Alfred Hutton

Portrait of Alfred Hutton [1]

Alfred Hutton FSA (10 March 1839 – 18 December 1910) was a Victorian officer of the King's Dragoon Guards, writer, antiquarian and swordsman. He originated the first English revival of historical fencing, together with his colleagues Egerton Castle, Captain Carl Thimm, Colonel Cyril Matthey, Captain Percy Rolt, Captain Ernest George Stenson Cooke, Captain Frank Herbert Whittow, Sir Frederick and Walter Herries Pollock.[2]

Early life

Alfred Hutton was born on 10 March 1839 at Beverley, Yorkshire the eleventh and youngest child and seventh son of Henry William Hutton (1787–1848) and his wife Marianne (before 1795-1879), only child of John Fleming of Beverley.[3] Henry W Hutton was a captain in the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, retired 1811.

Alfred attended Blackheath Proprietary School (Lewisham), matriculated at University College, Oxford, on 25 November 1857.[3] He was intended for the Church, but the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 turned his thoughts toward a military career, and he left the university without graduating and joined the Army.[4]

Military career

In stable dress, wearing a forage cap

His military career began on 31 May 1859, when he joined the 79th (Cameron) Highlanders as an Ensign. On arrival at the depot of his regiment at Perth he soon proved himself an expert fencer.

The youngest officer was probably the most skilful swordsman in the Army, though his comrades did not realise the fact. He brought with him a bundle of swords of different kinds, and one of the sergeants, anxious to teach the newcomer a lesson, challenged him to a bout. The sergeant, who had a reputation as a man-at-arms, chose the bayonet against the young ensign's sword, but was easily worsted, and the result was the same when the weapons were changed. After this feat the young officer was invited to form a fencing class for the officers and non-commissioned officers, and the swordsmanship of the regiment was greatly improved.[4]

Upon joining the headquarters of his regiment in India, at the request of his commanding officer, Colonel Hodgson, he organized in the regiment the Cameron Fencing Club, for which he prepared his first work, a 12-page booklet entitled Swordsmanship (1862),[5] printed at Simla Advertiser Press. On 14 January 1862 Hutton was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. In 1864 after 4 years in the infantry he exchanged into the cavalry: the 7th Hussars. After being invalided home in 1865 he joined the 1st King's Dragoon Guards in 1866, and continued to popularize fencing in his regiments. He was gazetted captain on 30 September 1868, and retired from the service in 1873.[3]

Throughout his career he was a strong advocate of better swordsmanship in the Army. He was one of the first, too, to raise bayonet fighting to the dignity of a science.[4]


Portrait of Alfred Hutton (late 1890s)

Hutton started to learn fencing at the age of twelve at the fencing school [3] in St James' Street from Henry Charles Angelo the Younger (1780-1852), appointed Superintendent of Sword Exercise in the Army (1833-1852), author of Infantry Sword Exercise (1845), which remained the standard Army reference book for sword instruction on foot for 50 years. This school was established by Domenico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo (1716-1802), renowned Italian fencing master from Leghorn, author of the classic treatise on small sword L’École des armes (1763, The School of Fencing). Alfred's father was a pupil of Henry Angelo the elder (1756-1835), son of the founder of this fencing dynasty, Domenico Angelo.[6]

After returning from India in 1865, Hutton had become the pupil and friend of William McTurk, Henry Charles Angelo's successor at the school of arms in St James' Street. On leaving the army he focused on practicing modern fencing with foil, sabre, and bayonet, but mainly on the study and revival of older fencing systems and schools. In 1889 Hutton published his most influential work, Cold Steel: A Practical Treatise on the Sabre, which presented an original method of military sabre use on foot, combining the 18th century English backsword with modern Italian duelling sabre. The treatise also offered self-defense techniques based on constable's truncheon and short sword-bayonet, as well as exercise material from 16th century texts, including Marozzo. He successfully advocated the use by cavalry of a straight pointed sword for thrusting rather than an edged sword for cutting. In 1890 he published Fixed Bayonets, in which he insisted that a competently wielded bayonet should beat a good swordsman, but his views of bayonet fighting were regarded in the army as too theoretical for modern practical instruction. He retorted by deploring military reliance on Italian theories of swordsmanship to the exclusion of effective French practice.[3]

Hutton's pioneering advocacy and practice of historical fencing included reconstructions of the fencing systems of several historical masters including George Silver and Achille Marozzo. He delivered numerous lectures on, and practical demonstrations of these systems during the 1890s, both in order to benefit various military charities and to encourage patronage of the contemporary methods of competitive fencing, which had hitherto fallen out of popular fashion in England. He also used these lectures and demonstrations to advocate his own theories about military sabre fencing.

Influence upon stage fencing

Actress and stage fencer Esmé Beringer, a student of Hutton's.

Hutton successfully introduced realistic, historically accurate swordplay into the contemporary theatrical repertoire. In Old Sword Play (1892) he wrote:

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.

Circa 1899-1902, Hutton taught stage fencing classes for actors via the Bartitsu Club, where he also served on the Board of Directors and learned the basics of jujutsu and the Vigny method of stick fighting from his fellow instructors.

Alfred Hutton arranged combats for numerous London plays, including:


St Mary's Church from the south

He died unmarried at his chambers in 76 Jermyn Street, London, on 18 December 1910, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church in Astbury, near Congleton, Cheshire, three days later.[3] The following inscription can be found on his grave:

In Affectionate Memory of / ALFRED HUTTON late King's Dragoon Guards & Last Surviving Son of HENRY WILLIAM HUTTON of Beverley / Hold thou Thy Cross Before My Closing Eyes / Born March 10th 1839. Died December 18th 1910, Aged 71 Years.[7]

On 8 October 1911 a memorial tablet - In Memoriam Captain Alfred Hutton Late The King's Dragoon Guards Born March 10, 1839 Died December 18, 1910. A Great Swordsman And Writer On The Art. RIP. - was unveiled in the chancel of St Mary's Church (Astbury) by Lieutenant General Sir Edward Hutton, his nephew.[3][8]

Several works of Alfred Hutton have been republished in the past decade: Old sword play: techniques of the great masters (2001, 2010), The sword through the centuries (2002) (original title: The Sword and the Centuries or Old Sword Days and Old Sword Ways), Cold steel: the art of fencing with the sabre (2006).[9]


His mother, Marianne (died on 19 January 1879, aged 87) and two sisters: Harriott (died on 18 January 1906) and Marianne Eleanor (died on 31 January 1908 aged 95) were also buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church. One of his brothers, Henry John died in 1846 and was buried in the Beverly Cathedral, a memorial tablet:

Here lies the remains of Henry John Hutton, the beloved son of Henry William and Marianne Hutton, formerly Captain in her Majesty's 34th Regiment. He was born at Sherwood Hall in Nottinghamshire 1 July 1814 and died at Clifton near Bristol the 24 October 1846

can be found there.[8]

His other brother, Edward Thomas Hutton (-1849), was the father of Sir Edward Hutton KCMG.


A colichemarde from the Hutton's collection

Hutton bequeathed his fine collection of fencing and duelling literature, with some admirable specimens of oriental sword-cutlery, to the Victoria and Albert Museum. At least 276 books from his collection of fencing books - Hutton Bequest - can be found in the National Art Library in the V&A Museum.[10][11] Most volumes bound for Hutton are in vellum, with red leather lettering pieces on the upper covers and backs. Upper covers are gold blocked with Hutton's name in Gothic type and his armorial crest.[12]

Further collections of books formerly owned by him are the Corble Collection,[13] located at the Universiteitsbibliotheek at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and the Emil Fick Library, located at the Livrustkammaren (Sweden).


In May 2013 the Forteza Western martial arts studio in Chicago commemorated Hutton via the dedication of the Captain Alfred Hutton Lounge, incorporating a library, research center, museum of historical swords and weapons, art gallery of 19th century fencing prints and a social space.


See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alfred Hutton.


  1. By John Ernst Breun, photogravure, reproduced in Hutton Cold Steel, frontispiece
  2. Thimm, Carl Albert. A Complete Bibliography of Fencing and Duelling, London, 1896 Preface
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. 1 2 3 Famous Swordsman. An article in Evening Post (New Zealand), Volume LXXXI, Issue 41, 18 February 1911 Page 14
  5. Sources in the V&A Museum's library
  6. Angelo, Henry. Infantry Sword Exercise,1845
  7. Record No OA 392 in the church register. According to William Ball, M.A., Churchwarden & Secretary of the Parochial Church Council of St Mary, Astbury
  8. 1 2 Alfred Hutton's Grave
  9. 1 2 Alfred Hutton's works on WorldCat
  10. Search Results for Hutton, Alfred in the catalogue of NAL
  11. On Hutton's book in the NAL
  12. Hutton's armorial crest
  13. Corble Collection at the KU Leuven
  14. This list has been updated based on the Schola Gladiatoria's list of works of Alfred Hutton
  15. A practical treatise on the sabre also on various other weapons including the short sword-bayonet or dagger, the constables truncheon,the great stick or staff and the French sword (small-sword)
  16. Based on Achille Marozzo's 1536 Opera Nova. This is more often known as Old Sword Ways


External links

External images
Alfred Hutton's grave (a big cross with a bouquet of flowers)
Part of the grave's inscription
Hutton's armorial crest

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