Today we raise our glasses to the memory of the 19th cent. HEMA-pioneer Cpt. Alfred Hutton who died on this very day, at the age of 71, on Dec 18 1910, 102 years ago.
Cpt. Hutton was an officer of the King’s 1st Dragoon Guards as well as an antiquarian and renowned fencing master and swordsman. He is without doubt one of the most important men in the first wave of HEMA-pioneers, alongside of men like Carl Thimm, Lt. Egerton Castle, Gustav Hergsell, Sir Richard Burton, Josef Schmied-Kowarzik, Hans Kufahl, Pehr Henrik Ling, and Emil Fick, men whose importance to our current research simply can’t be overestimated and whose work still contain a veritable goldmine of information on historical fencing, despite a certain lack of a broader perspective on the older fencing traditions.
National-romanticism, with its fascination for days bygone, and especially the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, was strong pretty much throughout the 1800s – See for instance the Eglinton Tournament of 1839 in Scotland, which drew ca 100,000 spectators – and these men were certainly all children of their time. Furthermore, physical and sometimes exotic or innovative training was very much in vogue in Hutton’s time, with Bartitsu, stick fighting, quarterstaff fencing, and a certain colonial transfer of various Asian excercises can be seen, alongside of newly invented sports like water polo, and in the USA; basketball and baseball, just to mention a few.
However, traditional sports and military-derived exercises like fencing, bare knuckle boxing, horse-riding, grappling and archery had a distinct “manliness” attached to them and were thus popular.
This, alongside of the British Empire facing enemies with great experience in sword, lance and spear combat, combined with the above mentioned national-romantic ideas of the 19th century, were likely important factors in the early British HEMA-pioneers’ attempts at recreating the old swordfighting arts, as will be discussed a little bit more below.
Cpt. Hutton was both a deeply dedicated researcher and a skilled fencer with a sincere interest in both European, and Asian martial arts as well as in swords, which is obvious both from his work, his correspondence and his own, private collection of antique swords, which included both Reitschwerte, daggers, rapiers and sabres. His reputation as an authority on historical fencing and swords extended well beyond northern Europe, likely even to the USA, if I have traced the clues to the letter below correctly.
Together with likeminded friends, much like we do today, Cpt. Hutton practiced with various historical sword types & weapon combinations, studied old fencing treatises by e.g. Marozzo, Meyer, Sutor, Alfieri, DiGrassi, Liancour, Angelo and many others, corresponded with other researchers and martial artists and put on displays for the contemporary Victorian public which had a strong national-romantic interest in the old “knightly” ways.
Cpt. Hutton also collaborated with the renowned E.W. Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu, and some time in the early 1900s he joined the staff at Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club, teaching both historical as well as modern fencing, although the club closed rather quickly, in 1902 already.
For a large part of his career, Cpt. Hutton sought to change the practice of fencing in the British military, and particularly the official army system based on Masiello, devised by Colonel G. Malcolm Fox, former Inspector of Army Gymnasia, the Director of physical training at the military school of Aldershot, and also a member of the Bartitsu Club.
Cpt. Hutton’s desire to change the official military fencing training was possibly based on his years serving in the British Army cavalry in India, a service probably done some time after the uprisings of 1857, and from which he returned home to England in 1865, or possibly 1870, after having been invalided.
In his view the ‘gentlemens’ fencing’ of the officers and the exercises of the troops weren’t very well designed for use against the often very experienced swordsmen the soldiers faced in the colonies and particularly in close combat and against less than gentlemanly opponents. Instead he, and Colonel Cyril G.R. Matthey, sought to promote the teachings from the 16th cent. English fencing master George Silver and particularly his teachings on ‘gryps and clozes‘.
Cpt. Hutton also sought to reintroduce proper sword fencing into the contemporary stage fighting of the theatre. Seemingly he, very much like we do today, felt a certain frustration with the common portrayal and image of the sword fencing from days bygone.
In his own words:
There are those who affect to ridicule the study of obsolete weapons, alleging that it is of no practical use ; everything, however, is useful to the Art of Fence which tends to create an interest in it, and certain it is that such contests as “Rapier and Dagger,” “Two hand Sword,” or “Broadsword and Handbuckler,” are a very great embellishment to the somewhat monotonous proceedings of the ordinary “assault of arms.”
The Combinations will be found extremely useful as forms of “set play” for combats on the dramatic stage.
– Alfred Hutton, Old Sword Play, 1892
For certain, as it was reported in several London magazines, we know that Cpt. Hutton functioned as a fencing teacher and fight choreographer for the following plays:
Romeo and Juliet at the Court Theatre. Performed March 17 1904 – March 05 1904.
The Comedy of Errors. Terry’s 4 perfs. Performed Dec 17 1904.
Romeo & Juliet at the Lyceum. Performed March 14 1908 – May 30 1908.
Victorian actress Ms Esmé Beringer describes her stage fighting tutoring with the following words:
“… but Mr. Egerton Castle was not my first ‘Saviolo’. When I and my sisters were quite little at home, we had a fencing master, Segt Elliot. That, I suppose, was when I first learned to love fencing.
After that I left it alone for a time, but my early tuition came in useful years afterwards, when Capt. Hutton very kindly and generously offered to prepare me for Romeo, which was produced at the Prince of Wales’.
His knowledge of swordsmanship of the period, as well as instruction, were invaluable.”
Among some contemporary stage fighters Cpt. Hutton & co appear to have gained considerable respect which lasted for quite some time and Fred Blakeslee‘s book Swordplay for Actors of 1905 is actually dedicated to Cpt Hutton.
Unfortunately neither of these ambitions appear to have had little success much beyond his time. Soon the more visually expressive and non-realistic stage fighting returned, even to the more serious stages that had shown an interest in the true historical fencing, as we have seen for so many decades since. It is a shame this respect for these HEMA-pioneers work didn’t last, but fortunately these men and women are now being rediscovered and once again receive the recognition they so well deserve.
For those of you living in the UK and particularly those living near Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham, you can even visit his grave at the Astbury Cemetary and give the man a proper drink. The rest of us will simply raise our glasses in honour of a man who set an excellent example for us all to follow. Cheers!
Among Hutton’s work we find the following titles (Thank you Matt Easton for creating such an exceptional list to use as a base!)
- Swordsmanship. Article for the members of the Cameron Fencing Club, 1862.
- Swordsmanship, for the use of soldiers, 1866.
- Swordsmanship and bayonet-fencing, 1867.
- The Cavalry Swordsman, 1867.
- Bayonet-fencing and sword-practice, 1882.
- Swordsmanship, for the use of Soldiers, 1887.
- Cold Steel, a practical treatise on the sabre also on various other weapons of the present day including the short sword-bayonet or dagger,the constables truncheon, the great stick or staff and the French sword (small-sword), 1889.
- Our daggers: or, how to use the new bayonet, 1890.
- Fixed bayonets. A complete system of fence for the British magazine rifle, explaining the uses of the point, edges, and butt, both in offence and defence: comprising also a glossary of English, French, and Italian terms common to the art of fencing, with a bibliographical list of works affecting the bayonet, 1890.
- The swordsman. A manual of fence for the three arms, foil, sabre, and bayonet. With an appendix consisting of a code of rules for assaults, competitions, 1891.
- Old Swordplay – The Systems of Fence in Vogue During the XVIth, XVIIth, and XVIIIth Centuries, with lessons arranged from the works of ancient masters, based on Achille Marozzo’s 1536 Opera Nova, 1892.
- Our swordmanship – lecture at the Royal United Service Institution, Whitehall, 1893.
- Notes on Ancient Fence – Albany Club, Kingston-on-Thames. A descriptive account of the 16th century swordplay, by members of the school of arms, London Rifle Brigade ubder the direction of Captain Alfred Hutton, F.S.A. and Ernest Stenson Cooke, Esq. With notes on ‘Ancient fence’ by Captain A. Hutton and on the bibliography of the art of fence, by Captain C.A. Thimm 1896, F.R.G.S. 1895.
- The infantry sword exercises of 1895, circa 1895.
- A criticism of the infantry sword exercise of 1895, 1896.
- Sword fighting and sword play, The Indian Fencing Review, 1897.
- The swordsman. A manual of fence for the foil, sabre and bayonet, 1898.
- The sword and the centuries or old sword days and old sword ways: being a description of the various swords used in civilized Europe during the last five centuries, and of single combat which have been fought with them, 1901.
Amberger Christoph, Weighty Matters: Italian Saber vs. Broadsword in late Victorian Britain <http://fencingclassics.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/weighty-matters-italian-saber-vs-broadsword-in-late-victorian-britain/>(Dec 17, 2012)
Clements John, Historical Fencing Studies – The British Legacy, <http://www.thearma.org/essays/BritLegacy.htm>(Dec 17, 2012)
Foerster B, 1901, Army Swordsmanshop, The Navy and Army Illustrated <www.hroarr.com/manuals/temp/Fox-G-M-army-swordsmanship-1901.pdf>
Hart Col. H.G, 1870, The new Army list, militia list and Indian Civil Service List, London <www.hroarr.com/manuals/temp/Hart-Col-H-G-The-New-Army-List-Militia-List-and-Indian-Civil-Service-List-1870.pdf>
Jones Cpt Fitzhardinge, Diary from a guard of the King’s 1st Dragoon Guards, India 1862-64 <http://www.qdg.org.uk/diaries.php?dy=26>(Dec 17, 2012)
Lennox John, 2008, The relationship between personal combat and stage combat from the late sixteenth to the early twentieth century, <http://books.google.se/books?id=hxeQpC8ttasC&pg> Proquest, USA.