Henry Angelo’s Ten Lessons of Highland Broadsword (Part 1)

by Jonathan Gordon

If there is one nationality that conjures up the image of swordsmanship, I’m willing to bet it would be the Scots. The gap between popular culture (Highlander, Rob Roy, Braveheart) to reality, though, is one that is often overlooked. Recently a few of us within the Virginia Academy of Fencing have begun a group to study the weapons and fighting techniques of the 18th Century Scottish Fencing Masters. We began with the use of the Scottish broadsword of the late 18th century.

Two reproductions of baskethilt broadswords.

The weapon itself is lightweight, typically not much more than two pounds total, and very nimble in use. By the 18th century it was the norm for these swords to have a full basket of iron to protect the hand that was wrought of intricate and decorative bars. This basket hilt was both beautiful and functional. While the broadsword by definition is double edged, it also had a single edged brother known as the “backsword” that is more-or-less the same style of weapon and was just as commonly used.

In our efforts to recreate the use of this weapon in the manner that it was originally used, we began our study of the Ten Lessons of Highland Broadsword of 1798 by Henry Angelo. Henry ‘Harry’ Angelo was born Henry Charles William Malevolti in the London of 1756 to the Italian fencing master Domenico Angelo Malevolti. Henry followed into the family business by training in Paris and receiving his Maitre d’ Armes (Master of Arms or Fencing Master). He returned to London in 1775 and eventually took over his father’s Salle d’ Armes (fencing school) in 1785. His father bestowed the title of Angelo II, but Henry always preferred to be known as ‘the younger Angelo’.

Angelo’s Ten Lessons of Highland Broadsword

Angelo devised his Ten Lessons at the request of one of his patrons, Colonel Charles Herries, founder of the Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster regiment. Colonel Herries found the lack of sword training and overall fitness of his Volunteers to be troubling and requested his friend Angelo to find a solution. Angelo was already a master of the smallsword, but he also trained single-stick regularly with his good friend, James Perry, proprietor of the Morning Chronicle newspaper and native of Aberdeen, Scotland, who happened to be serving time at Newgate Prison in London for libel against the British House of Lords. Perry was an excellent single-stick fencer, which was a game involving a sword-length stick with a woven baskethilt attached to protect the hand. Fencers would attempt to strike the opponent on the head to make it bleed. The sport was quite popular at county fairs as a regional competition amongst towns and villages (and at one time was a sport in the Olympics). Perry and Angelo would use the top of the prison to practice their version of “Highland Broadsword” fencing and this inevitably provided the basis for Angelo’s 10 Lessons of Highland Broadsword.

Angelo presented his Ten Lessons to the Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster in 1798. The aforementioned Col. Herries wanted a system of fencing to provide both military instruction and physical training to his new recruits. Angelo’s easy-to-understand Lessons fit perfectly, and it became the standard sword drill for generations of English recruits for years to come. In modern times, students seeking to learn to fence with the Scottish Broadsword start with the Ten Lessons to familiarize themselves with the weapon and the concepts necessary for proper use.

Angelo’s Manual Exercise and lessons one through five are presented in the video above portraying the two roles of the system, the Protagonist (Student) and the Antagonist (the Teacher or Senior Student) going through the various cuts, parries, and footwork. Stay tuned, as we will be releasing Part 2, lessons six through ten, soon!


About the author: Jonathan MacKenzie Gordon has been an Instructor at the Virginia Academy of Fencing since 2012 and has been practicing Historical Swordsmanship since 2007. Jonathan trains regularly in the medieval German and Renaissance Italian martial art traditions but has always been fascinated by the weapons of his ancestors, specifically the Basket-Hilt Broadsword and the two-handed Claymore. Jonathan has traveled throughout the US and Scotland to study the Basket-Hilt and Claymore, and competes regularly at HEMA competitions and events. When not studying swordsmanship, Jonathan honors his Scottish heritage as the Eastern Region Vice-President for the Clan MacKenzie Society in the Americas.