasons: trade and war.

  • The Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th and 18th centuries were acrimonious even by the usual standards of war. Following the conflicts the English came to hold the Dutch in very low regard and as a consequence there are numerous English phrases which portray them in an unflattering light, often as skinflints or drunkards. The common strand in all of these disparaging 'Dutch' expressions is that anything Dutch is the opposite of what it ought to be. Examples of these expressions are:

  • Dutch bargain - a bargain made when one is debilitated by drink - first recorded in 1654.

  • Dutch defence - a legal defence in which the defendant seeks clemency by deceitfully betraying others - 1749.


It's not very likely he referred to those instances as Dutch defense. It is much more likely to come from the common practice of naming chess openings after the country the first player popularizing it came from. Just like the English, French, Sicilian, Scottish, etc.

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