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The following is a direct translation of a travelling report made in 1709-1711 by Zacharias Conrad von Offenbach in London, England. Zacharias Conrad von Offenbach (Uffenbach) lived from 1683 until 1734 and was a consul in Frankfurt am Main and a book collector owning more than ten thousand books in his library. His published travelogues “Merckwürdige Reisen” made him famous. The reports of those travels were published 1753 and 1754 after his death.

The chapter  “The fight of the stage gladiators” translated in this article describe in detail a “stage gladiator” fight in the famous Bear Garden arena near London from Zacharias Conrad von Offenbach book. Other accounts are found in the diary entry of Samuel Pepys for 1st June 1663:

“And here I came and saw the first prize I ever saw in my life: and it was between one Mathews, who did beat at all weapons, and one Westwicke, who was soundly cut several times both in the head and legs, that he was all over blood: and other deadly blows they did give and take in very good earnest, till Westwicke was in a most sad pickle. They fought at eight weapons, three bouts at each weapon. It was very well worth seeing, because I did till this day think that it has only been a cheat; but this being upon a private quarrel, they did it in good earnest; and I felt one of their swords, and found it to be very little, if at all blunter on the edge, than the common swords are. Strange to see what a deal of money is flung to them both upon the stage between every bout. But a woful rude rabble there was, and such noises, made my head ake all this evening. So, well pleased for once with this sight, I walked home, doing several businesses by the way.”

and for 37th May 1667:

“So to my chamber, and there did some little business, and then abroad, and stopped at the Bear-garden-stairs, there to see a prize fought. But the house so full there was no getting in there, so forced to go through an alehouse into the pit, where the bears are baited; and upon a stool did see them fight, which they did very furiously, a butcher and a waterman. The former had the better all along, till by and by the latter dropped his sword out of his hand, and the butcher, whether not seeing his sword dropped I know not, but did give him a cut over the wrist, so as he was disabled to fight any longer. But, Lord! to see how in a minute the whole stage was full of watermen to revenge the foul play, and the butchers to defend their fellow, though most blamed him; and there they all fell to it to knocking down and cutting many on each side. It was pleasant to see, but that I stood in the pit, and feared that in the tumult I might get some hurt. At last the rabble broke up, and so I away to White Hall…”

The rules of the fight allow the use of sharp weapons but not the usage of the point. So cuts were to be expected but no thrusts. Using light weapons designed for stage fights and often shields those rules led to the same effect like in Roman gladiator plays: long and bloody fights.

Racism in the early 18th century writing

It is to remark that in this translation the word “Moor” is used for the German “Mohr” in the translation. This word has a touch of racism for which I like to declare my deepest dislike. But nevertheless for the authentic translation it is necessary to use such wording. It acknowledges the fact that fencing masters of non-white skin-color had been in honor and duty in Europe since the 15th century. As it is documented in Talhoffer’s Fechtbuch and in the Chronicle of Fencing Guilds in Breslau, Wrocław.

You may want to read the translation of J. D. Aylward in his book “The English Master of Arms: From the Twelfth to the Twentieth Century” from 1956. It is surely a better English but he left out a lot of details of the original text e.g. that the Englishman was fat and short and the other was a good looking man. Conrad von Offenbach was fascinated of the beauty of the “exotic” people. Having exotic servants and friends was kind of cool in the late Baroque. So he is musing about getting some of the poor living colored people to Germany, were they pay a fortune to them in their service. This was in fact racism. But other as in later centuries the Humanism carried a favor for the people of other skin color, seeing in them a natural noble human that the white man had lost to be on his way through civilization.

So please accept my apologize that an accurate translation of such a text can by no means be “political correct”.

 The fight of the stage gladiators

In the afternoon we drove at Bear Garden in Hockley in the Hole. There where fencers to watch, a pretty English pleasure. It was handed out before a neatly printed paper. In which it was not only described the rules of all the battles, but also what weapons needed, and who the campaigners were. They were an Englishman and a Moor. The Englishman was a short fat man, but the moor was such a long well-made and handsome one as I had not seen in my whole life. The first was  named Thomas Wood, the latter George Turner. The moor had the profession of a fencing-master. There are many more moors in England than in any other places I have seen. Men and women often had to go begging. [Think about that] you could easily have them here in Germany, where you pay a lot to them. The women wear European dresses. And it looks quite funny to see them displaying their blank black breasts while wearing cornets and hoods of white cloth – as we have seen often.

The place for the fight was huge. In the middle of the place a scaffold of nearly man’s height was made, not so large and without a banister. Such none of the fencers could escape [the attacks of the other]. Around the place going into the height were simple rows with heightened bench seats for the spectators like in the comedian houses. The ordinary people not paying much should stay on the ground of the place. But they tried impetuously to climb the rows and tribunes. As some set them back, they awfully threw stones and dirt without making any differences, so that we started to worry more than a little. Only because we had some of the best seats they did not reach us. It was very rough and ugly.

The prizefighter Figg ready for a stick-fighting bout.After we had seated a while the first four fellows climbed the scaffold. They beat each other powerfully with sticks on which they mount a muzzle at the end [=> Conrad is watching basket hilt stick fighting]. They have it as a own sport in England. You can see something like that each day done by kids in Morefield or other places in London. It is a pleasure to see how they know to parry each other, and how the inexperienced receive bad blows, especially to their head and shins. The fellows just earned what the spectators threw at them in form of Shillings. If they stopped and half a Crown flew by, it started again in all fierceness, to find out who will earn the Half Crown.

After that the named fencing-masters entered the scaffold. They had taken of their coats, tied a handkerchief around the head [=> a thick piece of cloth to save the ears and stop the blood from disturbing the eyesight]. Firstly they made their compliments in every direction, then showed the rapiers to everybody. They were very broad, large and immense sharp [=> Conrad used the word “Degen” a rapier like weapon. It were probably Broad- or Backswords]. Every fencer had a second next to him, who had long sticks in their hands. Those were not to defend the fencers but to end it so that no forbidden strike is done.

They started with those large swords. The moor received the first strike on the breast bleeding heavily. The onlookers began to cheer loudly. Shillings and Crowns flew heavily to the fencers along with the shouting that the money is for Wood. His second gathering therefore the money. It should be that way, that there is mercy shown with the one receiving the strike, but in fact it is the other way, and the winner gets two-third from then entrance fee.

On the second bout the Englishman Wood received a strong cut above the loins, such that not only the shirt hang down but that he lost his sword. And because he had breeches with put-on buttons all the buttons on one side were cut away.

After that they fought with Rapier and dagger. The moor took an bad cut on his hand that was bleeding heavily. This must have been the reason, why the good moor was unable to fence, when they fought each other in afterwards in two bouts with sword and buckler – that are broad swords and shields. The cut [he received] went from his left eye through chin and jaws so hard, that we heard it crunch loudly on the teeth. In the same moment not only the front of the shirt but the complete scaffold was full of blood. The slash was broad as a thumb. And I cannot say how horrible view it was on the [former beautiful] black face. Immediately a barber or surgeon jumped on the scaffold, who stitched the wound still standing. What seemed not to irritate the moor at all. When it was finished and a piece of cloth was bandaged around his head, the moor wanted to fight again. But the surgeon and the seconds did not allow him to, fearing he would to bleed to death. So the fencers shook hands as it is common after each bout and got ready to step down.

Women prize fightingA loud cheering started and all we could hear was “Wood! Wood”. A lot of money was thrown to him. A Englishman, who had been sitting behind us, was drunken and started a immense shouting throwing handfuls of Shillings. His wife sitting next to him, was shouting too. We were assured of her, that she had fought without a corsage in a blank shirt another woman at this place. And both had wounded each other bravely (what is nothing unusual in England). When I asked, if people died in the fight or afterwards by the wounds, we were told: “Yes”. And that four years ago the brother of this moor Turner lost hist life. But the perpetrator has nothing to fear, as long as it is not proven that he had broken the rules of the fight, and wounded the other in a malicious way.

The funny thing was that after the fencers left the scaffold, nearly more boys climbed the platform that could stand on it. They called out to the onlookers to throw money to them so they will catch or gather it. That was a sight to see, when the boys crawling over each other, ten or twelve on a pile. Some felt down and instantly climbed up again. It might have taken an hour or so. We left for our long way home. At the park we stepped [from the coach] and went for a walk.

Books used in this article:

[overall] Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland [Leben Herrn Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach], Band 2, Zacharias Konrad von Uffenbach, J. F. Gaum, 1753
[2] The English Master of Arms: From the Twelfth to the Twentieth Century, J. D. Aylward, Taylor & Francis, 1956

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