Andrea here, musing today about swordsmen . . . or rather, three swordsmen in particular. As usual, this happened in a very serendipitous way: I was just checking a quick fact for my WIP. I swear, I only meant to spend a moment or two confirming the exact location of a famous Regency fencing academy. But then, I couldn’t help but get distracted (the road to perdition—or in this case, procrastination—is paved with good intentions!) History is filled with such fascinating characters—and as swashbuckling figures, few can match the Angelo family—Domenico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo, his son Henry Angelo, and his grandson Henry Angelo the Younger. So let's thrust and parry down the research rabbit hole! (above is Henry the Elder)
It seems Domenico, a dashing Italian fencing master who was considered the finest swordsman in all of Europe, fell in love with the famous actress Margaret Woffington while training in Paris and followed her back to London. I havne' discovered when happened to the that relationship, but Dominco must have found London to his liking for he established Angelo’s School of Arms in Soho during the early 1750s to teach British gentlemen the art of the sword. (He adopted Angelo as his surname to fit in to his adopted country, and from then on, the family was always known as Angelo—that's Domenico at right.)
Domenico believed fencing was great exercise, and was instrumental in developing health and grace.In fact, he's credited with making fencing a sport as well as instrument of war. It’s fascinating to note he also accepted women students! Some of them were said to be actresses from nearby Covent Garden who accompanied their gentlemen friends to the Academy and became captivated by the sport. (It seems his son Henry also accepted women. Henry was good friends with Thomas Rowlandson, the famous artist and cartoonist, and I found a Rowlandson drawing showing Henry crossing swords with a Madame Cain!—see above.)
Domenico’s treatise, L’Ecole des Armes, is considered a classic instruction manual to this day, and he went to become fencing master to the Royal family. After handing over his academy to his son, he taught fencing Eton (and in fact, three generation of Angelo men taught Eton boys how to wield a blade.)
Those of you who read Regencies will no doubt be familiar with Angelo’s Academy, which was on Bond Street, next door to Gentleman Jackson’s boxing establishment (yes, that was the fact I was checking! It did have several different locations over the years, but the Bond Street one is the most famous) Domenico’s son Henry was head of the Academy during the early years of the Regency. (Lord Byron was a regular .)
Henry was instrumental in creating many of the manuals used to train the British Army in swordsmanship. Like is father’s book, Henry’s Ten Lessons of Highland Broadsword, published in 1798, was considered a bible of basic moves. And it turns out there’s a very fun story behind how Henry became such a valued consultant to the British military.
According to Jonathan MacKenzie Gordon, instructor at the Virginia Academy of Fencing and a practitioner of historical swordsmanship, one of Henry’s friends, Colonel Charles Herries, founder of the Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster, was unhappy with the skill and fitness of his recruits, and asked Henry to come up with a series of training exercises. Now, at the time, Henry also had another friend, James Perry, owner of the Morning Chronicle, who was serving time in Newgate for libel against the House of Lords. The two of them engaged in frequent bouts of “single stick” fencing, which was apparently a popular pastime at country fairs. It involved—yes—a wooden stick and apparently the object was to strike your opponent’s head and draw blood.
They practiced on top of the prison roof, and it was through this game that Henry devised the simple lessons outlined in Ten Steps, which were eventually used as the basic drills for the British army throughout the 19th century.
In 1817, Henry’s son, Henry Angelo the Younger took over the Academy from his father. He also worked with the military, serving as superintendent of sword exercise for both the army and the Royal Navy. His 1817 manual, Infantry Sword Exercises, added to the family canon of training books.
So that's our little swing through the Regency world of fencing. I confess there is something rather dashing about swashbuckling swordsmen in movies and novels. Growing up, I loved The Three Musketeers and the Sword in the Stone. And then there’s Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. What about you? Do you have a favorite swordsman in books or on the silver screen?