Ladies of the English aristocracy

This article originally appeared in ” The San Francisco Call ” newspaper on Sunday ,8th of November 1903.

It provides insights into the workings of the Vigny system of walking stick combatives and the improvised use of the umbrella. The article also serves to remind la canne enthusiasts of the importance certain methods of self defence played in the over all method of Vigny’s stick fighting system .

Special thanks to James Farthing for providing this article and once again supporting the La canne Vigny home page. 





London Women Start Vigorous Campaign to Stamp Out ” Hooliganism.”



 Mme. Vigny

London, Nov.7- For some unexplained reason there has been a great interest in What London folk call “hooliganism.” The  riotous street demonstrations on  “Mafeking NIght” and in celebration of the close of the Boer War taught the stream of toughts who poured out from Whitchapel into the West Wend that the renowned London “bobby” wouldnot be everywhere at once, and that with a ratio of twenty hooligans to one bobby quite a bit of law-breaking might be done in more safety than had been supposed.

 Since then a number of solitary wayfarers have been attacked and robbed and two or three have been murdered – all of which was most disconcerting to the independent English woman, who has taken to going on bicycle riders into the country by herself and to walking about the city streets in the daytime without  the chaperone who was considered so necessary a few years ago. Lady Jeune had her purse wrenched from her recently by a hooligan in the fashionable Kensington district of London, and Lady Mary Sackville was robbed of her bag and chatelaine not long ago by a rough, who assaulted her and decamped. Many other attacks of the sort have been made on less famous folk.



“The knock-out jab with the point of her umbrella.”

In consequence  of this state of affairs it occurred to a young French woman, the wife of the famous French swordsman, Pierre Vigny, to undertake the instruction of Englishwomen in the art of self-defense with a parasol or walking stick according to a system devised by her gallant husband, who has devoted years to its perfection. It may best be described as a mixture of the various methods of self-defense practiced in England, France, Germany and Japan. Many of the passes, thrust and wards used in fencing are comprised in it. Some of the guards used by boxers and the movements of the leg and foot practiced by exponents of French boxing are introduced as well as certain methods peculiar to German swordsman and professors of the rapier. Numerous tricks are borrowed from the marvelous Japanese system know as “ju jitsu” or weakness against strength, against which Fitzsimmons would be as helpless as a babe, and any delicate lady who becomes proficient in the art can rest assured that she is match for at least one or two roughs so long as she retains her presence of mind and her umbrella !

The accompanying photographs, made for this article, and for which Mme, Vigny consented to pose, give a better idea of the system than any description could.



Mme. Vigny and her husband have had quite a number of distinguished pupils, including the present King of Servia, Peter Karageorgevitch. Vigny says King Peter is a splendid, all-round athlete, and adds that, should another revolution deprive him of the blood-stained crown he wears, King Peter could readily earn his living as a boxer or teacher of fencing. “He is so clever with a walking stick.” said M. Vigny, “that I would back him against any twelve men, armed with sticks, swords or daggers -anything, in fact, but firearms. If the late King had but known the system, there would have been a different tale to tell ! He is a fine fellow is King Peter, unassuming, bold, frank, with eyes that pierce you through and through- the eyes of a swordsman. ”



Elizabeth ( Carmen Sylva)

Queen Elizabeth of Roumania (Carmen Sylva) is another royalty who has been taught fencing by Mme. Vigny. Her Majesty learned this art because she declared it gave her so much confidence in herself, especially when she was about to lecture. She has no fear whatever of assult, but Queen Elizabeth declares that the self-possession which the knowledge of fencing has given her has proved to be an excellent antidote to stage fright and nervousness from which she used to suffer whenever she lectured.

An English society lady who is famous as a fencer is Miss Toupie Lowther, who could probably hold her own against any champion of the small sword or rapier on the continent of Europe.

Miss Badon-Powell, the sister of the famous general, impressed by her brother’s adage  that “a smile and a stout stick will carry one through any difficulty,” has become proficient in self-defense with a parasol and walking cane. Lady Florence Dixie, who was attacked by “invincibles” soon after the Phoenix Park murders in 1882, has since learned fencing.



 ” She catches his hand and pokes him under the ear”.

But  fencing must not be confounded with the method of self-defense with an umbrella or walking stick. This system does not take long to acquire. After three months’ tuition an average young girl would be equal to almost any emergency. Not matter how well a rough might box, he would have no chance to get in a blow and he would be powerless to protect himself from terrible punishment in the shape of thrusts or prods, and while staggering from the effects of these, he would receive blows on the head and face that would speedily dispose of him. Furthermore, the pupils are taught how to trip an adversary up and throw him with the handle of the umbrella and how to throw him should he close, after the manner of the Japanese. A combined knowledge of the laws of dynamics and anatomy can always defeat mere strength and in a street fight where the Queensberry rules of the ring are not observed, the skilled pugilist would be at the mercy of the child who understands these arts and possesses the nerve to put them to practical account.

In proof of this, is a little affair that M. Vigny had on hand when he was master of arms to the Second Regiment of Artillery , a post he occupied for three years in the French army. He  was attacked by eleven roughs armed with knives and belts in the slums of Marseilles. He was only provided with  a walking stick and yet emerged from the fray as triumphant as Cyrano de Bergerac after his fight on the bridge. The memory of this exploit is preserved in the regimental records, so there is no doubt as to is authenticity.



” A pretty trick with the crooked handle of her parsol”

Published on November 12, 2008 at 11:12 pm  Comments Off on Ladies of the English aristocracy  
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