18th Century Female Bruisers

We have previously written about women fighting whether it be ‘Lady Barrymore, the Boxing Baroness’, ‘The Petticoat Duellists’ or the 18th Century boxing match for the hand of a farm lad. We know that pugilism was not totally a male domain and that women fought for money including the likes of Hannah Hyfield and Elizabeth Wilkinson.

Star (London, England), Thursday, January 2, 1800

Today, however, we’re going to take a closer look at a superb painting by John Collet which depicts two female bruisers. It is difficult to tell whether these two women were a couple of the regular fighters who appear to have existed. The picture is incredibly detailed and Collet gives us some clues.

Collet, John; The Female Bruisers; Museum of London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-female-bruisers-50752
Collet, John; The Female Bruisers; Museum of London

At the window above the poster are two lovers – or could it be a nod to the building actually being a brothel?

Female Bruisers - lovers at the windowLooking at the woman on the left she appears to be quite well dressed with a pocket watch on a chatelaine hanging down from her waist and a bracelet on her wrist. Her bonnet and cloak on the floor and the three children to her left closely examining her fur muff. At the bottom left-hand corner, we can see the start of a cock-fight. The man just behind her is having his pock picked – so perhaps indicative of the type of neighbourhood she’s in. The butcher has come out of his shop which is in the background; is he offering her some smelling salts or similar?

Female Bruisers - central scene

If we look to the top of the picture we can just about make the wording of a poster advertising a play The Rival Queens which was being performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1771.

The Rvial Queens

The Rival Queens - Public Advertiser, Saturday, March 30, 1771
Public Advertiser, Saturday, March 30, 1771

On the right of the picture, we can see that the other woman appears far less well dressed, as you can tell she isn’t wearing stays, and the man who appears to be trying to help her up from the ground has his hand rather too close to a place it probably shouldn’t have been!

Female Bruisers

We also took a quick look in the newspapers of the day for any other examples and found a couple more to share with you.
Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Friday, December 27, 1765

Yesterday afternoon a severe battle was fought in the ruins of St. Giles, for five guineas a side, between two noted female bruisers, the one from Brick-Lane, Spital-fields, and the other of Buckrage Street; when the championess of Buckrage Street after a contest of 25 minutes came off victorious, with loud huzzas from at least 3000 spectators.

London Evening Post, September 3, 1767

Wednesday a bloody bruising match was fought in the ruins of St. Giles, between two noted bruisers, the one from Newtoner’s Lane, the other from Brown’s Gardens, when the former, after a contest of 20 minutes was crown’d with victory, amidst the plaudits of a vast crowd of spectators.


Since writing this blog we have found an interesting one in the Weekly Journal, Oct 1, 1726, that we had to share with you as it provides us with a snippet of information at the end, almost as an afterthought about their wearing apparel

They fight in close jackets, short petticoats coming just below the knee, Holland drawers, white stockings and pumps.

Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer), Saturday, October 1, 1726

The Sense of Hearing, Philippe Mercier.

What a Spectacle! (Part 2)

Following our previous post  What a Spectacle! which looked at the development of spectacles during the Georgian Era, we had a question/observation from a reader regarding portraits of women wearing spectacles – or rather the lack of them.  With that in mind, we have tried, almost in vain to put together a short post to show just women wearing spectacles. To be honest it has proved to be something of a challenge and of course, we thrive on challenges!

There are only a few possible explanations for the lack of images, the first being that of vanity; you wanted to look at your best when having your portrait painted and ‘masking’ the eyes with spectacles or even showing publicly that your eyesight wasn’t quite what it should have been may have been one.  The second explanation is probably that young to middle-aged women simply preferred to use an eyeglass of some sort if they felt their eyesight was lacking or finally that quite simply eye tests as we understand them today simply did not exist in the same way so people didn’t realize how good or bad their eyesight was. Around the 1800s the use of any type of spectacles was a sign of old age and infirmity, so it seems that vanity would most likely have prevented many women from admitting to this!

For ‘ladies of fashion’ the lorgnette was immensely popular.  The picture below shows one invented by George Adams Jr. (1750 – 1795) in the form of a penknife and intended to be carried loose in the pocket. Lorgnettes were developed towards the end of the 1700’s and often took the form of a pair of eyeglasses on a long handle.

Courtesy of the Museum of Vision

If you preferred something slightly more discrete and more akin to a piece of jewellery then the other option was quizzling glasses which became popular from the early 1800’s.


Moving on to the portraits that we have found and to be honest they seem to confirm our suggestions and only feature the more mature woman.

Our first offering is an oil painting entitled ‘The Sense of Hearing, The Sense of Sound’ by the French artist Philippe Mercier.

The Sense of Hearing, Philippe Mercier.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The next is a self-portrait by the Polish artist  Anna Dorothea Therbusch,  painted circa 1777 when she was around 65 years of age.

Anna Dorothea Therbusch, self portrait c.1777.

Our third offering is Friederike Charlotte of Stolberg-Gedern in her later life.

Friederike Charlotte, Countess of Stolberg-Gedern

The next, a caricature entitled ‘ The Mutual Embrace’ courtesy of the British Museum.

The Mutual Embrace

Lastly, there is ‘High Life Below Stairs’ by John Collet, London, England, 1763.

High Life Below Stairs by John Collet, 1763

Unfortunately, despite our best attempts we failed to find any paintings of young women wearing spectacles, so as many of you know our blog posts couldn’t possibly be complete without any caricatures so we offer this one from the Lewis Walpole Library entitled  ‘Heyday! Is this my daughter Anne!‘, yet again depicting an elderly woman accompanied by her daughter who is sporting one of our favourite enormous hairstyles.Heyday Is this my daughter Anne