Henry Angelo's Fencing School
by Georgian Index
Fencing was an indispensable part of a gentleman's education. England seems to have learned the art abroad until 1755, when foil fencer Dominico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo (1716-1802), known as Angelo, came to London in the company of the celebrated beauty, actress Peg Woffington, and stayed to establish a dynasty of fencing masters. Born in 1716 at Leghorn, Italy, he was a riding instructor by avocation. During his brief stint in Paris, he had taken lessons from the famous Monsieur Teillagory who also trained the great Chevalier d'Eon. Upon arriving in England, Angelo managed to score several impressive victories in public matches against English and Irish social fencers. Angelo defeated an Irish duelist of little ability but great strength named Keys. The match took place in a London tavern, which often served as venues for such entertainments. According to Angelo's son, the challenger cut a "a tall, athletic figure… his shirt sleeves tucked up, exposing a pair of brawny arms, sufficient to cope in the ring with Broughton or Slack [two famous pugilists of the day]." Angelo, however, easily put by all of Keyes' powerful attacks with small, skillful, and effortless motions, and then went on to score a number of unanswered hits on his exhausted adversary. This notoriety helped Angelo to quickly gain access to key clients at court and in the royal family. His patrons included the Earl of Pembroke and the Duke of Devonshire. He opened Angelo's School of Arms in Soho; he and his descendants trained generations of wealthy English youth in fencing and horsemanship. Angelo, was appointed to teach the Prince of Wales (later George III) and his brother the Duke of York in 1758. The following year two younger brothers, the Dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland, also started to fence. In a letter dated 5th May 1776 Angelo writes, "Their Royal Highnesses (Gloucester and Cumberland) having signified to me that a Treatise of Fencing; with engravings (L'Ecole des Armes), would contribute much to their amusement, I instantly applied myself to the undertaking. I engaged that gentleman (James Gwynn) to draw all the positions of fencing, for the model of which I myself had the patience to stand. and afterwards got executed by the first artists. As the Princes had given occasion to my treatise. I thought it my duty to ask their permission to dedicate it to them, which they granted in the most flattering manner. Some time after this I was informed by the Duke of Queensbury that his Majesty would be very glad to see the original designs. I ordered them to be arranged with all possible expedition, and every one to be adorned with an elegant border, and the book to be bound in the most superb manner. The king was so good as to examine it, and conversed with me some time on the subject of the book with considerable knowledge. In the year 1771 I had the honour to be appointed fencing master to their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and Prince Frederick."
In 1763 Angelo published L'Ecole d'Armes illustrated with forty-seven copper-plates by famous English artists such as Gwyn and Ryland, Hall, Chamber and Grignion. The special presentation copy of the original drawings for Angelo's large and lavishly illustrated folio L'Ecole des Armes, published in 1763, was later acquired by Lord Farnham. In 1961 it was sold at Sotheby's to the American collector, Paul Mellon, and is now in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. The Royal Library at Windsor has a proof set of reduced plates commissioned in 1765 for Diderot's encyclopedia. Hand-coloured, mounted and bound in red morocco with a cusped yellow leather border, the plates are prefaced by a manuscript dedication by Angelo to the Prince of Wales. In 1770 the salle d'armes was at Carlisle House, overlooking Soho-square; then was moved to Opera House-buildings, Haymarket, next to Old Bond-street.
Angelo's establishment became a fashionable meeting place of the British aristocracy and featured exhibitions by international crack fencers such as Le Brun, Saint-Georges, d'Eon, Léger, and Fabien. Fencing was considered an "elegant" appendage to a gymnasium. It had its rules like the country-dance or the quadrille. Fencing was as much "a school of deportment" as of self-defense. "I have seen old Angelo at Oxford bring his foil to the salute, and bowing profoundly to some undergraduate wild from the woods, pronounce with magisterial emphasis, "This, sir, is an academy of politeness as well as of arms!"." Commented one contemporary.
Henry Angelo the elder (1760-1839), who got his final polish at the hands of Motet at the Académie d'Armes de Paris, was author of the Reminiscences (1830) and Angelo's Pic-nic (1834). This Fencing master, succeeded to his father's fencing academy c1785. Henry numbered the boxer Gentleman Jackson among his friends and helped him establish his boxing club next door to the Fencing Academy on Bond Street. Retired in favour of his son Henry 1817.
The Prince Regent's active participation in fencing is well documented. A Gillray engraving shows him and Mrs. Fitzberhert attending a match at Carlton House in 1787 between the two most famous fencers of their time, the enigmatic transvestite Chevaliere D'Eon and the part West Indian Chevalier de Saint George. By all accounts the Chevalier Charles Geneviève Timothée d'Eon de Beaumont (1728-1810), known as Chevaliere D'Eon completely vanquished his formidable opponent, hitting him seven times without being touched. This result is all the more extraordinary considering that D'Eon was 58 and St George some 17 years younger and generally considered to be the finest swordsman in Europe. Henry Angelo said of St. George, "No man ever united so much suppleness with so much strength … his attacks were a perpetual series of hits and his parade was so close that it was in vain to attempt to touch him". Nevertheless, D'Eon, who had been taking secret lessons from old Domenico Angelo, completely out-fenced him. Henry later recalled, "the Prince of Wales was much gratified at the performance, and smiled at the violent noises of St. George during his attacks, which resembled more the roaring of a bull than sounds emanating from a human being!" The Morning Herald of 9th April 1787 reported in sycophantic style that "the Prince did Monsieur St. George the honour to thrust with him in carte and tierce, and astonished every beholder with his amazing grace; whenever his Highness put himself on his guard, his attitudes were highly elegant and easy.
In 1789 another exhibition of fencing, this time between the master Joseph Roland and the Chevalier de St. George, was held before the Prince of Wales at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Afterwards the Prince asked for a set of foils, masks and gloves, for which Roland was suitably rewarded. These objects are no longer in the Royal Collection and seem to have vanished without trace. In 1806 the Prince of Wales acquired 13 drawings of the Art of Fencing from the London dealer Colnaghi for £4 17s 6d. Earlier in style than Angelo's illustrations, they do not correspond with any known series of fencing prints.
Henry Charles Angelo the younger (1780-1852), grandson of the original Angelo, was fencing master and superintendent of sword exercise in the army. He moved the Academy to St. James's-street (1830-1896), the premises now occupied by [bodybuilder Eugen] Sandow.
|There's no author credit, did you write this Cybil? Thank you, whoever is responsible for the informative article. And I snorted out loud when I read the caption for the Angelo's Fencing Academy print: "I shall conquer this!" LOL!|
|Cybil||Donated from The Georgian Index||2003-02-27|
|This article was donated by Georgian Index. I contacted the owner of the site and she has given me permission to use of the materials on it. This one did not have an author sited, but it was a wonderful article!|
|The original author is Richard Francis Burton. ("Life of the Sword" circa 1890) The reference to Eugen Sandow is the dead giveaway.|
“We have all read about fencing schools and seen them in movies, but what exactly were they?”