Foil Fencing: The 1820’s “Roland foil”

Some of the British fencing master dynasties left behind more than books and instructional manuals.

The Rolands, for example, supplied us with this exceedingly rare leather-hilted foil…

by J. Christoph Amberger

Attendants of the USFA’s summer nationals undoubtedly will have noticed the inordinate amount of Russian being spoken, usually in the tight clusters of some of the most successful coaches. Which is only a late manifestation of one of European fencing’s quintessential characteristics: The crossing of national barriers and languages by coaches and fencing masters—and the welcome extended by those who hope to obtain the latest and greatest technique and strategies from the imported brain and brawn trust.

(My own club, Baltimore Fencing Center, is owned by Bin Lu (China) and boasts a Moroccan, a Romanian, and a German coach—myself.)

While the French Académie made sure that foreign aspirants were teaching the classical French method, the British were far more open. From Giacomo di Grassi over Vincentio Saviolo to Domenico Angelo, they had a history of importing fencing talent as far back as the Elizabethan age.

One of the lesser-known imports is Joseph Roland, fencing master at the Royal Military Academy of Woolwich. He left us with The Amateur of Fencing; or a treatise on the Art of Sword-Defence, theoretically and experimentally explained upon new principles; designed chiefly for persons who have only acquired a superficial knowledge of the subject, London: Printed for the Author by W. Wilson. And sold at Egerton’s Military Library, Whitehall; and sold at the Author’s, Greenwich, 1809.

His son George Roland was fencing master at the Royal Academy of Edinburgh. His contribution to fencing literature was (among others) An Introductory Course of Fencing, Edinburgh: self-published, 1837.

(Click here for a contemporary review of the book.)

His interests, however, were not limited to fencing. He was keenly aware of Friedrich Jahn’s Turner movement in Germany, which aimed at whipping the German youth into shape via exercise. George put his thoughts on the matter down in An Introductory Course of Moden Gymnastic Exercises, Edinburgh: self-published, 1832.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this is the only leather-hilted foil I have run across in my two decades of collecting.

The leather disk that serves as the guard is embossed deeply with the words “Messrs. Roland Edinburg”… indicating that it was made and used at a time both Joseph Roland—who after his stint in London and Woolwich took over riding master John Xavier Tremamondo’s establishment in Edinburgh. (Born on Dec. 4, 1720 in Leghorn, Italy, this was Domenico Angelo’s brother. He is occasionally represented as his son, which is no surprise, given the prolifically confusing dynasty of the Angelos in Britain.)

For a period, Roland and his influential son George were in business together.

The foils still features the original martingale, made of yellow silk strands.

One response to “Foil Fencing: The 1820’s “Roland foil”

  1. Just saw, that on the famous painting (circa 1790) of Henry Angelo he holds exactly similar foil with leather guard. Funny, I have not noticed it before.

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