Ben Miller

Archive for the ‘Gender Roles’ Category

Forgotten Female Accessories

In Dress and Fashion, Edwardian Era, Everyday Life, Gender Roles, Victorian Era on March 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

During the 1870s to 1890s, there were gadgets called skirt lifters also known as dress holders.  These devices were hooked onto the skirt waistband or chatelaine (a belt hook from which dangled by chains many useful items such as scissors or thimbles).  The end of the chain had a tong like device used to grip the bottom edge of the skirt.  I’ve read conflicting accounts as to whether it was used in the front to lift the skirt out of the way when climbing stairs or mounting a wheel or horse, or if it was used towards the back of the skirt for picking up the long fashionable trains, thus keeping them dirt free on outdoor walks.

Dress Holder

Victorian Era Skirt Lifter

The larger loops on the chain of the skirt lifter were hooked onto the metal loop on the waistband clip.  This would give the wearer a choice as to how much lift was needed.

Skirt Lifter in Use

Skirt Lifter Height Adjustments

Also from this time period up to perhaps the early 1900s there were clever little pieces of jewelry called hankie holders.  Most of them consisted of a gold ring sized to fit the pinkie, a 2.4 inch chain and a small gold pair of tongs (more often than not found in a seashell or fan shape).

Hankie Holder

Mid-Victorian Hankie Holder

I’ve read stories on the internet that they were used as a means to flirt with Victorian gentleman.  Letting the hankie fall to the ground and him being obliged to pick it up.
I’ve also read, which I believe to be far more likely, that they were used in the ballroom, adding an extra flourish to a couples dance.

Hankie holder in action
Finally in use during the 1930-1950s were glove holders.  I’ve seen confused people on Ebay selling these as skirt lifters, which they most certainly were not.  Ladies would hook the chain around their purse handles or through a button hole and keep their gloves safe while dining.

Ladies Glove Holder

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Nineteenth Century Courtship Advice

In Behavior and Etiquette, Edwardian Era, Gender Roles, Love and Courtship, Victorian Era on February 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm

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With one day to go until Valentine’s, we thought it prudent to post some courtship advice from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It holds just as true today as it did back then:

In public a gentleman should show constant attention to his intended, and neither in company nor elsewhere should he flirt with any other lady. On the other hand, he should avoid, even to his bride-elect, those marked attentions and endearments that would excite in strangers a smile of ridicule.

– Cassell’s Handbook of Etiquette, 1860

You should be ready to act the knight, if a lady in your company is attacked. If she give offence, and that without reason, your office is that of a mediator. You should even ask pardon for your companion. A bully would act otherwise; but it is absurd to get into a quarrel for the sake of maintaining that a person who is insolent has a right to be so, and that because she is of your company. You will show yourself, in acting thus, as ill-bred as she.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

When traveling with a lady, always carry her bag and assist her in and out of the trains. Your behavior is on its mettle under these circumstances, and traveling is very apt to be like a mustard plaster, bringing out both the good and evil attributes of a man.

The Complete Bachelor: Manners for Men, 1896

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If the honor of a woman be attacked, you should always defend it. It is not allowable for any one to assail the reputation of a lady, even if she be open to censure.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

In walking with a lady in the street, leave her the inner side of the pavement.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

When a man is led to spend more money than he can afford in entertaining a girl it is a bad preparation for matrimony. Courtship is a time when a man desires to bring gifts, and it is quite right and fitting that he should do so within reasonable limits. A girl of refined feelings does not like to accept valuable presents from a man at this period of their acquaintance. Flowers, books, music, if the girl plays or sings, and boxes of candy are always permissible offerings which neither engage the man who offers them nor the girl who receives them. This is the time when a man invites a girl to the theater, to concerts and lectures, and may offer to escort her to church. The pleasure of her society is supposed to be a full return for the trouble and expense incurred in showing these small attentions.

The Handy Cyclopedia Of Things Worth Knowing, 1911

Courtship

No gentleman should permit a lady, whom he likes, but does not love, to mistake for one hour the nature and object of his intentions. Women may have some excuse for coquetry; but a man has none. When flirtation is a game that two can play at, equally adepts, it is one thing; but to allow an innocent girl to deceive herself, or, as is more commonly the case, to be deceived by the badinage of her companions, into the idea that you are her lover, and intend to propose marriage, is ungentlemanly. You may be innocent — you may not suspect the existence of such an idea — but few will give you credit for your verdancy, and we warn you against making such blunders, which may lead to one of two results. Either, having engaged the affections, and excited the hopes of the lady, you will feel compelled to marry her, or you will be disgraced, possibly cowhided, or shot.

The Illustrated Manners Book, 1855

If the gentleman be a person of good breeding and right feeling, he will need no caution from us to remember that, when he is admitted into the heart of a family as the suitor of a daughter, he is receiving one of the greatest possible favors that can be conferred on him, whatever may be his own superiority of social rank or worldly circumstances; and that, therefore, his conduct should be marked by a delicate respect towards the parents of his lady-love. By this means he will propitiate them in his favor, and induce them to regard him as worthy of the trust they have placed in him.

Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, 1875

At this period it is a wise man who makes a friend of a girl’s mother, and if he does this he will generally be repaid in a twofold manner. No matter how willful a girl may be, her mother’s opinion of her friends always has weight with her. Moreover, what the mother is the girl will in all probability become, and a man has no better opportunity of learning a girl’s mental and moral qualities than by knowing the woman who bore and reared her.

The Handy Cyclopedia Of Things Worth Knowing, 1911

A man should never make a declaration [of love] in a jesting manner. It is most unfair to a lady. He has no right to trifle with her feelings for mere sport, nor has he a right to hide his own meaning under the guise of a jest.

Our Deportment, 1881

Neither party should try to make the other jealous for the purpose of testing his or her affection. Such a course is contemptible; and if the affections of the other are permanently lost by it, the offending party is only gaining his or her just deserts. Neither should there be provocation to little quarrels for the foolish delight of reconciliation. No lover will assume a domineering attitude over his future wife. If he does so, she will do well to escape from his thrall before she becomes his wife in reality. A domineering lover will be certain to be more domineering as a husband.

Our Deportment, 1881

As to temper or disposition, the man or woman can easily gain some insight into the respective peculiarities of another’s temperament by a little quiet observation. If the gentleman be courteous and careful in his attentions to his mother and sisters, and behave with ease and consideration toward all women, irrespective of age, rank, or present condition, she may feel that her first estimate was a correct one. On the other hand, should he show disrespect toward women as a class, sneer at sacred things, evince an inclination for expensive pleasures in advance of his means, or for low amusements or companionship; be cruel to the horse he drives, or display an absence of all energy in his business pursuits, then is it time to gently, but firmly, repel all nearer advances on his part.

As to the gentleman, it will be well for him also to watch carefully as to the disposition of the lady and her conduct in her own family. If she be attentive and respectful to her parents, kind and affectionate toward her brothers and sisters, not easily ruffled in temper and with inclination to enjoy the pleasures of home; cheerful, hopeful and charitable in disposition, then may he feel, indeed, that he has a prize before him well worth the winning.

If, however, she should display a strong inclination towards affectation and flirtation; be extremely showy or else careless in her attire, frivolous in her tastes and eager for admiration, he may rightly conclude that very little home happiness is to be expected from her companionship.

Social Etiquette: or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society, 1896

Cultivate and manifest whatever qualities you would awaken. You inspire in the one you court the precise feeling and traits you yourself experience. This law effects this result. Every faculty in either awakens itself in the other. This is just as sure as gravity itself. Hence your success must come from within, depends upon yourself, not the one courted.

Social Etiquette: or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society, 1896

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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

 

Early 20th century books on “Manly Sports”–become an “expert” for only 10 cents!

In Everyday Life, Gender Roles, Martial Arts on February 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Clubs cover

I have in front of me a modern (2005) facsimile edition of Indian Clubs and Dumb Bells, by J.H. Dougherty, which was originally published in 1911, by Spalding’s Athletic Library. In the front of the book is Spalding’s list of available books at that time–their entire Athletic Library, in fact–and the section on “Manly Sports” is especially interesting:

 No. 140–Wrestling.   Catch-as-catch-can style. Seventy illustrations of the different holds, photographed especially and so described that anybody can with little effort learn every one. Price 10 cents.

No. 18–Fencing.   By Dr. Edward Breck, of Boston, editor of The Swordsman, a prominent amateur fencer. A book that has stood the test of time, and is universally acknowledged to be a standard work. Illustrated. Price 10 cents.

 No. 162–Boxing Guide.   Contains over 70 pages of illustrations showing all the latest blows, posed especially for this book under the supervision of a well-known instructor of boxing, who makes a specialty of teaching and knows how to impart his knowledge. Price 10 cents.

 No. 165–The Art of Fencing.   By Regis and Louis Senac, of New York, famous instructors and leading authorities on the subject. Gives in detail how every move should be made. Price 10 cents.

No. 236–How to Wrestle.   The most complete and up-to-date book on wrestling ever published. Edited by F.R. Toombs, and devoted principally to special poses and illustrations by George Hackenschmidt, the “Russian Lion”. Price 10 cents.

No. 102–Ground Tumbling.   Any boy, by reading this book and following the instructions, can become proficient. Price 10 cents.

No. 289–Tumbling for Amateurs.   Specially compiled for amateurs by Dr. James. T. Gwathmey. Every variety of the pastime explained in text and pictures, over 100 different positions being shown. Price 10 cents.

 No. 191–How to Punch the Bag.   The best treatise on bag punching that has ever been printed. Every variety of blow used in training is shown and explained, with a chapter on fancy bag punching by a well-known theatrical bag puncher. Price 10 cents.

No. 200–Dumb-Bells.   The best work on dumb-bells that has ever been offered. By Prof. G. Bojus, of New York. Contains 200 photographs. Should be in the hands of every teacher and pupil of physical culture, and is invaluable for home exercise. Price 10 cents.

No. 143–Indian Clubs and Dumb-Bells.   By America’s amateur champion club swinger, J.H. Dougherty. It is clearly illustrated, by which any novice can become an expert. Price 10 cents.

No. 262–Medicine Ball Exercises.   A series of plain and practical exercises with the medicine ball, suitable for boys and girls, business and professional men, in and out of gymnasium. Price 10 cents.

No. 29–Pulley Weight Exercises.   By Dr. Henry S. Anderson, instructor in heavy gymnastics Yale gymnasium. In conjunction with a chest machine anyone with this book can become perfectly developed. Price 10 cents.

No. 233–Jiu Jitsu.   Each move thoroughly explained and illustrated with numerous full-page pictures of Messrs. A. Minami and K. Koyama, two of the most famous exponents of the art of Jiu Jitsu, who posed especially for this book. Price 10 cents.

No. 166–How to Swing Indian Clubs.   By Prof. E.B. Warman. By following the directions carefully anyone can become an expert. Price 10 cents.

No. 326–Professional Wrestling.   A book devoted to the catch-as-catch-can style; illustrated with half-tone pictures showing the different holds used by Frank Gotch, champion catch-as-catch-can wrestler of the world. Posed by Dr. Roller and Charles Postl. By Ed. W. Smith, Sporting Editor of the Chicago American. Price 10 cents.

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

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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.