Ben Miller

Archive for the ‘Dueling’ Category

Top Must-Read Autobiographies Part II

In Dueling, Georgian Era, Martial Arts, Military, Pirates, Rogues, and Gangs on February 25, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Continued from PART I.

Expert Sword-man’s Companion by Donald McBane (1728)

Inverness

Donald McBane was a highland Scot born in Inverness during the late seventeenth century. In 1687 he ran away from home, enlisting in the British army under the Duke of Marlborough. He served abroad throughout much of Europe, where he took part in sixteen battles, fifteen skirmishes, and by my own estimation, more than one hundred duels. He was twenty-seven times wounded (not counting the time when he was blown up by his own hand grenade). In his spare time, he also set himself up as a fencing master, gamester, and worked as a pimp. His extraordinary book, the Expert Sword-man’s Companion, was published in 1728 and recounts it all. McBane’s life reads like a strange, drunken dream–a whirlwind of blood, wine, warfare, and women–at turns both intense, shocking, horrifying, humorous, and never for a moment boring. Read, for instance, McBane’s account of one of his first battles, a disastrous confrontation with an army of fellow Highlanders:

At length, our enemy made their appearance on the top of a hill. We then gave a shout, daring them, as it were, to advance, which they quickly did to our great loss. When they advanced, we played our cannon for an hour upon them; the sun going down caused the Highlanders to advance on us like madmen, without shoe or stocking, covering themselves from our fire with their targes [shields]; at last they cast away their muskets, drew their broadswords, and advanced furiously upon us, and were in the middle of us before we could fire three shots apiece, broke us, and obliged us to retreat. Some fled to the water, and some another way (we were for the most part new men). I fled to the baggage, and took a horse, in order to ride the water; there follows me a Highlandman, with sword and targe, in order to take the horse and kill myself. You’d laught to see how he and I scampered about. I kept always the horse betwixt him and me; at length he drew his pistol, and I fled; he fired after me. I went above the Pass, where I met with another water very deep; it was about eighteen foot over betwixt two rocks. I resolved to jump it, so I laid down my gun and hat and jumped, and lost one of my shoes in the jump. Many of our men were lost in that water, and at the Pass.

Leap
Above: The site of McBane’s “leap”

After losing his first duel in the army, McBane promptly began lessons with a fencing master, challenged his adversary again, and beat him. Later he challenged his own Corporal to a duel after the latter punished him for being absent from duty. McBane describes the fight:

when he came he asked if I was for Death or Life, I told him I was for anything that happened, we drew on each other, after some turns he received a Thrust on the Breast-bone, he falling backward cryed you Rogue run, for I am Killed, I said I wished it were otherways, I took him by the Hand desiring him to rise, but he could not, he threw away his Sword, then I returned mine, I said to him, are you Dead really? he answered, I am in very deed, he opened his Breast and shewed me the Blood, he again desired me to run away, for if I was catch’d I would be hanged; I desired him to give me what money he had, in a very trembling manner he put his Hand in his Pocket, and gave me Three Shillings to carry me off, saying it was all he had, he took me by the Hand and said he forgave me, crying make your Escape…

McBane fled and joined a different regiment in Glasgow. The army eventually set sail for Ireland, and many months later, Holland, where, in a tavern, McBane encountered the formal Corporal he had supposedly killed:

I asked him if ever he was a Corporal in Perth? He said he was; I said was not you once killed at Perth as you said yourself? He said almost but not altogether, by a Roguish Fellow called Daniel Bane, and I believe you are the Man; I took him by the Hand, so we went and took a Bottle. He served as a Sergeant all the wars of Queen Anne; now he keeps a public house [tavern] at Gravesend.

This was not the last time McBane ended up becoming friends with someone he dueled; when his regiment was serving abroad in Limerick, Ireland, a feud erupted between himself and a fellow student. McBane recounts:

my Fellow Scholar and I fell out, he said I was not able to do with the Sword what he could do with the Foil, we went to Oxmentoun-Green and drew on each other, I Wounded him in three places, then we went and took a Pot, and was good Friends.

During his time abroad in Holland, McBane set himself up as a fencing master, gambler and pimp, and soon received the ire of the local competition. According to McBane, “they took all Methods and ways to do me Mischief, which obliged me to be constantly on my Guard, and to fight Twenty-four Times before they would be perswaded that I was Master of my Business.” He further recounts:

I continued keeping my School. A short Time after I came to know that there was Four good Swords men in the Town that kept Women and Gaming, the Wheel of Fortune and Ledgerdemain by which they got vast Money. I resolved to have a share of that Gain, at least to have a fair Tryall for it. I Fought all the Four, one by one; the last of them was Lefthanded; he and I went to the Rampart where we searched one another for Fire Arms. Finding none, we drew and had two or three clean Turns: at last he put up his Hand and took a Pistol from the Cock of his Hat; he cocked it against his shoulder and presented it to me, upon which I asked Quarters, but he refused, calling me an “English Bouger”, and Fired at me and run for it. One of the balls went through my Cravat, I thinking I was shot did not Run as I was wont to do, but Run as I could after him crying for the Guard, the Guard being half a Mile distant I was not heard; at last I overtook him over against the Guard and gave him a Thrust in the Buttocks; then I fled to the Fleshmarket; nobody could take me out there, it being a Priviledged Place. I tarried there till Night, then went Home to my Quarters and called for his Commerads that same Night, who agreed to give me a Brace of Whoors and Two Petty Couns a week. With this and my School I lived very well for that Winter.

Rake

To recount all his duels here would be impossible; suffice to say his book is filled with a vast number of such skirmishes, including “regimental duels” in which McBane had to fight a dozen men, one after the other, back to back. McBane killed or wounded them all. He also depicts the grim brutality of eighteenth century warfare. After being left for dead during the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, McBane was stripped of his clothes and plundered by the Dutch. Freezing and starving of thirst, McBane says

I drank several handfuls of the dead men’s blood that I lay beside; the more I drank the worse I was.

Blenheim

Of the Battle of Malplaquet, in 1709, he relates the following incident of how he had to carry his three-year old son through the thick of battle:

I had two children at this time. Our wives were far in the rear. My wife gave my little boy to a commerad’s wife who had a horse. The woman, hearing her husband was dead, rode until she saw me in the front of the line; then she threw the boy at me. I was obliged to put him in my habersack: He was about three years of age. As we were inclining to the right, the boy got a shot in the arm. I then got a surgeon and dressed it. I had neither bread nor drink to give him. I got a dram to him from an officer and a leg of a foul; then he held his peace and was very quiet all night ; in the morning his mother took him from me.

At the siege of Liège, McBane vividly describes how the last hold-outs were taken by his army:

In ten day’s time we were in readiness, then we began to play our cannon and morter pieces. Before we cut out our trenches we were within ten yards of their pallasades. Our cannon beat down their walls in three day’s time, our morters burnt down their houses. The Governour beat a parley and promised to deliver the citydale to His Grace against ten a clock next morning. That night the Governour sent to the other fort desiring assistance from it.

The Governour desired him to hold it out another day and he would send to his relief. Next morning about nine a clock the Governour hanged his coffine over the wall and fired upon our trenches. Then we fired all our guns and morters, we destroyed a great many of them.

About three a clock afternoon the Duke of Marlborough came to the Grand battery, he commanded twenty Granadiers of each company through the whole army and ten battalions of the first troops to storm the fort sword in hand. Our Orders was to give no quarters to none within the fort. We made all ready for the attack, every Granadier had three grannads. Our word was ‘God be foremost’, when we came we came with a loud huzza and fired our granads amongst them and small shot without number. We continued thus for an hour and a half, then we jumped over the palasados we then made use of our swords and bayonets and made a sore slaughter upon the French, which obliged them to cry for quarters. Although it was against orders we had mercy upon our fellow creatures and turned them all behind us. Then the Dutch used them as they pleased. They hung out their flag, in several places crying for quarters but none was given. This caused them to take courage and beat us two time from the bridge. Then our morters began to play anew. I was one that made the attack at the sallieport. An officer at the head of his platoon kneeled down and asked quarters. I gave it him and took his sword being mounted with silver. After we took the sallieport the officer took me to a cellar under the wall where was ten or twelve trunks full of gold and money. He gave me eleven bags of it for saving his life, what I got was all pistole pieces. I made all speed I could to my company where they were tumbling over the wall all the carcassus that were loaden with hand granades. I took up one of them with design to throw it amongst the enemy but it prevented me and broke in my hands and killed several about me and blew me over the pallasades, burnt my cloaths about me so that the skin came off me. I and my gold fell among Murray’s company of granadeers, I was stead like an old dead horse from head to foot, they cast me into water to put out the fire about me. The fort was taken and plundered; our army got the money that was to pay the French army.

McBane served in the Regiment until the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1712. He finally retired from the service at age forty-nine, with two musket balls in his thigh and a silver plate in his skull. At age fifty he commenced fighting as a gladiator at the Bear Gardens (see this previous post for a description), where he fought thirty-seven prizes. At age sixty-three, McBane fought his last combat against a tough young Irishman named O’Bryan. McBane wounded his adversary seven times and broke his arm with a falchion (short sword). After winning the fight, McBane decided to fight no more, “but to repent for my former wickedness”. He proceeded to write the story of his life, including an elaborate fencing treatise that contained sections on how to fight with the backsword, smallsword, quarterstaff, shield, and knife.

James Miller
Above: Eighteenth-century backsword fencers, after James Miller

The Expert Sword-man’s Companion is an incredible book and should be read by any serious student of dueling, fencing, or eighteenth century history. In 2017, a new edition was released, which includes a foreword verifying many of the historical details related by McBane in his memoir. It can be purchased by following this link, or by clicking on the image below:

cover

END OF PART II. Stay tuned for Part III, when we continue to cover more books on the list.

The Victorian Gentleman’s Self-Defense Toolkit

In Behavior and Etiquette, Dueling, Gender Roles, Martial Arts, Victorian Era on February 12, 2010 at 2:24 am
LeMoine_Savate_big

Above: Practitioners of French Savate, 1857.

For many today, the term “gentleman” is apt to conjure up the ridiculous image of an affected, overdressed fop with a monocle, struggling to secure a place in high society. Yet, throughout past centuries, the character of the gentleman was regarded as synonymous with that of the true ideal man, embodying “heroic bodily strength and mental firmness” and including “whatever was valuable in the cavalier and the earlier knight,”—simply put, a man with the strength of manhood.

With that in mind, it is not surprising that numerous treatises on gentlemanly conduct published in the 19th century emphasized the importance of physical fitness and self-defense training. For instance, Our Deportment (1879) states that

“Physical education is indispensable to every well-bred man and woman. A gentleman should not only know how to fence, to box, to ride, to shoot and to swim, but he should also know how to carry himself gracefully, and how to dance, if he would enjoy life to the uttermost. A graceful carriage can best be attained by the aid of a drilling master, as dancing and boxing are taught. A man should be able to defend himself from ruffians, if attacked, and also to defend women from their insults.”

Likewise, Dunbar’s Complete Handbook of Etiquette (1884) declares that

“It is a matter of the first importance to the young aspirant that he attend to the training and deportment of his body, as well as that of his mind. Besides, his physical bearing has much to do with that command of address, which is so noted a characteristic of the thoroughbred gentleman. The body should be properly “set” by gymnastics, fencing, dancing, drill, or other physical exercises…”

Many nineteenth-century males (and some females) made good on this by cross-training in various martial arts including boxing, fencing, wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, French savate (kick-boxing), cane defense, parasol defense, and more. And, with good reason. Thugs and “ruffians” were a regular part of life during the Victorian era—or the Gilded Age, as it was known in America—in both the urban metropolis and the Wild West. Such “rowdies,” as they were often referred to, could be experienced in a wide variety of fighting styles, such as British “purring” (shin-kicking), Welsh jump-kicking, French kickboxing, American rough-and-tumble fighting, Spanish and Italian knife-fighting, and African-American head butting.

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

The noted fencing master and pugilist, Col. Thomas H. Monstery, himself a participant in more than fifty duels and countless street fights, describes many of these modes of fighting in his martial arts treatise, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies. According to Monstery:

“Every gentleman should be able to protect himself from insult and violence, with or without weapons.”  (Chapter 2)

Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies is Monstery’s magnum opus, and a great source for Victorian-era combative techniques—a highly detailed dissertation on the art and science of defense. Filled with profound insight as well as practical advice based upon personal combative experience, it includes both unarmed and armed methods for use against a wide variety of fighting styles and weapons.

 

BOXING – THE BARE-KNUCKLE METHOD

The first half of Monstery’s work treats of methods of unarmed self-defense:

“This I repeat for all gentlemen. Boxing is the first necessity for a gentleman, unless he wishes to be imposed upon whenever he comes into the company of rough men, stronger than himself. It is necessary, if he wishes to be able to protect a lady from insult, a position in which a man often finds himself.” (Chapter 1)

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery's treatise on bare-knuckle boxing, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies.

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery’s section on bare-knuckle boxing, reprinted in Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies. (Photo of original in author’s collection)

Although Monstery refers to his system of unarmed self-defense as “boxing” or “sparring,” in his treatise he presents something far more comprehensive. In addition to striking with the fist (which method he partly bases on fencing theory), Monstery’s system involves kicking, grappling, defenses against head-butting, and a wide variety of other fighting styles. Also, Monstery’s system is notably intended for use without gloves. Although boxing had, in past centuries, originally developed as a bare-knuckle martial art, by the late nineteenth century, its focus and objective had largely shifted to winning at gloved competition—even though its techniques were still often taught under the pretext of “self-defense.” As one author of the period stated, modern boxing had become “the mere shadow and semblance of what it was formerly.” Or, as another boxing veteran of the period, William Madden, explained in 1893:

“You cannot compare the fighter of the past with those of today…Today glove-fighting is like sandbagging. You hit a man in the right place and he drops dizzy and unconscious…[in the past] it was the artist in those days that gave the straight punches, and it was the artist that won the fight.”

Monstery, however, clearly states in his treatise,

“I am not writing for or teaching prize-fighters. I am teaching gentlemen how to defend themselves if assaulted by ruffians…”

He also includes sections on grappling, trips, back-falls, headlocks, and unconventional techniques for use in “street encounters,” with the proviso:

“I teach the following tricks, not with any idea that they are to be used in friendly encounters with the gloves, but solely for the protection of gentlemen who may, at any time, against their will, be forced into an encounter with a street ruffian.” (Chapter 9)

 

KICKING AND HEAD-BUTTING

Perhaps the most startling section of Monstery’s treatise is his chapter on “Natural Weapons,” which includes the use of the foot and head. Monstery shows how to defend oneself against the kicks of French savateurs, practitioners of British “purring” (shin-kicking), Welsh jump-kickers, and American rough-and-tumble fighters (who also practiced techniques of biting, scratching, hair-pulling, and eye-gouging). Monstery also discusses how to defend against the head-butting techniques of Danes, Norwegians, and African Americans, who were proficient in the use of the skull as a weapon.

“The rowdy is a mere wild beast that has strength and practice in natural rough-and-tumble fights, and yet a gentleman, if he knows the way, has the advantage over such a ruffian. I say to all gentlemen that your advantages are three over the ruffian: First, you have a flexible body, not stiffened by labor, but capable of being trained to anything; second, you have an intellect that will make you the superior in a contest that requires subtlety; third, you have means to pay for the best teachers, while the rowdy must teach himself, and nature does not teach how to strike a straight blow. Many gentlemen have said to me that they are not strong enough to give them any chance in such a fight. I have told them that it is not a matter of strength, but address, and especially of knowing how to strike a blow. A rowdy may be able to strike you ten times in a fight, and yet not hurt you severely, if you know how to parry and dodge, while, if you can get in a single blow, you may be able to take all the fight out of him at once.” (Chapter 2)

Sometimes, however, Monstery acknowledges that such “natural weapons” were not enough. Thus, in the second half of this treatise, Monstery proceeds to instruct the reader in methods of armed combat.

 

WEAPONS: THE CANE AND STAFF

Monstery begins the armed section of his treatise with the cane, or hickory walking-stick, which he describes as “the proper companion of every gentleman”—good against knives, sword-canes, and even guns:

“Boxing will get a gentleman out of a great many scrapes into which he may fall, but in some parts of the Union he will come across men who habitually carry knives or pistols and in such a case a stout walking-stick, if he knows how to use it, may save his own life, and—what I consider more important—prevent the necessity of his taking the life of another. It may seem strange to some that I, who have passed my time in the profession of arms, and have lived so much in Spanish-America, where the use of weapons is universal and duels of everyday occurrence, should have a horror of taking life; and yet I can honestly say that I have always avoided it, except where there was an absolute certainty that the question lay between my own life and that of another who sought to kill me. For this reason I have always avoided the use of the pistol, except in battle. You cannot spare a man’s life with the pistol, and no generosity can be shown therewith. You must kill him or he kills you. With the cane it is different. Many are the pistols and knives that I have struck from the hands of men by a smart blow on the wrist with a cane, and many are the murderous brawls I have prevented in this way. As a queller of disturbances, I know of nothing better than a hickory or ash stick.” (Chapter 12)

Section...

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery’s section on self-defense with the cane, reprinted in Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies. (Photo of original in author’s collection)

Monstery describes his cane system as being based on the same fencing principles as the saber or broadsword, but with some important modifications to account for the lack of a guard to protect the hand. The parts of the body that he targets are also different than those targeted with the sword, due to the concussive (rather than cutting) nature of the cane. Monstery also notes:

“The hook is an important part of the cane. It doubles its usefulness, serves as a handle to rest on when it is used as a staff, prevents its slipping out of the hand when it is used as a weapon, and serves as a sling when you do not wish to handle the cane. With a hook to his cane, no man need ever abandon it, for he can always hang it over his left arm when not in use, so as to be ready to catch it instantly with the right.” (Chapter 12)

Monstery concludes his treatise with two chapters on the two-handed quarterstaff, which (according to Monstery) was still practiced during the nineteenth century as a living tradition in certain areas of Europe, and which he extols as a useful mode of defense when traveling in the country or mountains.

Monstery’s book remains an indispensable resource for the practitioner and enthusiast of nineteenth century self-defense techniques. We can do no better than to conclude with one of his maxims:

“Never consider yourself unarmed even if confronted by an armed man, for almost anything can be made into a weapon if properly used.” (Chapter 11)

 

FURTHER READING:9781583948682

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery‘s martial wisdom survives in his treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff, which was recently published by North Atlantic Books in book form for the first time. This volume contains a new, detailed biography of Monstery, and includes additional writings by the Colonel.

 

 

Additional articles about Colonel Thomas H. Monstery:

A Grand Assault-of-Arms in Old New York, directed by Col. Thomas Monstery

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery and the Use of the Quarterstaff

Colonel Thomas Monstery, and the Training of Jaguarina, America’s Champion Swordswoman

A Bare-Knuckle Fight at Colonel Monstery’s

 

Continue on to PART II of The Victorian Gentleman’s Self-Defense Toolkit, in which we discuss the use of Victorian-era street weapons

 

A Husband and Wife Fight as Gladiators in 1727 London

In Customs and Traditions, Dueling, Gender Roles, Georgian Era, Martial Arts on February 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm

While most people have heard of the gladiators of ancient Rome, far fewer know of those who fought in London and other places in the British Isles and British colonies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Although these highly ritualized combats took place in locations as remote as Jamaica, Barbados, and rural Ireland, during the seventeenth century the most popular setting for such fights was undoubtedly the infamous “Bear Garden” in Southwark, London. In 1672, a Frenchman named Josevin de Rocheford visited the Bear Garden and observed:

“We went to the ‘Bergiardin’, where combats are fought by all sorts of animals, and sometimes men, as we once saw. Commonly, when any fencing-masters are desirous of showing their courage and great skill, they issue mutual challenges, and before they engage parade the town with drums and trumpets sounding, to inform the public there is a challenge between two brave masters of the science of defence, and that the battle will be fought on such a day.”

What followed these processions was violent and often gruesome. On the appointed day, to the sound of trumpets and beating drums, the two combatants would ascend the stage, strip to their chests, and, on a signal from the drum, draw their weapons and commence fighting. The combat would continue until one man conceded, or was unable to continue. In de Rocheford’s account, the combatants continue fighting while enduring horrific wounds, including severed ears, sliced-off scalps and half-severed wrists. Bouts occurred with different types of weapons, including longsword, backsword, cudgel, foil, single rapier, rapier and dagger, sword and buckler, sword and gauntlet, falchion, flail, pike, halberd, and quarterstaff. Although such fights were not intended to end in death, the wounds received were often serious enough to incur it.

Figg's Ampitheatre in London

During the 18th century, the ampitheatre of renowned fencer and pugilist James Figg became “the resort of all the most celebrated masters and mistresses of the art.” On Nov. 20, 1725, Guests Journal announced the imminent arrangement of a gladiatorial fight involving females:

“We hear that the gentlemen of Ireland have been long picking out an Hibernian heroine to match Mrs. Stokes, the bold and famous city championess. There is now one arrived in London, who by her make and stature seems likely enough to eat her up. However, Mrs. Stokes being true English blood (and remembering some of the late reflections that were cast upon her husband by some of the country folk) is resolved to see out ‘vi et armis.’ This being likely to prove a notable and diverting entertainment, it is not at all doubted but that there will be abundance of gentlemen crowding to Mr. Figg’s ampitheatre to see this uncommon performance.”

Years earlier, Stokes (under her maiden name Elizabeth Wilkinson) had bested a basket-woman named Hannah Hyfield in a bare-knuckles boxing match, and had later fought a fish-woman named Martha Jones, also with fisticuffs. Now, however, Mrs. Stokes proposed to enter a more dangerous sort of combat. Although I was not able to find an account of such a fight in 1725 (if the aforementioned challenge was indeed arranged), on October 1, 1726, “Mrs. Stokes,” it was reported, had found an able and willing antagonist in the person of Mary Welsh (or Welch).

“At Mr. Stoke’s Amphitheatre, in Islington Road, near Sadler’s Wells, on Monday next, being the 3d of October, will be perform’d a trial of skill by the following Championesses.

‘Whereas I Mary Welch, from the Kingdom of Ireland, being taught, and knowing the noble science of defence, and thought to be the only female of this kind in Europe, understanding there is one in this Kingdom, who has exercised on the publick stage several times, which is Mrs. Stokes, who is stiled the famous Championess of England; I do hereby invite her to meet me, and exercise the usual weapons practis’d on the stage, at her own amphitheatre, doubting not, but to let her and the worthy spectators see, that my judgment and courage is beyond hers.’

‘I Elizabeth Stokes, of the famous City of London, being well known by the name of the Invincible City Championess for my abilities and judgment in the abovesaid science; having never engaged with any of my own sex but I always came off with victory and applause, shall make no apology for accepting the challenge of this Irish Heroine, not doubting but to maintain the reputation I have hitherto establish’d, and shew my country, that the contest of it’s honour, is not ill entrusted in the present battle with their Championess, Elizabeth Stokes.’

Note, The doors will be open’d at two, and the Championesses mount at four.
N.B. They fight in close jackets, short petticoats, coming just below the knee, Holland drawers, white stockings, and pumps.”

It is not clear whether or not this fight came off, and if so, who was pronounced the winner. The next summer, however, another fight between Stokes and Welsh was announced. For some reason, this time two combatants were not deemed sufficient (or preferable), and thus it was announced that Mrs. Stokes’s husband James (a rival of Figg’s) would participate, as well as an additional male antagonist, who would fight on the side of Ms. Welsh:

“In Islington road, on Monday, being the 17th of July, 1727, will be performed a trial of skill by the following combatants.

‘We Robert Barker and Mary Welsh, from Ireland, having often contaminated our swords in the abdominous corporations of such antagonists as have had the insolence to dispute our skill, do find ourselves once more necessitated to challenge, defy, and invite Mr. Stokes and his bold Amazonian virago to meet us on the stage, where we hope to give a satisfaction to the honourable Lord of our nation who has laid a wager of twenty guineas on our heads. They that give the most cuts to have the whole money, and the benefit of the house; and if swords, daggers, quarter-staff, fury, rage, and resolution, will prevail, our friends shall not meet with a disappointment.’

‘ We James and Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London. having already gained an universal approbation by our agility of body, dextrous hands, and courageous hearts, need not preambulate on this occasion, but rather choose to exercise the sword to their sorrow, and corroborate the general opinion of the town than to follow the custom of our repartee antagonists. This will be the last time of Mrs. Stokes’ performing on the stage.’

—There will be a door on purpose for the reception of the gentlemen, where coaches may drive up to it, and the company come in without being crowded. Attendance will be given at three, and the combatants mount at six precisely. They all fight in the same dresses as before.'”

Although the outcome of this fight is not known, it was certainly not (as stated) Elizabeth Stokes’s “last time” on the fighting stage. On July 17, 1728, the following match was announced among the pages of the Daily Post. This, too, was to take place in an amphitheatre on the Islington Road, London:

“‘Whereas I, Ann Field of Stoke-Newington, ass-driver, well known for my abilities in boxing in my own defence wherever it happened in my way, having been affronted by Mrs Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of the best skill in boxing, for ten pounds, fair rise and fall; and question not but to give her such proofs of my judgment that shall oblige her to acknowledge me Championess of the Stage, to the entire satisfaction of all my friends.’

‘I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the city of London, have not fought in this way since I fought the famous boxing-woman of Billingsgate twentynine minutes, and gained a complete victory (which is six years ago); but as the famous Stoke-Newington ass-woman dares me to fight her for the ten pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows which I shall present her with, will be more difficult for her to digest than she ever gave her asses!'”

Sources:

Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer. October 1, 1726

Castle, Egerton. Schools and Masters of Fence. London: George Bell and Sons, 1885

Chambers, W. R. Chambers’s journal of popular literature, science and arts, Volume 59. London: W. R. Chambers, 1882.

Palmer, Samuel. St. Pancras: being antiquarian, topographical, and biographical memoranda, relating to the extensive metropolitan parish of St. Pancras, Middlesex; with some account of the parish from its foundation. London: S. Palmer, 1870

Thornbury, Walter. Old and New London, a Narrative of Its History, Its People, and Its Places. London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., 1881

Now That’s Love

In Dueling, Gender Roles, Love and Courtship, Pirates, Rogues, and Gangs on January 30, 2010 at 12:48 am

By Ben Miller

Traditionally, the custom of dueling was a privilege accorded only to gentlemen. However, every now and again (and rather more frequently than most historians suppose), tradition was turned on its head. The female pirate Mary Read reportedly fought a duel to save the life of her lover, a young “artist” who been captured and forced into piracy:

Her Passion was no less violent than his, and perhaps she express’d it, by one of the most generous Actions that ever Love inspired. It happened this young Fellow had a Quarrel with one of the Pyrates, and their ship then lying at an Anchor, near one of the Islands, they had appointed to go ashore and fight, according to the Custom of the Pyrates: Mary Read was to the last Degree uneasy and anxious, for the Fate of her Lover; she would not have had him refuse the Challenge, because, she could not bear the Thoughts of his being branded with Cowardice; on the other side, she dreaded the Event, and apprehended the Fellow might be too hard for him: When Love once enters into the Breast of one who has any Sparks of Generosity, it stirs the Heart up to the most noble Actions; in this Dilemma, she shew’d, that she fear’d more for his Life than she did for her own; for she took a Resolution of quarrelling with this Fellow her self, and having challenged him ashore, she appointed the Time two Hours sooner than that when he was to meet her Lover, where she fought him at Sword and Pistol, and killed him upon the Spot.

– Capt. Charles Johnson, A General History of the Pyrates. Reprint of the 1724 edition.

A vintage image of Mary Read. Note the fencing stance.

A vintage image of Mary Read. Note the fencing stance.