An exciting new library acquisition…

Stuart Ivinson, Assistant Librarian at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, writes about an exciting new addition to our literary collection. 

The library at the Royal Armouries in Leeds has recently acquired a rare and beautiful addition to it’s Special Collection of historical fencing manuals. The book in question is a first edition, published in 1765, of Domenico Angelo’s  The School of Fencing, with a General Explanation of the Principal Attitudes and Positions Peculiar to the Art. (London: Printed for S. Hooper.)


The book was first published in England in 1763 under the French title L’Ecole d’armes avec l’explication generale des principales attitudes et positions concernant l’escrime. The 47 engravings that illustrate the work were produced from original drawings by the artist James Gwynn (Royal Academy). The illustrations were taken from life, and Angelo himself was the principal model.  The 1765 edition is the first in English, and the only edition to have parallel English and French text on each page. It is also the only edition to be illustrated in colour; Gwynn’s illustrations being re-used and hand-coloured for the new edition.


Angelo (full name Domenico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo) was born in Livorno, Italy in 1717, the son of a merchant. He probably began learning to fence in Italy, but later studied the French style under the fencing master Monsieur Teillagory in Paris, after being sent to study international trade by his father in about 1744. Whilst in Paris Angelo met and fell in love with the celebrated Irish Actress Margaret Woffington, who was then on tour, and travelled to London and then to Dublin with her in the early-1750s. After their affection came to an end Angelo moved back to London, where he met and married Elizabeth Johnson in 1755.

In London Angelo gained the patronage of the earl of Pembroke and quickly established a reputation as a fencing master and opened his own School of Arms in Carlisle House, Soho, in 1761. Such was his reputation that he numbered many wealthy gentlemen amongst his clientele, including several members of the Royal Family. With the great and good of the gentry as his pupils, Angelo’s place in society was assured. His school was also noted at the time for accepting female students, including actresses from the London theatres.

In 1763 he produced his great work L’Ecole d’armes. It was financed by subscriptions from over 200 of his wealthy clients, and dedicated to Princes William Henry and Henry Frederic (younger brothers to King George III), who were both pupils. The English translation, The School of Fencing, was produced in several editions, though none were as lavish as the first edition of 1765. It is thought that he was assisted in translating the text into English by his friend the famous French-English diplomat, spy, and transvestite the Chevalier d’Eon, another former pupil of Monsieur Teillagory.


The School of Fencing primarily teaches the use of the small-sword and fencing foil, with brief sections on the use of weapons for the off-hand, including dagger, cloak and lantern. There is also a section on the use of the small-sword against the military sabre (or broad sword, as Angelo terms it). In its day the book was recognized as a clear and concise guide to fencing, and the author was lauded for his emphasis on fencing being a gentlemanly exercise and accomplishment, as well as a skill of self defence. Indeed, so good was the work deemed to be, that Denis Diderot used it – in its entirety (with redrawn engravings in black and white) – as the fencing section of his famous Encyclopedie.

In 1780 Domenico Angelo handed over the running of his school to his eldest son Henry and retired to Eton, where he died in 1802. Our copy of his book was purchased From Peter Harrington’s Bookshop, Chelsea, London, and is now available to view in the library at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds (alongside a copy of the second English edition of 1787). Considering its age, the book is in very good condition. The colours of the engravings are as bright as when they were made, although a couple of them have pencil marks added; suggesting that at least one reader in the past has thought that the postures depicted in some of the illustrations aren’t quite right!

Henk Pardoel’s work Fencing: a bibliography, (2005) cites only seven other known copies of the first English edition in public collections world-wide, with only one other in Great Britain (at the Bodlean Library, Oxford).

To book an appointment to visit the library in Leeds, please contact, or call 0113 2201832.

No sitting on the fence for these Giants!

Clash of the Giants ….

Huddersfield Giants’ quartet Jermaine McGillvary, Michael Lawrence, Luke George and Leroy Cudjoe clashed swords at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – thanks to the Royal Armouries Fencing Club.

3 men fencing with swords

L to R: Huddersfield Giants’ players Leroy Cudjoe, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke George, Michael Lawrence.

Like Rugby League, fencing requires considerable skill and speed so the Giants’ stars were ideally placed to enjoy one of Europe’s oldest combat sports.

Huddersfield Giants' Stars with Royal Armouries staff.

L to R: Michael Lawrence, Jo Clements, Leroy Cudjoe, Ann Lindsay, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke George and Royal Armouries Fencing Club coach Mark Murray-Flutter.

The RFL have encouraged all the Super League teams to try their hands at various sports and activities. To see a film clip of the rugby stars in action, visit The Giants’ website.

Royal Armouries to publish oldest known fencing manual in Western World

Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33 is the oldest known fencing manual in the Western world.

In this Olympic year it is being lent for exhibition to The Wallace Collection in London.

The Royal Armouries have taken this opportunity to rebind the manuscript and
while it is unbound to photograph it so that a unique full scale colour facsimile can be published.

The Royal Armouries have teamed up with specialist publishers Extraordinary Editions who have designed a replica early 14th-century binding for the facsimile, which will be packaged in a solander box along with a companion volume and feature a page by page transcription and translation as well as a new introduction by Dr Jeffrey Forgeng of the Higgins Armory Museum, Worcester, Mass.

MS I.33 will be published as a limited edition and in order to fund the project a limited number of subscriber copies will be made available at £600 [plus postage and packing]. Remaining copies will cost considerably more.

If wish to register for a copy of I.33 please e-mail as soon as possible.

The first 25 copies have already been reserved.

Medieval manuscript illustrations of sword fencing

Royal Armouries MS I.33 – the oldest known fencing manual in the Western World

Illuminating Reading

One of the oldest and most enigmatic treasures in the Royal Armouries archives is a manuscript –  which we refer to as Royal Armouries MSS 1.33 – dated to the latter 13th century. We don’t know who it was written by or for, or even why it was written; but it is the oldest known European fencing manual anywhere in existence.

Illustrations from the manuscript

Illustrations from the manuscript

The manuscript is made up of 32 leaves of parchment. The text is in Latin, but the use of German words which have been used to describe technical terms indicate that it is German in origin. The most impressive feature of the manuscript are the magnificent illuminated illustrations, showing the techniques of sword and buckler combat described in the text.

The main characters in the illustrations are a priest and a scholar, which throws up many questions as to why these men would learn how to sword fight at all. Another unsolved mystery is that on the last two pages one of the combatants is a woman.

Illustrations from the manuscript

Illustrations from the manuscript

Manuscript I.33 – also sometimes called the Tower Fechtbuch – was bought by the museum at auction from Sotheby’s in 1950. It was kept at the Tower of London, hence the alternative name, until it was transferred to Leeds in 1996.

The manuscript has had a hard life and some of the pages have been damaged and crudely repaired. A number of the illustrations show evidence of later additions – such as beards and moustaches -possibly scribbled on by a bored child! Despite this graffiti the manuscript remains a beautiful and very rare treasure which the Royal Armouries is privileged to own.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

Royal Armouries Collections

The Royal Armouries collection consists of some 70,000 examples of arms, armour and artillery dating from antiquity to the present day. It includes royal armours of the Tudor and Stuart kings; arms and armour of the English Civil Wars, including the Armoury from Littlecote House; British and foreign military weapons from the Board of Ordnance and MOD Pattern Room collections; hunting and sporting weapons, as well as an exceptional collection of oriental arms and armour.

The Royal Armouries also has a significant collection of fine and decorative arts, and a special collection of material relating to the Tower of London, including antique prints and drawings, paintings, early photographs, stereoscopes and lantern slides, and rare books.

The Royal Armouries library contains material relating to the history, development and use of arms, armour, artillery and fortifications, and to the Tower of London.

It has special collections of original military manuals, drill books, and fencing manuals. The collection amounts to some 30,000 books and pamphlets, 10,000 journals and magazines, and 6,000 auction sales catalogues.

There is a large Picture Library containing some 70,000 images of objects in the collection, which are available for purchase and reproduction. The Archives contains records relating to the Museum, collections of research material from scholars such as Sir James Mann and Howard Blackmore, as well as the records of the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield.