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Foils, Daggers, Sabers, Bayonets, and Bowie Knives: An Interview at the Salle d’Armes of Colonel Thomas H. Monstery

“This,” said the professor, “is my bayonet and dagger breastplate. You see, I teach both bayonet and dagger or knife fencing, and I should not like to hurt my pupils…”


The following article appeared in the February 17, 1883 issue of the Chicago Daily News, and contains an interview with the celebrated duelist, swordsman, boxer, and master of arms, Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery. It appeared in print very shortly after Monstery’s arrival in Chicago from New York, and appears to be the first profile of the fencing master written and published in the Windy City. The interview is especially interesting, as it provides a great deal of information about Monstery’s weapons, training equipment, and students (both male and female). Here follows the article in full, supplemented by related historical images, and a few newly inserted footnotes.



Fencers and Fencing in Chicago—An Old Master’s Choice Weapons—Thorne and Mayo as Dagger-Duellists—Experts with the Rapier.

“On guard, if you please; now parry this,” followed by the whistling of foils and sounds such as emanate from a room wherein fencing is being practiced, were what one entering a certain room on Randolph street might hear any afternoon.

The words were spoken by Col. Monstery, the swordsman, to a young athlete whose tutor he was. The colonel was instructor in his art in leading military schools in Europe, and under his training a hundred duels have been fought. He is a soldier in appearance, and stands erect five feet and ten inches. He is spare in his physique, but his frame is of iron and full of suppleness. His hair is gray, and his fast whitening mustache and imperial are waxed after the manner of Napoleon. His eyes are as bright and sharp as those of a man of twenty-four years, and his very carriage shows that age has not detracted from the grace and agility which marks the perfect master of the sword. The colonel was born in 1821, in Baltimore, Md., of Scandinavian parentage¹. He early went to Denmark, where he was for a number of years pupil in the Royal military academy, in which school he afterward became an instructor in fencing. His life has been a varied one, and yet, in spite of all his hardships, he is as cheery as a youth. For many years he has taught fencing in all the large cities of Europe, where his name is remembered with pleasure by swordsmen. Among his noted pupils was the Grand Duke Constantine. In 1868 he followed Maximilian to Mexico, where he was made instructor in swordsmanship to the Mexican army. He served through the war of that time and became noted by his wonderful proficiency with every style of weapon.

The room in which the old master swordsman stood was a curiosity. On one wall was a large rack in which were some thirty foils, of all styles of make and quality. Just below these were boxing gloves, and guards for the fencer’s hands. Above the rack was a magnificent Toledo blade which, the colonel said, was his favorite, and was 500 years old. Crossed with that was a Swedish sword, whose perfect steel could not be equaled in America. Next to this pair of matchless weapons was an English army sabre, crossed with a Danish “iron-cutter,” and hanging beside these were two other swords. On the colonel’s desk were two daggers, one a genuine Roman weapon, the other a curious antique knife, which was a masterpiece of workmanship, evidently produced by a rival of famed Damascus. Near these were dueling pistols and revolvers, with the use of which the colonel was perfectly acquainted. On the front wall between two windows hung a breastplate of steel, found in Central America, and undoubtedly worn by one of the Spaniards who first invaded that land. Near this were found rules for fencing and boxing², originated by the professor and adopted as the standards. There was another breastplate of steel, heavily gilded, but battered and marked by constant use.

Bayonet guard (1838) in the system of Pehr Henrik Ling, which method Monstery learned, among others.

“This,” said the professor, “is my bayonet and dagger breastplate. You see, I teach both bayonet and dagger or knife fencing, and I should not like to hurt my pupils. I had this and that (pointing to a similar plate hanging in another place) made for me in Denmark out of Swedish steel, so that I know they are proof against blows.”

On the third wall was a motley and interesting collection of wire masks of all varieties.

Fäktmask, or fencing mask, from the Livrustkammaren in Stockholm, Sweden.

“These,” continued the Colonel, “are for light fencing. I had to import them from Europe. As you see, they are strong steel wire, made by hand. They have no pads outside, and to outward appearance are but the common fencers’ mask, but they all came from the Royal Arsenal in Denmark, and are pure shining steel. Here, however, are the broadsword masks (taking down a heavy head covering of steel network). They are made extra strong, and have padding on the top of the head and in the side, so that the exercisers may not be hurt. I have more varieties, but they all serve the same purpose. Here is the glove of stiff leather that we wear when using the broadsword or German ‘schlaeger.’ Up above them you see the three cornered or triangular rapier of the purest and best steel and are usually taken by the duelists. They were the weapons worn by the noblemen of old and used in their combats with such fatal effect. Next to these are the pointed and bladed cut and thrust straight sabers which have been in eight duels in this country, one on Long Island, some years ago³. Just beyond these are foils with their buttons off. They have also seen their duels and have each drank blood, though I am happy to say no life blood.”

“Here are my daggers and knives. You see they have guards, but removed they are pretty ugly. I teach the defense from the bowie knife and the defense from the dagger. Here is the common plastron, made extra heavy and used in the saber exercise with the heavy masks you see there. This plastron I have made myself and I have used it with many celebrated persons in their day.”

Florett, or foil, with an unusually broad blade, from the Livrustkammaren in Stockholm (it is not known how similar this may be to the foils Monstery describes).

“Before we sit down, let me show you my foils. They are from Denmark, and, as you see, are broader than the ordinary foil, so that if by any mishap the button should break, the foil cannot penetrate the mask and lacerate the face. Many fathers buy the common narrow foil, and I have seen many persons badly hurt to the face by them.”

“The Americans have no patience to learn to fence well. Some of them try it, but they give it up soon. I tell you, sir, it is the best thing in the world for the men—and the ladies, too. It is not violent and rough, like boxing, and it does not strain the nerves, like rowing, but it makes the warm blood run through your body, and it makes health come. Besides it strengthens you wonderfully. A wealthy gentleman of Boston—Mr. Whitcomb, now in Paris—came to me when he was about 40, and said, “Colonel, I am afraid of consumption.’ I said, ‘I will cure you, come and fence.’ He did, and where he had been stoop-shouldered he is now strong and hale, and over 60 years of age. Such is the beauty of fencing.”

[Journalist:] “Who is the best fencer in Chicago?”

“Fred Englehardt is probably the best amateur. He is very quick, and his passes are made beautifully. Next to him is Mr. Ribolle, who, though only a pupil, gives good promise of being a fine swordsman. He is especially proficient with the broad sword. Then young Mr. Arnold is excellent with the cane. Mr. K. G. Nixon is a clever handler of the cane, the foil, and the single stick, and will yet prove a formidable opponent to the most expert. There are also Sparling, Ryerson, Hansen, Barker, Mason, and Gregory, all Chicagoans, and all quick and neat in their ways.”

“Do the editors of the papers and the news paper ever come to you?”

“Not here in this city. I have only had one newspaper pupil. He was Mr. John Ballantyne, but for some reason he gave it up some time ago. In other cities, though, I have had many. James Gordon Bennett has been under my tuition for a time. He was a good swordsman, and since I have been away from New York he has been under another’s care.”

“Who was your best pupil?”

Monstery’s noted pupil: Congressman Perry Belmont of New York

Francis G. Wilson, the young actor who was with the ‘Our Goblins’ last year. He won the amateur fencers’ prize, and, by his beautiful skill, has made his way on the stage. Peter Barlow, the wealthy New Yorker’s son, and the young society gentleman, is also a beautiful fencer, and for one so large—he weighs 250 pounds—he is very graceful with the foils. The one who is the best of these New Yorkers who have come under my care is Congressman Belmont, whose autograph you see here in my book (showing an old account book). Since I have been away from New York I have lost him. Why, my dear sir, before I left New York, eight years ago, I had twenty-three pupils regularly every day in my rooms, and they are all skillful swordsmen. William W. Riggs, the son of the now dead Parisian banker of the firm of Corcoran & Riggs, was one of the best swordsmen I have seen. He could use both hands, and could change his foil with ease from one hand to another. Catheart is another fine swordsman, and is the equal of the best of them. The finest swordsmen and athletic young men are to be found in California. There the foils are at home, and there I have had many a good round. I was instructor in fencing and boxing in the Olympic Club gymnasium in San Francisco for eight years before I came here, and my pupils have conquered all they have met. Robinson, the man who outboxed Slade, was first my pupil.”

“Who are the best swordsmen in the world?”

“With the broadsword the Americans and the Germans. With the rapier and the foils, I think the Americans can again take the palm. The most celebrated French swordsmen were with Maximilian when he went to Mexico, and I know that out of over two hundred duels that were fought there, the Mexicans won two-thirds. They are beautiful swordsman. He keeps his skill well, for he teaches fencing, and he keeps in practice. If more Americans would take fencing, they would be the best in that, as they are in everything. Mind, I don’t want them to fight duels. That is not what the noble exercise is for. It is to make them graceful, and bright, and quick.

Monstery’s pupil with the Bowie Knife: actor Charles Thorne.

“Have you had many pupils with the knife?”

“Not many in the east. In California I had a large number, and in Europe also. On the stage, however, all the great knife duelists have been my pupils. When Charley Thorne, now dead, poor fellow, was young he played with Frank Mayo in a piece called “The Robbers of the Pyrenees,” I think it was. In it was a duel with knives between two characters taken by Thorne and Mayo. I was in New York then, and I taught them to use the knife. They did well, too. I have had many more, but they are enough.”

“Have you had many actors as pupils?”

“Oh, yes. Junius Brutus Booth, who was the best amateur swordsman while he lived, was a pupil of mine. He taught his son Edwin how to fence. He was my favorite pupil of old. John McCullough, Lawrence Barrett, Charles Thorne, Dolly Davenport, E. J. Davenport, Frank Mayo, and Edwin Forrest have all had their names on my books as pupils.”

The dagger fight prepared by Monstery: from the Daily Alta California, May 14, 1870.

“Have you had many lady pupils?”

Adah Isaacs-Menken, with sword and shield

“Not here, but in the east. Lola Montez and Adah Isaacs-Menken were two of my most noted pupils, and learned their beautiful skill from me. I had a number of society ladies in New York, in Europe, and in California.”

“Do the ladies make good fencers?”

“Oh, yes. If they keep at the work long enough they become even better than the men, for they are more supple. I like to teach a lady, for she tries much harder, and gives much satisfaction.”


¹ This statement is erroneous. Birth records show that Monstery was born in 1824 in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

² These rules have been reprinted in full in the Appendix of Monstery’s Self Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies.

³ An account of this duel, between Col. Canzi and General Fardella, and of Monstery’s training of the former, can be found in the Introduction to Self Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies.

An Early American Fencing Controversy: the Broadsword versus the Smallsword, in Boston, 1808

“Come, Mr. Millet, attack me in your turn, and do it well, or I shall catch you.” – Robert Hewes


Smallsword defense against Broadsword, from Angelo’s plates from L’Ecole des Armes included in “Escrime,” Encyclopédie (Paris, 1765).

Today, it is not uncommon to witness or overhear martial arts enthusiasts arguing over the merits of various weapons and respective martial arts methods, and their supposed superiority (or inferiority) over others.

Such a discussion, it turns out–in the form of a public controversy–also took place in early nineteenth century Boston, at a time when the world of American journalism was quickly expanding, making public arguments even more possible–and likely to occur–than ever before.

At the center of the incident was one Robert Hewes (1751-1830), a Boston native, local eccentric, and fencing master. Described by his contemporaries as an “extraordinary” and “ingenious” man, Hewes was a former member of the secret revolutionary society, the Sons of Liberty, and the first American fencing instructor that we know of to publicly advertise instruction in cane defense. He was described by the Boston press as a surgeon, as well as a “celebrated bone-setter and fencing master.” In acknowledgement of this fact, Hewes hung a sign outside his residence which humorously read, “Bone breaker and bone-setter.”  According to Hewes himself, his training in fencing began about 1770, at which time he entered the school of the Scottish Highlander, Donald McAlpine.

Hewes was not the only fencing master in Boston at that time, as the city played host to numerous schools and academies–including several run by French immigrant fencing instructors. Animosity had evidently sprung up between Hewes and one of his French competitors, for, on January 23, 1808, the following announcement appeared in the pages of the Boston journal, the Columbian Centinel: 

Evidently, Louis Millet had recently arrived in Boston, for very the same day he posted his challenge to Hewes, he also published (in the same issue) his first fencing advertisement in the city, informing the public that he offered instruction in the “polite and useful art of Fencing, with Cut, and Thrust, and Small Sword, at reasonable prices.” Millet was also associated with a group of French instructors, including Messrs. Tromelle and Girard, at the military fencing school of Colonel Amelot De La Croix, also in the Boston area (Independent Chronicle, March 20, 1809).

Only a few days later, on January 27, Hewes published a response in the Centinel, containing an account of a previous combat between himself and Millet. Hewes’ unusually detailed description, related with his characteristic humor, offers insight into the fencing method he was using, as well as a fascinating glimpse into the fencing world of post-Revolutionary Boston:

To Mr. Millet.

SIR—In last Saturday’s Centinel, you charge me with saying, that you know nothing of Fencing, &c—and invite me to a public trial of skill, &c—As to the scurrilous charge of my saying that you know nothing of the use of the Sword, I can in conscience deny it:—But, what I have said, and do now say, is this—That I believe you understand the Small Sword very well; but that you do not so well understand the Broad Sword;—so think some of your friends.

Mr. MILLET, you must give me leave to presume, that I do understand what the Broad Sword is scientifically; having learnt it of the famous DONALD Mc GILPIN, a Scotch Highlander, above thirty eight years ago; and I have had the honor and pleasure of teaching it to many of the Officers of our Revolutionary Army, in Roxbury and Cambridge, in the year 1775—and have done it at times, ever since. During the last ten years I have kept a regular school. But the Broad Sword you understand, is the French Counterpoint—a great difference.

The next thing is you invite me to a publick trial of skill.—With whom? A man I do not know. And for what? Why to please you, and a gaping multitude, that will know no more of the merits of it after it is over, than they did before it commenced.—What I, the hoary head, in boyish martial sports, on publick stage exposed! Oh, no no! Mr. MILLET; my rank in society, my age, forbid it; especially with a competitor I do not know. But why do you want another trial, when we have already had a fair one, by your own application and desire; and contrary to my wish; yet I desire to be thankful it was so public that I have sufficient evidence to full substantiate the merits of our combat.— A plain recital of the facts, attested by the evidence with a technical description of our combat, I will endeavor to relate in truth and dispassionately;—

About a month ago, you was introduced to me by your friend, Mr. ————. After being in the room a little while, you desired to play with me—I declined. There were two young gentlemen, my scholars, in the room—I pointed to the eldest of them, and said, “Play with him.”

“Yes,” said the young gentleman, “I will play with you.”

(MILLET.) “No,” said you, “if I play with any body here, I shall play with the master.”

“Then,” said I, “you’ll play with me, quick time.”

I then presented you with one broad sword Foil; I having the other myself. My two pupils paid strict attention to everything we did; but your friend, Mr. P———, seemed to be regardless of what was going on, for he sat all the time eating nuts as hearty as a grey squirrel.

Now comes the technical description of the combat:—First, we join issue upon an inside guard—I cut you with cut two, on the outside of your arm:—you then come to the counterpoint guard in seconde—I cut you four, under your arm;—we join again and I cut your leg with cut six;—the next was a counter.

An image showing the numbered cuts from the treatise of Col. Le Marchant, which was edited and republished by Hewes in America.

I then said, “Come, Mr. MILLET, attack me in your turn, and do it well, or I shall catch you.” You then made a little movement and hit my arm. You then came in a very swordsman like manner, and made cut five, at my body—I spring back, slipped your cut, and gave you a plump cut upon the head—and so the combat finished, by my cutting you four times, and you cutting me once.

Now, Mr. MILLET, since you have treated me in this scurrilous manner, by denying the merits of our combat, which was solicited by yourself, and persisting in publishing your scurrilous piece; I am determined never to have another trial of skill with you, publick or private; nor to have any altercation or conversation with you, written or verbal; and if any thing more shall appear in the papers, I am determined not to take the least notice of it.


Jan 25, 1808.

[The two gentlemen scholars of Mr. H. have appeared at this office, and testified to the truth of Mr. H’s account of the combat, above referred to.]

More than a year later, on May 17, 1809, Hewes felt compelled to offer details of another similar incident, in the following nationalistic piece, published in the pages of the Centinel: 

To Young Gentlemen who intend to learn the Art of Defence on foot with the Broad Sword and Sabre or Cut and Thrust.

IT always has been, and with some is still a disputed point which is best, the Broad Sword, or Small Sword.—Some will assert, (not knowing what the true Scotch Broad Sword is) that the Broad Sword is no manner of Defence against the Small Sword.—Others (who understand the Broad Sword well, and can play well, by daily experience) prove, that it is a complete Defence against the Small Sword, by evading or guarding their thrusts—and cutting their head or arm, which they generally do twice out of three:—the reason is, being too much practised in bending the elbow the Cuts of the Broad Sword meet their arm instantly;—as was verified the other day thus:—One of my Scholars introduced a French Gentleman and desired to play the Small Sword with him. We played loose pretty sharp a few moments, and neither hit.—He then desired us to play Cut and Thrust—we did;—but he no sooner moved than I cut his arm three times. He then says to my Scholar the reason Mr. HEWES cut my arm so easy is, because I am too much in the habit of playing the Small Sword with a crooked arm—therefore I cannot play Cut and Thrust. This Gentleman was candid enough to own, that the Cut and Thrust cannot be played with a crooked arm:—Therefore, to play true and with safety with a Cut and Thrust, the Broad Sword, according to the Scotch and Austrian systems, must be well learnt.—Which forbids the bending the elbow, raising or lowering the arm or passing the line to the right or left—in fine, the arms is as an iron bar, the wrist the pivot round which the Sabre flies, or in other words, the hand and hilt of the Sword is the centre of action, as a hob to a wheel; the blade as the spokes.

If there are any young Gentlemen Americans, who believe that a Prophet can have honor in his own country, and that it is not supernatural or notional to be master of an art, they may well have full satisfaction, as to the true system of the Broad Sword, uniting the Scotch and Austrian methods, which constitute the Cut and Thrust, by applying to their humble servant, ROBT HEWES,

Sign of the Gladiators, Ann Street, near the Draw Bridge, Boston—who has had the pleasure of teaching the Broad Sword near forty years.


N.B.—The Horse and Train of Artillery Sabre Exercise—and Cane Fighting taught as heretofore.

May 17.

Hewes’ French rivals were evidently furious, for the next day they published the following in the Centinel: 

Take Particular NOTICE!

SOME Fencing Masters have read in the Columbian Centinel, the observations of a Mr. Robert Hewes, styled Primary Military School—setting forth the advantage of the Scotch Broad Sword—Experience having demonstrated to then, that the gentleman infallible to a mistake, without enlarging on the observations, which would demonstrate that even a slight wound on the arm would not prevent his antagonist from thrusting his sword through his body, and without remarking, that gentlemen in the habit of fencing with baskets, as it has been observed, would soon be disabled in the hand if armed with an ordinary Sabre—In order to prove in an undeniable manner, what they now assert—the Fencing Masters have the honor to invite Mr. Hewes, respectfully to attend the general assault—to be given on the 23d inst. at the Military School, Court-street, No. 17, where he may have his choice in any kind of fencing, or cane-fighting, on the true principles of the Paris Academy. They flatter themselves that Mr. Hewes will not fail to appear—his assertions render his presence indispensible, and the Spectators are entitled to a demonstration.

Boston, May 18.

Hewes, however, true to his word, neglected to take this “bait,” although he remained an ever-present voice, and teacher, in the Boston fencing world until his death in 1830.


In the end, Hewes merely defended his method as a “complete defence” against other weapons such as the small-sword, and did not necessarily assert its superiority over them. By contrast, Donald McBane–a Scottish swordsman regarded as one of the most prolific duelists of all time–wrote in his treatise that the small-sword had “great odds” over the broadsword, and over nearly all other weapons. If anything, the outcome of Hewes’s combat with Millet (if we are to believe the former’s account), attests to the usefulness (and during the period, the necessity) of a swordsman being familiar with both (or all) predominant methods and weapons in use at the time. Indeed, in considering the entire history of fencing, it is evident that the ultimate superiority lies in the fencer who wields the sword, not in the particular type of weapon wielded.

As a treat for readers, we end with another lengthy, colorful, and humorous period fencing advertisement, courtesy of Robert Hewes:

Boston Democrat, Jan. 13, 1808.

“Irish Swordsmanship: Fencing and Dueling in Eighteenth Century Ireland”

Out of This Century

Announcing the release of the book, Irish Swordsmanship: Fencing and Dueling in Eighteenth Century Ireland, available in October 2017.

The product of more than ten years of research, the first part of this book tells the story of eighteenth century Ireland’s most renowned duelists, gladiators, and fencing masters, as well as that of Ireland’s most celebrated fencing society, the Knights of Tara—whose lavish fencing exhibitions won fame and glory for Ireland, and whose member’s innovative writings on bayonet fencing found their way into the hands of George Washington.

Notably, this book also includes extracts from several Irish texts on the martial arts (written or published between 1780 and 1860) which have previously not been noticed by scholars, and contains the complete text of A Few Mathematical and Critical Remarks on the Sword (1781)—an almost completely overlooked Irish fencing treatise, now published again for the first time in more than…

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Colonel Thomas Monstery, and the Training of America’s Swordswomen

“It is a great mistake to suppose that women cannot learn fencing as quickly as men…the fact is the women are much the quicker pupils. They are more flexible of body; their limbs are more supple and elastic—that’s one advantage. Their mental brightness enables them to pick up the strategy of the art quicker—that’s a second advantage. And, thirdly, they have more nerve—it’s a fact; I don’t know why, but it’s a fact.” – Col. Thomas Monstery, 1888


Continued from Part I.

By Ben Miller

In 1870, one of America’s most distinguished martial arts masters opened a “School of Arms” in New York City. He was a fencing master, boxer, marksman, sailor, adventurer, street fighter, soldier of fortune, and world traveler. He was Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

When it came to combat, Monstery had an impressive resume. He had fought under twelve flags in numerous wars and revolutions, had survived participation in more than fifty duels with the sword, knife, and pistol, and had twenty-two scars on his body to prove it. In addition to being a “master of all arms” (which included the rapier, dagger, broadsword, Bowie knife, lance, bayonet, and quarterstaff, among others), Monstery was also a “professor of sparring,” and taught a special system of bare-knuckle self-defense that integrated punching, grappling, and kicking techniques, designed to be effective against a wide range of fighting styles.

Above: Hans Hartl’s troupe of female fencers, who toured America during the late 19th century

One of Monstery’s most unusual traits, however, was that he encouraged women to take up fencing with a variety of weapons, as well as boxing, long before it was both popular and fashionable for them to do so. Monstery claimed that he taught his female pupils no differently than he did men. This was a great point of distinction; typically, the scarce fencing instruction available to women during this period was limited to the use of the foil, an academic training tool. Monstery, however, did not limit his instruction to the art of the sword; in 1888, he was teaching “two classes of lady-boxers”; in New York City, he also held several ladies’ classes in stick self-defense. Evidence also suggests that to select female students, he also provided instruction in the rapier, dagger, knife, and bayonet. Additionally, Monstery included a special drill in his curriculum intended to prepare his female pupils for potential street encounters, teaching them to deliver a “bayonet thrust” with their parasols, which, he said, “would break a rib, or a one-handed thrust, that would put out an eye.”

Perhaps due to this progressive attitude, Monstery was able to attract a remarkable number of high-profile female students, some of whom led truly extraordinary lives. Following are their stories.

Ada Isaacs Menken (1835-1868)

On the right, Ada Isaacs Menken poses with sword and shield for her role in the melodrama “Mazeppa.” According to the Daily Inter Ocean of Oct. 29, 1893, Colonel Monstery personally prepared Menken for this role; although she had only intended to learn fencing for this specific production, she afterwards became a regular student of Monstery’s.

Menken was the highest earning actress of her time, all the more impressive considering that she had to overcome the society-imposed stigma of mix-raced ancestry. Her parents were Auguste Théodore, a free black, and Marie, a mixed-race Creole, and Ada was raised in the New Orleans area as a Catholic. Ed James, a journalist friend, wrote after her death: “Her real name was Adelaide McCord, and she was born at Milneburg, near New Orleans, on June 15, 1835.”

Menken with Dumas

Menken became best known for her performance in Mazeppa, with a climax that featured her apparently nude and riding a horse (lying on her back face-up) on stage. She was also an accomplished writer and poet, and became close friends with Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, and William Makepiece Thackeray. For a short time, she was married John C. Heenan, the famous pugilist. During her stay in Paris, she engaged in a “scandalous” affair with the French novelist Alexandre Dumas, famous author of the “Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

She died in the Jewish faith in Paris on August 10, 1868. On her deathbed, she talked of this world and the next with a rabbi she had befriended, and then wrote, “I am lost to art and life. Yet, when all is said and done, have I not at my age tasted more of life than most women who live to be a hundred? It is fair, then, that I should go where old people go.” She was buried in Montparnasse cemetery. On her tomb, at her request, were engraved the words ‘Thou Knowest’.

More about Menken’s amazing life and career can be read about here and here.

Marie Jansen (1857-1914)

Marie Jansen, another fencing student of Colonel Monstery’s, is pictured here scaling a castle wall for her role in “The Merry Monarch.” The New York Herald of February 1, 1891, reported that “Marie Jansen lost ten pounds in three weeks under Colonel Monstery.” In an 1888 issue of the Daily Inter Ocean, Monstery recounted: “Marie Jansen was a pupil of mine. She was quite an expert fencer, but grace of movement is her forte. She moved like a—ah, what shall I say?—a swan. Her pose, her graceful methods of parry and of thrust are enough to enchant an antagonist.”

Jansen was born in Boston in 1857. She would go on to star in a number of successful comic operas, Edwardian musical comedies, and comic plays in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and London during the 1880s and 1890s. Later in her career, she performed in vaudeville and formed her own touring theatre company.

More about Jansen’s life can be read about here.

Ella “Jaguarina” Hattan (b. 1859)

Ella Hattan

Ella Hattan, better known by her nom-de-guerre “Jaguarina,” was Colonel Thomas Monstery’s most accomplished student. Born in 1859 in Ohio, she would go on to become widely regarded as one of the greatest swordswomen of the nineteenth century, and perhaps of all time.

When Monstery presented Hattan to the world in early 1885, he “pronounced her the equal of any swordsman in America barring none, she seemingly having a wrist of steel and muscles of iron under a velvet skin.” This statement would prove prophetic, as Hattan would go on to defeat more than 60 men (half of them fencing masters) on horseback and on foot. Decades later, Hattan recounted that her training under Monstery was harsh—so much so that in three years her teacher “had never given her one word of encouragement,” he being “determined that she should learn confidence by experience and hard knocks.” Yet Hattan was also quick to give Monstery credit for his abilities. Prior to her contest with Sergeant Owen Davis, in an 1887 interview, she stated that “with the exception of Colonel Monstery, Sergeant Davis and Captain Jennings were probably the best [swords]men she had met.” Years later, in 1896, Monstery would return the compliment, reportedly averring that “Jaguarina is undoubtedly the greatest woman fencer that ever lived.”

For more details of Hattan’s extraordinary career, her training, and her lengthy master-student relationship with Monstery, see this article.

Mildred Holland (1869-1944)

Mildred Holland is pictured here in her 1904 role as Catherine the Great. Next to Ella Hattan, Holland was one of Monstery’s best known students and a “champion” of many fencing contests.

In the Dec. 9, 1888 issue of the Inter Ocean,

“Colonel [Monstery]…confesses that [Holland] is often a match for his superior skill. ‘Can ladies fence! Well, did you not see Miss Mildred kill me then? Ladies, when trained, are perfect artists with the foils.’”

Mildred Holland would later become a respected fencing instructor in her own right. In 1895 she presided over exhibitions of rapier and dagger in New York City, and delivered lectures on “the Art of Defense” for women, “Referring Especially to Umbrellas in the Hands of Experts.”

During the 1890s, Holland held bouts of rapier and dagger fencing in New York City, and lectured on women’s self defense. Following is an excerpt from a period article, with images, about Holland’s training under Monstery, published in the New York World on June 22, 1890:

“Miss Holland is not a social star, but a hard-working student. Self-reliance, grit and confidence in her own capabilities are elements which have sustained the little lady in her ambition. She is not rich, and her tuition was secured by her well-saved earnings. Her pluck has been demonstrated by her wonderful dexterity with the foils.

“In this accomplishment she is a pupil of Col. Monstery, is accounted one of the most expert swordswomen in the United States and is the possessor of two gold medals for efficiency, one of which was won two years ago at a contest and presented to the fair champion by Lieut. Gov. Smith. Holland makes a series of rapid, graceful attitudes. The little white wrist is as firm and flexible as steel, the ankle well turned and solid, and the head gracefully poised, She is quick in her motions, exhibiting litheness, grace and precision. Her recoveries are rapid, her eye true, and she enters into her work with striking coolness and nerve. Col. Monstery says she is a wonder and the Conservatory is proud of its champion, for, in addition to her trophies, she defeated by six points Miss Anna Schaffer, one of the professional Viennese swordswoman. Miss Holland is modest of her achievements.

“‘I began fencing when I entered the Conservatory,’ said she. ‘It is part of the instruction. Its object is to train the muscles of the entire body, to develop flexibility and to give one a facility of poses that cannot otherwise be attained. Then you know it strengthens the lungs, trains the eyes, and, I think, cultivates one’s courage. You know it takes courage to appear properly before an audience, and I am sure my ‘faculty’ of courage has developed since I began fencing.'”

Lola Montez (1821–1861)

“Lola Montez,” in actuality Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, was an Irish dancer and actress (born in Limerick) who became famous as a “Spanish dancer,” courtesan, and actress. After performing in various European capitals, she settled in Paris, where she was accepted in the rather Bohemian literary society of the time. After the 1845 death of her lover, newspaperman Alexandre Dujarier, in a duel (unrelated to her), she left Paris, and became mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her Countess of Landsfeld. She used her influence to institute liberal reforms in Germany. At the start of the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, she was forced to flee. She proceeded to the United States via Switzerland, France and London, returning to her work as an entertainer and lecturer.

The Trenton Evening Times reported that:

“Lola Montez was skillful with both pistol and rapier…She once challenged a journalist at Grass Valley, California, to meet her with pistols according to prevailing rules governing such meetings, and, upon his refusal to do so thrashed him with a cowhide upon a public street.”


The article pictured here, with Lola’s challenge to duel in California, was published in the Richmond Whig of August 16, 1853.

Montez challenged at least two men to duels with poison pills, and at least one with the pistol (see picture). Another of her challenges (to an insulting French editor of the Lyons Constitutionnel, in 1851) reads:

“If you continue, sir, I will be obliged to send you my card, and my seconds, to put an end to your ridiculous animosity; but it will not be with pistols; I am more generous in a combat. I will offer you two pills in a box, one of them will be poisoned; and you will not be able to refuse a duel with arms that are so familiar to you. I have the honor of saluting you.”

In 1860, it was reported, erroniously, that Lola was killed in a duel at San Juan de Niblo.

Montez seems to have become a student of Monstery’s rather late in her life, which was cut tragically short by a stroke in 1861. In the November 30, 1886 issue of the Daily Inter Ocean, Monstery recounted

“an incident of a combat between the elder [Junius] Booth, who was the champion amateur swordsman of his time and himself, on an occasion of [Monstery’s] benefit in San Francisco a number of years ago. While the fight was on Lola Montez, who was one of the Colonel’s pupils, occupied a conspicuous box. During the bout she became so interested that she arose in her place, utterly forgetting where she was, and went through the movements as though actually one of the combatants on the stage. Of course her carrying on the imaginary combat attracted the notice of the house, which with divided attention cheered alternately the excited Lola and the two on stage.”

In America, Montez eventually gave up acting and gave lectures on “Gallantry, Heroines of History and other subjects.” She was highly critical of the “Modern Women’s Right Movement.” Montez felt that rather than lobbying men to give them more rights, women should endeavor to become strong and powerful themselves. Following are but a sampling of her statements:

“One or two hundred women getting together in a convention and resolving that they are an abused community, and that all the men are great tyrants and rascals, proves plainly enough that they the women are somehow discontented, and that they have, perhaps, a certain amount of courage, but I can not see that it proves them to have any remarkable strength of mind. Really strong-minded women are not women of words but of deeds, not of resolutions but of actions.”

“History is full of such examples, which indicate the courage and intellect of woman, and her right to claim equality with the harder sex whenever Heaven has imparted to her the gift of genius. I can hardly see how it is possible that any woman of true genius should ever feel the necessity of calling together conventions for the purpose of resolving that she is abused. One woman going forth in the independence and power of self-reliant strength to assert her own individuality, and to defend, with whatever means God has given her, her right to a just portion of the earth’s privileges, will do more than a million of convention-women to make herself known and felt in the world.”

“There is a class of heroines who have been more powerful in the world than the mighty women of the sword or of the pen. I mean those who have united great personal beauty with rare intellectual powers! In such women there is a power stronger than strength. The annals of Greece and Rome, from the memorable days of Troy, down to the Roman age, furnish nothing more remarkable than the omnipotent sway of female genius and beauty in the affairs of the world.”

Lola Montez and Alights on a Cloud, ca. 1851

“The Amazons were regular woman’s rights women; for they made laws by which the women were enjoined to go to the wars, and the men were kept at home in a servile state, spinning wool and doing all manner of household work. No woman was allowed to marry till she had slain at least one enemy on the battle-field. The right breasts of all the female children were seared with a hot iron, in order to give the freest use of the right arm in wielding the sword or in shooting arrows; and they even debilitated the arms and thighs of the male children, that they might be rendered unfit for war. That, I should say, was carrying the woman’s rights question to an extent that ought to satisfy even our modern agitators. But in justice to these terrible Amazon women, it must be confessed that the world has never known better and braver warriors than they.”

With declining health, she finally moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she lived until her death. She spent her last days in rescue work among women.

More about Montez’s extraordinary life can be read about here.

Adele Belgarde (1867-1938)

Born in Mississippi, Adele Belgarde (actual name Adelaide Levy) starred in a number of theatre productions in New York City during the late 1870s. She initially came to Monstery to learn fencing in order to prepare for her starring role in “Hamlet.” She would also star in “Romeo and Juliet” and would play Queen Elizabeth. In 1895-1896, Belgarde toured with Thomas W. Keene, the famous Shakespearean tragedian, playing Lady Anne to his Richard III. She also played Marie to his Louis XI. She would go on to star in at least one silent film titled “Happiness” in 1910.

She died in 1938 and is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Los Angeles County, California.

Maude Forrester

Maude Forrester was a lesser-known English actress who also, along with Ada Isaac Menkan, starred in “Mazeppa.” Under Monstery she became “quite proficient” in fencing. She was also billed as a “celebrated equestrian actress” who was known for her “matchless impersonation of Mazeppa! accompanied by [the] celebrated and highly trained steed, ‘Lightning’,” and was “universally recognised as Queen of the Amazons at the Alhambra before the advent of the colossal Marian of ‘the Praerafaellite maxillary angle’.” She also played the title role in Lady Godiva.

Pauline Kelly

Not much is known about Pauline Kelly. A number of references indicate that she was a pupil of Monstery’s while studying at Kayzer’s Conservatory in Chicago. She was “regarded in Chicago as a very promising and gifted young actress.” Monstery described her as an “expert fencer.”

Mabel Marsh

Miss Mabel Marsh learned fencing under Monstery at his Chicago salle d’armes on Randolph Street, where she often crossed blades with fellow actress and prodigy Mildred Holland. A detailed, firsthand account of Marsh’s training under Monstery can be found on pages 24-26 of the Introduction to “Self-Defense for Gentleman and Ladies” by Col. Thomas H. Monstery. These pages can be read in the free online preview of the book on its Amazon page.

FURTHER READING:9781583948682

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery‘s martial wisdom survives in his treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff, which was recently published by North Atlantic Books in book form for the first time. This volume contains a new, detailed biography of Monstery, and includes additional writings by the Colonel.

This article © 2015 by Ben Miller.

Additional articles about Colonel Monstery:

A Grand Assault-of-Arms in Old New York, directed by Col. Thomas Monstery

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery and the Use of the Quarterstaff

The Victorian Gentleman’s Self-Defense Toolkit

A Bare-Knuckle Fight at Colonel Monstery’s


Vintage film footage of Kung Fu in Chinatown, New York City, 1930

This historically important film shows children demonstrating martial arts techniques on Mott Street in Chinatown, New York City, on or around January 29, 1930. This footage was recently discovered by Rodney Bennett of Anglesea, Australia.

“An Hour with Mr. Egerton Castle,” 1898

“It doesn’t at all follow that because you hit your adversary you are right: you may be utterly wrong. The small sword is so excessively light and so excessively deadly that to be always rushing in and trying to precipitate yourself on your opponent is madness. In the twinkling of an eye you may have six inches of cold steel in you.” – Egerton Castle



Egerton Castle  (1858-1920) was a British swordsman and antiquarian, probably best-known for his reconstruction of historical fencing methods during the late nineteenth century. His 1885 book, Schools and Masters of Fence,  from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century, is still regarded as a standard reference on fencing history that has yet to be surpassed.

The following interview was given by Castle in 1898, and appeared in the March 9 issue of Chums Magazine.”

Click below to enlarge the image, and read the article in full:


What is Classical Fencing? No, I mean really?

A newly penned article about what classical fencing is and is not (as well as info regarding different styles of nineteenth century fencing), by Russell Hogg, instructor at the Cote du Golfe School of Fencing.

Cote du Golfe School of Fencing

OK, there’s a bit of fire to follow, so let me especially emphasize that the opinions expressed below are my own and not necessarily reflective of The Martinez Academy of Arms, Maestro Ramon Martinez, or Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez.  I’m sorry for the length, too…

What is Classical Fencing?  What makes it different from Modern Fencing?  A lot of internet ink has been spilled over these two questions.  I’ll be frank, I’m exhausted with it.  I am tired of seeing reactionaries define classical fencing as representing whatever is the opposite of their particular distaste for modern fencing.  I am tired of seeing pedantic academics nitpick definitions to death, losing the forest for the trees (and I say this as a professional pedantic academic myself, an anthropologist) and blinding people with B.S.  I am tired of modern sport fencers trying to co-opt and define classical fencing for themselves, and allowing them to…

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