Duels Part III - The Sword

Not to many duels were held with the sword by the time of the Regency but it was a choice that the challenged man could make, if he thought he would have an advantage.I think the best swordfight I ever read, the one in which I as a reader felt I had the most stakes, was the fight between Vidal and Mr. Comyn in Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub. How sexy Vidal was in that scene and so tortured by the thought that Mary had married another. Loved that book. Now I have to go read it again.

Anyway, a sword fight is heroic and even watching fencing today can be fascinating. We had a fencer on the Canadian team attend one of the TRW chapter meetings. What a lovely girl. Here is a photos from that day. I don't expect you will find it possible to recognize anyone you know.

But to get back to the fencing popular in the Regency, we must pay a visit to Angelo’s Fencing Academy, located in the Haymarket. It was here that the men of the ton would hone their skills with a blade. Every gentleman would know how to fence, even if he never challenged anyone to a duel.

Angelo's Fencing Academy

In 1770, Angelo's salle d'armes was at Carlisle House, overlooking Soho-square; then was moved to Opera House-buildings in Haymarket, next to Old Bond-street.

Angelo sent his son Henry Angelo the elder (1760-1839), to Paris for his final polish at the hands of Motet at the Académie d'Armes de Paris. He became head of the fencing academy around 1785. Henry helped to establish his friend the boxer, Gentleman Jackson, in his famous boxing club next door to the Fencing Academy on Bond Street. He turned the running of the business over to his son his son Henry in 1817. Henry the elder authored Reminiscences (1830) and Angelo's Pic-nic (1834).

The Prince of Wales enjoyed a good bout of fencing and is know to have watched a famous bout between two most famous fencers of their time, the enigmatic transvestite Chevaliere D'Eon (1728-1810) and the part West Indian Chevalier de Saint George (1745-1799) at Carleton House (Mrs. Fitzherbert in attendance) and at the Royal Pavillion, Brighton between the master Joseph Roland and the Chevalier de St. George. Afterwards the Prince asked for a set of foils, masks and gloves, for which Roland was handsomely rewarded.

The French were always great duelists and many chose the sword as their weapon of choice. In my research for “No Regrets” the novel which finished in the final four of the American Title 2 Contest (which you will be seeing in print next year) revealed that when the English first went to Paris, while Napoleon was exiled to Elba, the Frenchmen tried to draw them into duels at every opportunity.

As always, I have added some links to my website in case you want to browse further.

Some of the more common fencing terms.

Coup de grace - the dagger stroke given to mercifully end the suffering of a wounded duelist (originally used to execute a defeated knight in heavy plate armor)

En guard - to come “on guard” (ready your weapon and self for the fight)

Engagement - contacting or crossing (opposing) the adversary’s blade

First blood - a duel that is fought only to the first sight of drawn blood as opposed to “to the death” or to the opponent “yielding”

Lunge - (Allungo or Distesa) an extension (typically in the course of a thrusting attack) executed by stepping forward with the right foot and leaving the left foot anchored

Disengage - deceptively altering the line of attack by passing the blade under the adversary’s point (said to have been first devised from observing the bobbing motions of fighting cocks)

Parry - to block, defense by the deliberate resistance of an attack by imposing the blade before it.