Bare-Knuckle Boxing: Background information when reading The Fair Fight

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Discuss |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Fair Fight

by Anna Freeman

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman X
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 480 pages
    Apr 2016, 480 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

Bare-Knuckle Boxing

This article relates to The Fair Fight

Print Review

Bare-knuckle fighting has probably existed ever since humanity learned to make a fist, and it has been practiced as a sport since at least the 3rd millennium BCE. The earliest records are found in Sumerian reliefs from that time period, and ancient Egyptian artwork from the 2nd millennium BCE depicts an audience watching barefisted contestants. The ancient Greeks believed that the gods on Mount Olympus boxed for sport, and consequently made it part of the Olympic Games in 688 BCE. Homer also makes reference to boxing in The Iliad - the earliest written version of which dates to roughly the same time period.

Boxing lost popularity as Rome declined and wasn't revived until the late 17th century in England. The first documented "boxing match" is thought to have taken place in 1681 in Britain when Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle scheduled a bout between his butler and his butcher (the butcher won). Boxing at the time was a far different activity than the sport we know today, more resembling a street brawl than an organized pursuit with rules and guidelines; kicking, gouging, biting and hair-pulling were all permitted (although hitting below the belt was outlawed as unsportsmanlike in 1743). Women often fought in short skits and were sometimes topless as well.

Elizabeth Stokes, Lady Bare-Knuckles Although it's believed women were participants almost since the beginning of the sport's resurgence in England, the first advertisement featuring a female fighter didn't appear until 1722 when Elizabeth Wilkinson started publicizing her bouts. One of the most well-documented matches occurred later that year between her and the "Newgate Market basket-woman" Hannah Hyfield for a prize of 3 guineas (probably in the region of £600/$1000 taking into account inflation). One of Elizabeth's stipulations, which became her trademark rule, was that the fighters would hold a half crown coin in each of their fists, and the first to drop it lost the bout. The women were evenly matched but Elizabeth squeaked out a victory. She subsequently married James Stokes (who had beaten her in the ring on at least on occasion) in 1728. Stokes owned his own amphitheater in north London, and Elizabeth fought at that locale from then on.

Ads such as this one were often placed in area newspapers:

At Mr. STOKES's Amphitheatre, in Islington Road, near Sadler's Wells, on Monday next, being the 3d of October, will be perform'd a trial of skill by the following Championesses. Whereas I Mary Welch, from the Kingdom of Ireland, being taught, and knowing the noble science of defence, and thought to be the only female of this kind in Europe, understanding there is one in this Kingdom, who has exercised on the publick stage several times, which is Mrs. Stokes, who is stiled the famous Championess of England; I do hereby invite her to meet me, and exercise the usual weapons practis'd on the stage, at her own amphitheatre, doubting not, but to let her and the worthy spectators see, that my judgment and courage is beyond hers. I Elizabeth Stokes, of the famous City of London, being well known by the name of the Invincible City Championess for my abilities and judgment in the abovesaid science; having never engaged with any of my own sex but I always came off with victory and applause, shall make no apology for accepting the challenge of this Irish Heroine, not doubting but to maintain the reputation I have hitherto establish'd, and shew my country, that the contest of it's honour, is not ill entrusted in the present battle with their Championess, Elizabeth Stokes.

Note, The doors will be open'd at two, and the Championesses mount at four. N.B. They fight in close jackets, short petticoats, coming just below the knee, Holland drawers, white stockings, and pumps.

The first reported American boxing match between two women was recorded in New York in 1876, when Nell Saunders and Rose Harland met at the New York Hills Theater (the prize was a silver butter dish, although there's no record of who won it).

In 1866 a new set of rules were published. Supported by the Marquess of Queensberry, they bear his name to this day. The rules mandated boxing gloves and prohibited actions like gouging and kicking; they also barred women from the ring, and this stipulation held until Sweden offered the first sanctioned women's boxing events in 1988. The British Amateur Boxing Association jumped on the bandwagon in 1997 with other organizations quickly following. Women's boxing was part of the Olympics for the first time at the 2012 London games, with contestants competing in three weight categories: flyweight, lightweight and middleweight.

Picture of Elizabeth Stokes, Lady Bare-Knuckles from

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Fair Fight. It originally ran in May 2015 and has been updated for the April 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures
    The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures
    by Jennifer Hofmann
    The title of Jennifer Hofmann's perceptive debut novel with its bureaucratese strongly suggests a ...
  • Book Jacket: His Only Wife
    His Only Wife
    by Peace Adzo Medie
    21-year-old Afi is a talented Ghanaian seamstress eager to study fashion design, but her life is ...
  • Book Jacket: We Have Been Harmonized
    We Have Been Harmonized
    by Kai Strittmatter
    You'd be forgiven if, while reading We Have Been Harmonized, you momentarily mistook it for a ...
  • Book Jacket: Jack
    by Marilynne Robinson
    If you are a fan of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead series, you already know who Jack is. Chances are, ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    by Susanna Clarke

    A new novel from the NY Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Ruthie Fear
    by Maxim Loskutoff

    In this haunting parable of the American West, a young woman faces the violent past of her remote Montana valley.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Find Me
by André Aciman

The author of the worldwide bestseller Call Me by Your Name revisits its complex and beguiling characters.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Memorial Drive

Memorial Drive
by Natasha Trethewey

The moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of tragedy.



Solve this clue:

L N Take I C

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.