Highlighting the facts behind historical fiction with Edie Cay.
Boxing was the sport of the Regency era. Pugilism was considered the noblest and manliest pursuit, and thus, the most English of pastimes. Male prizefighters were celebrities, gaining fame and fortune, but women also fought for sport.
I based the character of Bess Abbott, the heroine of The Boxer and the Blacksmith, on a real-life woman, Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes. The real woman’s name is likely a stage name, taken for a murderer who hanged just days prior to her first recorded fight, and Stokes was the last name of her promoter who she may or may not have later married (consensus is probably married). So I’m just going to call this woman Elizabeth, because it is likely that was the name that was actually hers.
I focus on Elizabeth, but that is not to forget Mary Welch, the Irish Championess, who fought Elizabeth, or Hannah Hyfield, another London contender, or even “Lady Barrymore,” a Regency era woman whose story is shrouded in so much public derision, it’s hard to figure out what is fact (was she a boxer?) from fiction (she was only the mistress of a man whose pursuits included boxing).
To return to Elizabeth, she was from a lower class background, and had male friends in the boxing industry, including James Figg, who was posthumously granted the accomplishments of Elizabeth. Her fights included public trash talk in the newspaper, and money for winning—all the hallmarks of “real” fights. Some accounts say that women fought as novelty acts. In Elizabeth’s own words:
“I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not fought in this way since I fought the famous boxing woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes, and gained a complete victory, (which is six years ago); but as the famous Stoke Newington ass-woman dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows which I shall present her with will be more difficult for her to digest than any she ever gave her asses.”
Those are not words of a novelty act. Some historians have wondered if she may have invented the pre-fight trash talk. It’s very possible. She was the biggest name of her time, and referred to herself as the “Invincible City Championess.”
For 150 years, she was considered the greatest boxer of the 18th century, her career lasting from 1722-1728. She fought with her fists, of course, but also daggers, cudgels, swords, quarterstaffs, and would today be described as a mixed-martial artist. She fought men with weapons, but would only ever fight other women with her bare fists.
Miss Bess Abbott, the hero of The Boxer and the Blacksmith, is modeled very specifically on Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes. I can only imagine that they share pride in their “unladylike” abilities.
About the Book, The Boxer and the Blacksmith
Can London’s lady champion fight for love?
As London’s undefeated women’s boxer, Bess Abbott has the scars—both inside and out—to prove it. But when one of her boxing students, Violet, needs protection, Bess Abbott’s rock hard heart cracks open. And when a handsome blacksmith comes along, giving her compliments and treating her, well, like a woman, Bess doesn’t know what to do. She’s on the ropes in the face of his affections.
Os Worley was a child when he became an accidental stow-away. He grew up not knowing the family or the island that inflected his accent. His only memory of his mother is a head bent, hands working a stitch, a voice humming a melody. Now that he has his own foundry, and his own apprentice, he’s come to London to find the woman attached to this impression. His heart is already tempered and quenched, focused on his goal—but a lady boxer threatens to recast his love in her own image.
As Os and Bess face off, will they toe the line or retreat to their corners?
About the Author
Edie Cay writes Feminist Regency Romance. Her debut, A LADY’S REVENGE won the Golden Leaf Best First Book in 2020. The next in her series, THE BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH won the Hearts Through History Legends Award as an unpublished manuscript in 2019. She obtained dual BAs in Creative Writing and in Music, and her MFA in Creative Writing from University of Alaska Anchorage. She is a member of RWA, The Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Follow her on social media for pictures of the latest baking project with her toddler @authorEdieCay.
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