Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Expert Swordsmen..


Extracts from an autobiography published in Glasgow in 1728;"The Expert Swordsman's Companion" or "The True Art of Self Defence"

The author, Donald McBane, (also known as McBain) kept an ale-house and a School of Arms in London.

Donald McBane's book portrays with gritty realism the life of a soldier of The Royal Scots in Europe under Marlborough. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) was the first major "world" war of modern times. At first he tramped for seven weeks along the Rhine and the Main, over the Pass of Geislingen into the valley of the Danube, down that river to the Schellenburg, over that river into the heart of Bavaria, and back again to Blenheim village in the year 1704. Twenty years later at the age of 63 he sat down to remember and write.
The full title of this now most rare book is: The Expert Sword-man's Companion; or the True Art of Self-Defence. With an Account of the Author's Life and his Transactions during the Wars with France. To which is annexed, The Arts of Gunnerie. Illustrated with 22 etched copper plates. By Donald McBane. Published Glasgow, 1728.


Early life in the Highlands

Donald McBane hailed from Inverness, and in 1687 ran away from his apprenticeship as a tobacco spinner to enlist in one of the Independent Companies within the Army, Captain Mackenzie's Company. He indulged in some fighting between the clans of Macdonald and Macintosh, who used sword and target, and Lochaber axes, and wooden-handled bayonets in the muzzle of the guns. When his company was disbanded he took service in Colonel Grant's Regiment in the pay of King William, who had to oppose the Highland clans fighting for King James at the Pass of Killiecrankie. Again his unit was disbanded, and he joined Colonel Forbes's Regiment, where an old soldier was ordered to take care of Donald and "manage his pay" for him, with the result that Donald saw little of it. When he complained to an officer he was told to fight out the dispute, as was the custom at that time.

Fencing lessons

Donald thereupon paid a sergeant for private instruction in swordsmanship, borrowed a sword,and then fought his "govenor", who beat him, took his sword and pawned it. Undeterred, Donald took more lessons in small sword versus broad sword, and another bout ended in Donald's victory - and his sword was returned. "I then became master of my own pay - and his likeways"

By 1692 Donald owned his own sword and practised at the fencing schools, publicly beating the other fencing scholars. Then, on a mission to escort a draft of soldiers bound for Flanders he got carried off from Leith (at Edinburgh) to Haversluys by mischance. From there he marched to Maestricht and thence to Brussels, where the British Army was camped. Here he attached himself to Lord Orkney's Royal Regiment and in 1695 as a Royal Scot he stormed Namur with the other British regiments and recovered from his wounds at Brussels. Next year, at Rotterdam, he was discovered by his former Captain, who exchanged Donald for two other men and took him back to Fort William.

A Duel

In 1697 at the Peace of Ryswick his company was disbanded again so he went home to Inverness. he did not want to carry on with his apprenticeship , and so with his mother's blessing, twenty shillings and a new suit of clothes, he set out to seek his fortune. He got no further than Perth before he enlisted in the Earl of Angus's Regiment to serve as a pikeman. Shortly afterwards his corporal accused him of absence off guard, and punished him with a beating. Donald's honour as a soldier was at stake and he challenged the corporal to a duel. During the fight he gave the corporal a mortal wound, and because duelling was illegal had to flee for his life. But such was the code of honour at the time that his captain, and the dying corporal himself, aided his escape with money for a journey to Glasgow.
On the way he was caught by a recruiting party at Stirling who tried to "impress" him. But they had underestimated Donald and had to beg his pardon before hurrying off to get their wounds dressed. At Glasgow he enlisted in the Royal Regiment of Scots, then stationed at Dublin. He marched from Carrickfergus, and, finding his pay very small, put on civilian clothes to court a young woman he met on the way. Soon he got into trouble with not only her "husband" but the landlord and constable too, and had to get away. Then when he reappeared with his comrades dressed in Army red livery, the "husband" finding he had to deal with a soldier, and fearing bloodshed, abandoned the unfortunate woman. Donald became an assiduous student at a French school (in Dublin) where sword and foil often clashed until blood was drawn, and then a drink or two re-sealed friendship. The Royal Scots went from Dublin to Limerick and Donald was billeted at a farm. The farmer had a daughter who had twenty shillings to her name. Donald and his friends arranged for a priest and tricked her into believing she had married him. Her twenty shillings was spent on a wedding dinner and the rest spent on a few weeks good living until marching orders came. At his next school Donald fell out with his master about his sister, and the usual duel ensued. So proficient a swordsman had our Royal Scot become that he set up his own school at Limerick. Then the regiment marched to Cork in order to embark for Holland. On the way it seems that Donald was seen as something of a liability by his captain who detailed a sergeant and four men to guard him in case he deserted. Actually the captain had misjudged; the escort deserted Donald.

(And his story goes on and on and on from here. What a guy! He makes Tom Jones and Richard Sharpe seem like boring old biddies! The rest of Donald McBain's story makes rattlin' good reading, and can be found on the official Royal Scot's site here.

After many tremendous and varied adventures, he finally retires, after fighting a duel in Edinburgh. At the age of 63.

Please visit it, and I hope you get as big a chuckle out of it as I did. Let me know what you think of him! Unlike Horatio Hornblower and Richard Sharpe though, Donald McBaine was a real person.)

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