Patriotism may be the last refuge of scoundrels. But it’s also one of the great sources of historical irony. The War of 1812 created one such irony, as far as the classical canon of fencing literature is concerned.
This one is quite complex, as indeed anything should be that manages to connect personages as diverse as a prominent member of the Boston Tea Party, Mad King George, the Hessian mercenaries—and the ubiquitous fencing master dynasty of the Angelos in a game that makes the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon look as one-dimensional as a Partridge Family reunion special…
by J. Christoph Amberger
The War of 1812, sometimes called “the Second War of Independence,” pitched the United States against Great Britain from 1812 to 1815: With the Anglo-French wars heating up in 1793, Britain had begun to harass neutral American maritime commerce, presumably to keep the U.S. from helping out the French war effort. (After all, the Americans were indebted to the French for their decisive assistance in the War of Independence.)
Seizures of American merchant shipping quickly fueled demands for retaliation, but direct confrontation was averted until the Orders in Council of 1807 severely restricted trade with Europe. The British navy stopped neutral vessels on the high seas to search for suspected “deserters”—impressing scores of American sailors into the British navy under false accusations. On June 18, 1812, enough was enough: The United States declared war against Britain.
That same month, a Baltimore “Teacher of Military Tacticks” by the name of Robert H. Craig capitalized on the renewed wave of American patriotism by publishing a small, leather-bound quarto, 215 pages strong and beautified by 26 leaves of rather crudely drawn copperplates.
In his Introduction to the Rules and regulations for the sword exercise of the cavalry, Craig states confidently:
“Having examined the different works on the Sword Exercise and the Drills and Evolutions for the Cavalry, I take the liberty of recommending this work to the Cavalry of the United States, as possessing advantages over any other work now in use.” (p. iii)
It’s this statement that frequently induces antiquarian book sellers to list this book as one of the first American books on military sword exercise. A fencing historian, however, will not be able to shake a constant feeling of déjà vu while reading the treatise. With good reason. Because Craig is not the author of the work, but merely compiled two earlier publications into this two-for-one mini-anthology on cavalry tactics.
Indeed, the first 104-page segment of Craig’s work, dealing with the Sword Exercise, is identical to the two editions of Robert Hewes’ Rules and regulations for the sword exercise of the cavalry, both published simultaneously in Boston and Philadelphia in 1802 as “The First” and “Second American, from the London Edition”, respectively.
The book is illustrated with twenty-eight excellent engraved plates by William Norman (who also signs responsible as publisher for the “First American” or Boston edition). Norman not only was a Book and Chart Seller (as advertised on the title of this edition) but is also counted among the important early American engravers.
The “Second American” or Philadelphia edition, was published by M. Carey, and in all aspects is identical with the Boston edition.
The plates—like Craig’s a decade later—depict sword exercises showing a uniformed soldier demonstrating the actions, many of which are conducted on horseback, as well as one showing the “six cuts” to be aimed at the opponent’s head. (And, of course, in continuation of the lines, at bridle hand and horse.) The only differences between Craig and Hewes are minor updates on the uniform and headgear of the depicted trooper, as well as a few turns of phrase in the Introduction
Hewes identifies himself as “Teacher of the Sword Exercise for Cavalry” and declares:
“Having carefully examined the following work on the Sword Exercise, I find it the best now extant and take this opportunity respectfully to recommend it to the Cavalry of New England in general, and of the State of Massachusetts in particular.” (pp. iii-iv.)
And it is here that we find our link to the first generation of American patriots:
Robert Hewes was born in 1751 and died in Boston on July 19, 1830. His obituary in the Columbian Centinel of July 31, 1830 calls him a “celebrated bone setter and fencing master“. That seems insufficient for a career that also included stints as soap boiler, glue and rosin maker, and pre-industrial proprietor of a frequently failing and apparently highly flammable glassmaking business (who during the Revolutionary War was employing Hessian and Waldenser deserters as workmen).
According to his cousin Samuel Hewes, he was an eccentric and extraordinary man, “short, a bit rotund, of light complexion, and very active.” At Dorchester, on August 14, 1769, he was present when the Sons of Liberty observed the anniversary of the forced resignation of the distributor of the stamps provided by the infamous Stamp Act.
The Boston Directory lists him as “fencing master” in 1804, and as late as 1825, he is advertising as “Surgeon bone setter” and “teacher of sword exercises, Boylston Market”. In 1829, the word “gentleman” appears after his name.
While no relation between Robert Hewes and North Carolina’s Joseph Hewes, prominent signer of the Declaration of Independence, can be established for sure, he is indeed related to a minor patriotic celebrity of the Revolutionary War, George Robert Twelve Hewes—although the exact degree of relationship is yet to be fully ascertained.
George Robert Twelve Hewes, a poor shoemaker born in Boston in 1742, was drawn into the resistance movement during the occupation of Boston in 1768. On March 5, 1770, when the redcoats turned out in force to clear the streets of rioting civilians, he found himself smack dab in the middle of the Boston Massacre. He was friends with four of the five workingmen shot down that night by British troops. One of them, James Caldwell, was standing by his side, and Hewes reportedly caught him as he fell.
Incensed, the shoemaker armed himself with a stick and confronted Sergeant Chambers of the 29th Regiment and eight or nine soldiers, all armed with clubbed muskets and drawn hangers. Chambers seized his stick, but as Hewes stated in a legal deposition, “I told him I had as good a right to carry a cane as they had to carry clubs.” This deposition, in which Hewes recounted the redcoats’ threats to kill more civilians, was included in “A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston” published by a group of Boston Patriots.
On the night of December 16, 1773, Hewes turned up as a volunteer at the Tea Party and was appointed “boatswain”, with orders to go to the captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches. Thompson Maxwell, a volunteer sent to the Tea Party by John Hancock, reflected that “in the heat of conflict the small man with the large name had been elevated from a poor shoemaker to Captain Hewes.”
During the War of Independence he fought as an ordinary sailor and soldier on privateering voyages and enlisting at least four times in the militia. A journalist found the still dirt-poor shoemaker in New York State in the 1830s, and he was brought back to Boston on Independence Day in 1835, as one of the last surviving participants in the Tea Party.
Having thus established our link to New England’s patriots, it now is time to make the intercontinental connection to English royalty. Which is not at all difficult, because the “London Edition” Hewes appropriately credits on the titles of both the Boston and Philadelphia editions is none other than the 1796 Rules and Regulations for the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry, which these days belongs to the most coveted works on British military sword training—easily commanding between $500-$800 a copy.
Re-published in four identical editions during the French Wars, this work remained in effect until 1819. And apart from minor formatting changes (which limit the British work to 98 pages) and the invoked imprimatur of His Britannic Majesty in the Introduction, its text is identical to those published by Craig and Hewes.
The other white meat
The Adjutant General signing off on the book’s publication on Dec. 1, 1796, is one William Fawcett—whose name also frequently appears under the spelling of “Faucitt”, for example, as the translator of the Regulations for the Prussian Infantry (1759) and the Regulations for the Prussian Cavalry (1757).
(The latter work on Cavalry is particularly interesting to the fencing historian, as the only reference to making actual use of the edged sidearm is laconically summed up in the words “make a stroke”…)
Colonel Fawcett’s linguistic proficiency made him a natural to head the British efforts to enlist mercenaries from the small independent German principalities to suppress the rebellion in the colonies. In his role as minister plenipotentiary, his signature (along with that of Baron Martin Ernest von Schlieffen) validates the January 15, 1776 treaty between “His Britannic Majesty” and “His most Serene Highness the reigning Landgrave of Hesse Cassel” to purchase the services of “a body of twelve thousand men, of the troops of Hesse”.
Between 1777 and 1780, Fawcett’s efforts, which included the actual inspection of the human merchandize purchased, resulted in the British’s capability to field an annual average of 20,000 German auxiliaries in the colonies.
Fawcett signs off on the 1796 edition invoking the authority of the “command of Field Marshall His Royal Highness The Duke of York”. An important clue for our scavenger hunt. And terminally, our connection to the Angelo Clan. Because the Duke of York is a close friend of Henry (“Harry”) Angelo (born 1756), son of the venerable Domenico Malevolto Angiolo Tremamondo, better known by his Anglicized name of Domenico Angelo.
Blue blood specials
In 1758, Domenico had been appointed by Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenberg—the Dowager Princess of Wales, widow of Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales—as the riding and fencing master to their sons George, Prince of Wales (who after the death of George II in 1760 ascended to the throne as George III) and Edward, Duke of York (1739-1767). She even provided suitable premises for Angelo at Leister House, just two doors down from famous painter-engraver William Hogarth.
Royal patronage continued to float the success of the Angelo fencing dynasty when George III’s sons George (IV) and Frederick, Prince Bishop of Osnabrück, later on Duke of York and Albany and Commander in Chief (1763-1827), were to receive fencing lessons at the hands of Harry Angelo, as well as serve as royal godfathers to Harry’s son Henry.
(Domenico Angelo didn’t aim low when it came to pave the way for his son in society: In his Reminiscences, (vol. II, p. 48 of the 1904 edition), Henry (“Harry”) lists “His present Majesty”, the late Dukes of Cumberland, York, Kent, as well as the Duke of Glouchester, among his godfathers. George III, who died blind, deaf and mad at Windsor Castle on January 29, 1820, as of 1811 had yielded power to his son, George IV. Since the first edition of the Reminiscences was published in London by Colburn and Bently in 1830, the “present Majesty” is George IV.)
The great English fencing historian J.D. Aylward put the creative responsibility for the Rules and Regulations squarely on Harry, “probably through the influence of Harry’s patron, the Duke of York.”
Since old Domenico’s student Edward Duke of York had shuffled off his mortal coil in 1767, this can only be Mad King George III’s son Frederick, a military man deemed competent at his job. (He was, however, forced to resign his commission in 1809 when a Parliamentary Inquiry determined that his mistress Mary Anne Clarke was selling commissions and promotions. It was decided that he was technically innocent but that the whole was damaging to the country. He was reinstated in 1811.)
The overall indebtedness to the Duke of York is corroborated by Harry, who writes “Two of my sons owed their commissions in the Army to his [The Duke of York’s] condescending goodness to me—indeed his royal highness’s favour commenced by being Godfather to one of them; and I owe numberless other obligations to his venerated memory.”
It has to be pointed out that Harry Angelo’s training was in the French tradition of the Art of Fencing, focusing strongly on the smallsword and foil, supplemented with a dose of English singlestick play. (His friend Cruickshank indeed depicts him with foil and singlestick in the hand-colored frontispiece to Angelo’s Pic-Nic.) Aylward comments:
“In the circumstances it fell to Harry Angelo to evolve something entirely new rather than to revive archaic theories, but he confined himself to a study of the single-stick play then still popular with the lower classes, removing some conventionalities, and returning to the original notion that the basket-hilted cudgel was a rough-and ready substitute for a sword, and not a weapon in itself. The result of his labors may be studied in an oblong album of twenty-four plates, designed at and etched by the faithful [artist Thomas] Rowlandson, ‘under the direction of Mssrs. H. Angelo and Son, Fencing-Masters to the Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster,’ and printed by C. Roworth in 1798/99.”
My own suspicion is that the development of the material for the 1796 Rules was due in part to the expertise of John Taylor, late Broadsword Master to the same Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster that Angelo dedicates his Hungarian and Highland Broadsword Exercise to.
Taylor was “a sturdy English master of the broadsword (…) who did little more than transmit the lessons as he had learned them, in a style differing not much from that in vogue in the days of Good Queen Beth.”
Apart from minor formatting changes and different copperplates, however, the 1804 Art of Defence on Foot commonly ascribed to Taylor is identical to a 1798 release ascribed by bibliographical tradition to C. Roworth whose title—much like Angelo’s 1798/99 collaboration with Rowlandson—claims to be “uniting the Scotch and Austrian Methods into one Regular System”
Hutton apparently still holds Taylor in high esteem and, in his Cold Steel, speculates that Roworth, “together with Mr. (Henry “Harry”) Angelo seems to owe his knowledge of this weapon to John Taylor, a well-known broadsword master, who taught the Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster in 1798.”
In the later tradition of fencing historiography, Taylor has frequently been accused of plagiarizing, if not pirating Roworth. Upon close inspection of the actual works, however, it has to be pointed out that no text-immanent markers (such as author’s name or initials) exist in the 1798 Art of Defence that would support Roworth’ authorship, whereas both works have the same publisher (T. Egerton at Whitehall). In fact, the first and last page of “Taylor’s” work expressly names C. Roworth, of “Bell Yard, Fleet Street” as the printer of the work!
Aylward relates a little (albeit undocumented) anecdote according to which Roworth filed a grievance with Guild Hall regarding the publication of this book, referring to Angelo as an expert witness. Aylward omits the exact reason for the grievance—but he suspects flagrant piracy—and against whom he filed it. From a publishing point of view, however, that makes little sense. How can someone “pirate” a work when the pirated edition is published by the same publisher (T. Egerton) and printed by the same man who (supposedly, according to Aylward) claims authorship?
Even the bibliographers’ attribution of this authorship to Taylor is an error, which was probably first committed and then maintained by flighty librarians habituated to identify highlighted names on title pages with the author: John Taylor is only mentioned in context with the only material textual difference between the editions… his “10 Lessons”, presented on pages 94-97 of the 1804 edition.
(Taylor uses “my” for Angelo’s “A.” (for “Antagonist”); Angelo contracts lessons that include preceding ones, where Taylor repeats the preceding sequence in writing; there are also minor differences in phrasing (Lesson 5); Taylor likes to feint at the face, Angelo at the outsde arm; Taylor adds 2 thrusts to Lesson 9.)
If there was reason for professional altercations between the printer Roworth and the publisher Egerton in 1804, it cannot have presented much of an obstacle to further collaboration. Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 and the title-page of the first edition again reads “Printed for the Author, by C. Roworth, Bell-yard, Temple-bar, and published by T. Egerton, Whitehall.”
This arrangement, which today would be characterized as a “vanity publishing” deal, indicates that publisher T. Egerton was a cautious and circumspect businessman who limited any risk in the transaction by letting the novel printed at the author’s expense – by his old business associate C. Roworth.
Both the “Roworth” and “Taylor” editions of the Art of Defence on Foot can be placed squarely in Angelo’s sphere: They both state the reader should acquaint himself with the system of the smallsword by referring to the treatise “published by Mr. Angelo“, which is “indeed so clear and comprehensive it cannot be too much recommended.”
And the 10 Lessons of John Taylor included in th 1804 volume are by and large identical in structure and sequence with the “Guards and Lessons of the Highland Broadsword”, a single-broadsheet compendium engraved by Rowlandson and published by Angelo in 1799 as a supplement to the Hungarian and Highland Broadsword Exercise.
Which could mean that the New Sword Exercise, as the 1796 system became to be known for a few decades, was really just a new look at the Old Sword Exercise, only from the elevated position of an army nag!
The usual suspects
Apart from its various reprints (most of them also through T. Egerton), the 1796 Rules single-handedly revived an interest in the mounted and pedestrian use of the saber and broadsword, spawning the usual string of copycats, plagiarists, and merchandisers even in England… first and foremost Harry Angelo himself.
In 1798, W. Pepper published a small pamphlet on the New Broad Sword Exercise, which close examination reveals to be a kind of Cliff Notes to the Rules, digesting the original nearly verbatim, as well as you can sum up a 98-page tome in 30 octavo pages.
Pepper’s readers may not have been oblivious to the close relationship: A copy of this work in my collection features a hand-written contemporary augmentation to the author’s humble protestations that “the only design is, that of being useful to his Country,”… by laconically adding the words “and himself” to the text in black ink.
Night School of War
The fact that Hewes’ 1802 editions predate the Rules and Regulations first English re-issue (in 1805) by three years can be credited to the fact that the American citizen soldiers had a well-documented interest in educating themselves on military matters as far back as the War of Independence.
In fact, a Hessian Jäger officer, Captain Johann Ewald, wrote:
“I was sometimes astonished when American baggage fell into our hands during that war to see how every wretched knapsack, in which were only a few shirts and a pair of torn breeches, would be filled up with military books. (…) This was a true indication that the officers of this army studied the art of war while in camp, which was not the case with the opponents of the Americans whose portmanteaus were rather filled with bags of hair-powder, boxes of sweet-smelling pomatum, cards (instead of maps), and then often, on top of all, some novels or stage plays.”
Accordingly, we have to regard Hewes’ and Craig’s American issues of the British 1796 Rules as another indication for the early American penchant of incorporating and absorbing the best of European art and science through cultural osmosis, making it an integral part of the U.S. culture in the process.
The French connection
There’s another player in the American Revolution with ties to the Anglo-French fencing tradition, albeit to an earlier system: Fawcett’s superior, Lord George Germain.
Born in 1716, as George Sackville, 1st Viscount Sackville and son of the Duke of Dorset, he was educated at Dublin’s Trinity College.
According to Aylward, he studied the art of the smallsword under the guidance of Maître Andrew Mahon, an English fencing master teaching Labat’s system of the smallsword to the well-to-do of Dublin.
Mahon translated Labat’s work into English and published his The art of fencing, or, The use of the small sword, translated from the French of the late celebrated Monsieur L’Abbat in 1734 in Dublin, and in 1735 in London, including exact copies of Labat’s 12 plates.
Sackville, who in 1770 took the name Germain under the terms of a will, became an officer in the British army. He served with distinction in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). He was a major general during the Seven Years’ War and in 1758 commanded an unsuccessful attack on Saint-Malo, France. At the Battle of Minden in 1759, he refused orders to lead a cavalry charge that would have ensured a decisive allied victory. He was court-martialed in 1760 and pronounced unfit for further service in His Majesty’s Army.
Sackville returned to favor under George III, holding the appointment of Secretary of State for the Colonies under Lord North from 1775 to 1782. In this capacity he was instrumental in convincing the House that foreign troops ought to be enlisted to fight for the British cause in the colonies and was blamed for the failure of the Saratoga campaign (1777), when he and John Burgoyne decided to end the Revolution by splitting New England from the rest of the colonies along the Hudson River. His vague orders to Sir William Howe to join Burgoyne are generally thought to have cost Burgoyne the campaign.
The confusion in the plans of Lord Cornwallis and Sir Henry Clinton, arising partly from Sackville-Germain’s ignorance of American geography, contributed to the disaster of the Yorktown campaign. And in 1780, it was his orders that cause the British forces to abandon conciliatory policies toward the American populace… allowing large-scale plundering and destruction of property.
Germain was created viscount in 1782 and died in 1785.
Craig, Robert H. Rules and Regulations for the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry to which is added The Rules for Drill and the Evoluions of the Light Cavalry, Baltimore: self-published, printed by B. Edes, 1812.
Hewes, Robert. Rules and Regulations for the Sword Exercise for the Cavalry, to which is added the Review Exercise, Boston: William Norman and Philadelphia: M. Carey, 1802.
Henretta, James A. , Brownlee, Elliot, et al. America’s History, New York: Worth Publishers Inc., 1997 (3rd ed.)
Faucitt, William (transl.) Regulations for the Prussian Infantry. To Which Is Added, the Prussian Tactick, Being a Detail of the Grand Manoeuvre, as Performed by the Prussian Armies (London: 1759) and Regulations for the Prussian Cavalry (London, 1757) both reprinted New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.
Lowell, Edward J. The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1884) Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 2000; p. 14.
Aylward, J.D. The House of Angelo; A Dynasty of Scientific Swordsmen, London: The Batchworth Press, 1958
Angelo, Henry. Reminiscences of Henry Angelo, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1904; vol. I
Angelo, Henry. Angelo’s Pic Nic or Table Talk including numerous Recollections of Public Characters, London: John Ebers, 1834.
Loyal Volunteers of London and Environs Infantry and Cavalry in their respective uniforms, London: R. Ackermann, 1799, (reprinted in 1972)
Hutton, Sir Alfred. The Sword and the Centuries, (London: Grant Richards, 1901) New York: Barnes & Noble, 1995; p.250.
[*Taylor, John.] The Art of Defence on Foot with the Broad Sword and Sabre: adapted also to the Spadroon, or Cut-and-Thrust Sword, Improved and Augmented with the 10 Lessons of John Taylor, London: T. Egerton, 1804.
[*Roworth,C.] The Art of Defence on Foot with the Broad Sword and Sabre Uniting the Scotch and Austrian Methods into one Regular System, to which is added Remarks on the Spadroon, London: Printed for T. Egerton at the Military Library near Whitehall, 1798.
Hutton, Sir Alfred. Cold Steel, London: William Clowes& Sons, 1889
Pepper, W. A Treatise on the New Broad Sword Exercise, London: Lee & Hurst, 1798 (3rd ed.); Castle lists a 6th ed. for 1803