Some Notes on the Development of Victorian Saber Fencing
(Looking at Angelo, Wayne, Burton, Hutton and Breck)
Where the foil was fenced as training with the civilian gentleman’s dueling sword, the saber still belonged to the military in the Victorian Era. Of course, this varied from country to country, with France, England, Italy and Austria all developing styles particular to their nation.
As with the foil, England and America tended to follow France, eschewing the saber as a civilian dueling weapon. Italy and Austria both developed dueling sabers in the 19th century.
In the 19th century fencing masters struggled to keep the saber as part of military drilling. Manuals were written and submitted to the army, navy, and cavalry in both America and England.
HENRY CHARLES ANGELO the Younger (1780-1852)
|Henry Charles Angelo the Younger in a pencil drawing by W.H. Nightingale, 1839. |
National Portrait Gallery, London
Henry Charles Angelo is the author of Infantry Sword Exercise in 1845. He was part of the Angelo fencing dynasty established by his grandfather in England in the mid-18th century. He became Superintendent of Sword Exercise for the Army and Navy in Great Britain and his work was the standard manual for sword instruction in the Army until the end of the nineteenth century. The 1845 manual was actually a revised version originally published in 1817, though the content changed little between the editions.
Angelo explains in his introduction that “The following Instructions are laid down as the surest and quickest mode of forming Swordsmen”.
The sword featured by Angelo would have been either the 1822 or the 1845 pattern infantry officer's sword. The hilt was a half basket and "Gothic" in design. The 1822 blade would have been pipe-backed, while the redesign by Wilkinson in 1845 had a fullered blade. However, the was used for training with a variety of swords during the period.
|1845 Wilkinson version with fullered blade|
Section I - Extension Motions and the Positions
Since the manual is for military instruction, the drills are conducted in Lines or Files.
He begins with a series of preparatory drills of Extension Motions. These are exercises without the sword that will “expand the chest, raise the head, throw back the shoulders, and strengthen the muscles of the back” and is intended as a preparation to “give a free and active use of the limbs”. The Motions include practice of the three positions commonly taught in Victorian fencing. First Position is with the feet together and the legs straight, Second Position is what modern fencing considers On Guard, and the Third Position is the position of the lunge.
With Angelo the guard or Second Position still has the weight of the body resting on the rear foot, rather than in the center.
Angelo defines the Line of Direction as the “position of the feet, body and arms kept invariably in a straight line on the proper position of Guard…if you form your guard too wide, you are said to deviate from the Line of Direction, and consequently leave some part of your body unguarded”.
Angelo presents a chart showing the seven Cuts and Guards (defense or parries). The guards are formed by the fencer opposite to the sword-hilts in the picture. The picture is meant only as a reference for correctly forming the guards and cuts, and “giving the proper direction of the edge in making the cuts”.
Angelo gives three positions for Engaging Guards – The first is simply called the Guard (which is a Hanging Guard), the second is the Inside Guard (with the hand in quarte) and finally the Outside Guard (with the hand in tierce). He then goes through a series of military movements that include Draw Swords, Recover Swords; Carry Swords; Slope Swords; and Return Swords.To find the proper distance for drills, Angelo uses the term “Prove Distance”, which essentially uses the lunge to find the proper distance for conducting actions. Attacks are delivered with a lunge, afterwards recovering to a position of guard.
There are Seven Cuts and Three Points (thrusts). At the command “Assault” the cuts are to be practiced in combination without any pause “as by the proper and timely turn of the wrist the Cuts will lead into each other”. This is much like Hutton’s moulinet exercise.
He notes that while each Cut has its Guard, in a true assault the fencer can use whatever is effective at the time. “He may frequently be enabled to secure himself more effectively and quicker, by forming some other guard”
The Point or Thrust is given with nails up or down. Angelo notes that “The Point being generally the most effective, should occasionally be substituted for the Cut [in practice], either in the attack, or in a quick return from a defensive Guard”. The Thrust must be made so that you cover yourself and resist his blade (opposition).
Section III is a series of Review or Inspection Exercises, varying with each Guard being formed after its respective Cut.
Section IV has the recruits putting in practice their cuts and guards with exercises for Attack and Defense. For this he recommends stick drills used for practice. This is the singlestick, already in use as a substitute for the saber.
“The sticks are to be about forty inches long, and not so weak as to bend, and leather hilts being merely large enough to cover the hand, without confining it; and on no account are the Masks to be omitted, as they enable those who practice to cut or thrust with more confidence”.
Rules for Independent Practice with Sticks is followed by General Observations and Directions and an Appendix with Words of Command throughout the Progressive Instructions of the Drill.
(Thanks to Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria for notes on Angelo’s Infantry Sword Exercise. Any errors are solely mine)
Next: U.S. Army Brevet Major Henry C. Wayne’s Sword Exercise, Arranged for Military Instruction