FENCING IN REGENCY ENGLAND
Published on September 10, 2012 by lahilden | Views: 2420

En guard!  (Take your position and ready yourself for the fight.)

The rules of modern fencing originated in Spain, where the first known book on fencing, Treatise on Arms, was written by Diego de Valera between 1458 and 1471, shortly before dueling came under official ban by the Catholic Monarchs. When Spain became the leading power of Europe, the Spanish armies carried fencing abroad and particularly into the south of Italy.

Modern fencing originated in the 18th century, in the Italian school of fencing of the Renaissance, and was improved by the French school of fencing.  Fencer, Dominico Angelo Malevolti Tremanmondo, better known as Angelo, came to London in 1755 and began to make a name for himself with his victories.  This notoriety made it possible for Angelo to rub elbows with the royal family.  Soon after arriving in England he established Angelo's School of Arms in Carlisle House, Soho, London.  Angelo was appointed to teach the Prince of Wales (later George III) and his brother the Duke of York in 1758.

In Regency England, learning to fence was an essential part of a gentleman’s education.  Due to the importance of this skill, men often went abroad to learn.  Even if a gentleman never fought a duel, he still knew how to fence.  By the late 18th century these gentlemen were likely taught at Angelo’s Fencing Academy.  Angelo’s school was eventually moved to the Opera House buildings, Haymarket, next to Old Bond Street.  The school quickly became a fashionable meeting place for the aristocracy, and even featured exhibitions by international fencers.  Angelo’s was said to be a school of deportment as well of one of defense.  Angelo taught the aristocracy the fashionable art of swordsmanship and also set up a riding school in the former rear garden of the house.

Angelo was the first to emphasize fencing as a means of developing health, poise, and grace.  As a result of his influence, fencing changed from an art of war to a sport. Angelo’s fencing academy established the essential rules for posture and footwork that still govern modern sport fencing, although his attacking and parrying methods were different from current practice.  Angelo intended to prepare his students for real combat, and did not use masks.  Although it is important to note that in 1780, the French fencing master La Boessiere created a type of mask to protect fencers from injury.  The mask consisted of a fine, yet rigid, mesh of steel wire formed in a bowl shape with strings to tie the mask to the face.  As fencing progressed, the combat aspect slowly faded until only the rules of the sport remained.

Angelo was also busy training his son Henry and sent him to Paris to perfect his skills. When Henry returned from abroad, he became the head of his father’s academy around 1785.  Henry Charles Angelo the younger, grandson of the original Angelo, held the position as fencing master and superintendent of sword exercises in the army.  He moved the Academy to St James Street in 1830.

Fencing Weapons

Small Sword- The small sword is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance.  Small swords were used as status symbols and fashion accessories.  It was highly effective as a dueling weapon.  The height of the sword’s popularity was between mid 17th century and late 18th century.

Colichemarde- The colichemarde is a type of small sword blade that was very popular from the late 17th century until the middle 18th century.  The configuration of the sword combines good parrying characteristics with good thrusting characteristics.  Its light weight and superior balance compared to the rapier allowed for faster and more accurate moves.

Foil- The foil was invented in France as a training weapon in the middle of the 18th century.  Fencers could blunt the tip with what is called a blossom.  Some fencers did away with the protection and used the sharp foils for duels.