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Broad Sword manual

In this monthly blog series, our collections team will write about their Object of the Month, chosen from our collection. This month, Stuart Ivinson, librarian, tells us about one of our latest acquisitions, Hungarian and Highland Broad Sword, a gorgeously engraved fencing manual used by the great and the good of Georgian society.

The artist and the fencing master

This year we have added a very rare book to our special collection of fencing manuals, Hungarian and Highland Broad Sword, by Thomas Rowlandson (published by Henry Angelo, London, 1799). It was produced privately for the London and Westminster Light Horse Volunteers, with a list of subscribers including the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal family, and contains 24 hand coloured engravings, produced by Thomas Rowlandson, under the direction of Henry Angelo. This collaborative work by one of the finest engravers of his day and London’s leading fencing master is a fine example of both Georgian art and sword-play.

bookplate showing two soldiers, one cavalry the other infantry

The title page of ‘Hungarian and Highland Broad Sword’

Henry Angelo (1756-1835) was the son of the famous fencing master Domenico Angelo and took over his father’s fencing school in 1780. It continued to flourish under his leadership; Angelo’s clientele included the rich and famous of society, so it is hardly surprising that he became the fencing master of the London and Westminster Light Horse Volunteers, a regiment numbering many such people within its ranks.

Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827) was an artist and lifelong friend of Angelo. His cartoon-like sketches and watercolours depict the events and people of his time in a caricatured way, poking fun at everyday life and personal habits. Though he was never famous in his own time, Rowlandson was prolific, and his work today is seen as epitomising the later Georgian period.

His work included several other collaborations with Angelo, including an instructional sheet, The Guards of the Highland Broadsword, as taught at Mr. Angelo’s Academy (1799), and a watercolour of Angelo himself, fencing at his school while distinguished pupils look on (1787).

An alliance to send Napoleon packing

The London and Westminster Light Horse Volunteers were founded in 1779, part of a wave of volunteer formations raised in response to the war in America, the threat of invasion from France & Spain and civil unrest, all placing an increasing strain upon the reduced military establishment at home. A small group of gentlemen and merchants petitioned King George III to be allowed to form themselves into a troop of cavalry and to learn the use of arms, in order to be of service in the event of foreign invasion. The petition was approved, and the regiment born. Drill instructors from regular cavalry regiments were supplied to provide training.

Two cavalrymen engage with swords during a battle

Plate 15: “Cut Six and Sword Arm Protect.”

Soon after founding the regiment saw service in policing the streets of London during the Gordon Riots of 1780, and were commended for their discipline. The end of the American War of Independence and the cessation of hostilities with France & Spain in 1783, however, saw the disbandment of the volunteer regiments, only for their reconstitution in 1794 in response to the renewed threat of invasion from Revolutionary France.

This second founding saw the regiment established on a more regular footing and by 1798, thanks to their wealth and status, the regiment was able to boast a total strength of over 600 men with a permanent headquarters and training grounds. These men were divided into troops, and to ensure that they were trained effectively the commander of the First Troop, Captain (later Colonel) Charles Herries produced a drill book: General regulations and instructions for the Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster, in 1794. Herries’ book was used as a model for the regulations of other volunteer cavalry regiments and was subsequently expanded in 1797.

After Henry Angelo became the principal fencing master, he and Rowlandson produced their Hungarian and Highland Broad Sword in 1799. The book is, for the most part, Angelo’s interpretation of the 1796 Rules and Regulations for the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry – the official drill manual for regular cavalry regiments. As befitting the membership of the regiment, however, Rowlandson produced images far more striking and beautiful that those of the official manual.

It is clear that the regiment took their training very seriously. At a Royal review on 10th July 1800 on Wimbledon Common, the regiments’ proficiency at sword drill was noted. Their high level of skill was perhaps in no small part due to the production of the book.

cavalrymen engage with swords during a battle

Plate 12: “Cut One and Bridle Arm Protect.”

The Regiment was called upon several times throughout the 1790s to maintain order during riots in London, and to act as escorts for prisoners attending trial. The regiment was on high alert during another invasion scare in 1801, but following peace negotiations, many of the volunteer regiments were stood down. The London and Westminster Light Horse were not disbanded but moved to a reduced, peacetime footing.

The resumption of hostilities with France in 1803 saw the regiment on a war footing once more, its ranks swelling to over 800 officers and men. The regiment even took over the duties of the King’s Guard for a short while when the Household Cavalry were serving in Belgium and France in 1815.

The years following the end of the Napoleonic Wars saw much civil unrest and the regiment remained in being though at a reduced strength. Declining numbers of volunteers and less need for their existence eventually caused their dissolution in 1829, their standards being laid up in the Tower of London.

Our copy of Hungarian and Highland Broad Sword was purchased from George Bayntun’s Bookshop, Bath, and is now kept in the library at the Royal Armouries in Leeds (catalogue number RAL 27552), together with a copy of Herries’ Drill Book of 1797 (RAL 15964) and also a regimental history, published in 1843 (RAL 27614). The copy has been rebound but otherwise is in remarkable condition for a book of its age and rarity.

Henk Pardoel’s work Fencing: a bibliography, (2005) lists five other copies in public collections, only two of which are in the UK (Glasgow Museums and the National Art Library, V&A Museum).

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