I read in Levenson's book Newton and the Counterfeiter that when Newton was traveling to London from Cambridge, he stopped at an inn along the way to wait for other travelers so that they all could travel together because of highwaymen. I wonder if a scholar like Newton would have had at least some rudimentary knowledge of swordsmanship.
If he didn't, was there a time that almost every child would have had some sort of self-defense training involving if not swords, quarter staffs or something?
(And if this was a common teaching, when did it stop being common?)

I visualize that the past as being much more violent than today and I think murder statistics bear this out.

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    Some details on a book on self-defense written by a student of Newton's here: fencingclassics.wordpress.com/2008/12/03/…
    – AllInOne
    Jun 9, 2017 at 13:56
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    An hereditary gentleman of Newton's age would certainly have been taught basics of fencing and wrestling, but likely not a quarter staff as that would have been thought rather a low-born weapon. However, Newton's gentile status was earned rather than inherited, so perhaps knew his way around a quarter staff but probably had no training in fencing or wrestling. Jun 9, 2017 at 16:29
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    Even if Newton had been an expert swordsman, he would (if sensible) have been reluctant to take on a gang of highwaymen by himself.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 9, 2017 at 18:44
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    @PieterGeerkens I see comments but what I should be seeing is answers. Jun 12, 2017 at 15:00
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    Related: history.stackexchange.com/q/32823/2848 . There was probably compulsory militia service for Protestant males aged 16-60, meaning that there was probably some theoretical requirement for Newton to have drilled and practiced with some kind of weapon, maybe a firearm or longbow, and he was probably supposed to have maintained such a weapon in his house. In reality, I doubt that such a requirement would have been enforced on a man of Newton's social class (theoretically a cleric, as a Cambridge don?), unless there was some major scare about invasion, Catholic revolt, ...
    – user2848
    Jun 13, 2017 at 3:38

1 Answer 1


It's possible that Newton had some basic military training during his education at The King's School, Grantham. The English Civil War had only recently ended and there would have been plenty of men with military experience around. I doubt anyone was giving teenage boys swords though.

Newton was a gentleman by birth but the distinction between gentleman and yeoman farmer was rather nebulous and more down to social identification than precise demarcations of wealth or property. The substantial house at Colsterworth, the fact his mother Hannah could read and write, and her subsequent marriage to a clergyman, are good indicators that Newton would have been considered a 'gentleman farmer'. However this absolutely did not imply the sort of education received by the nobility on a country estate (which would have included riding, swordsmanship etc.). Newton was a long way below this socially.

Ben Crowell is correct that his adult status as a don (effectively regarded as a cleric, although Newton famously never took Holy Orders) would have excused him from any sort of military service later in life.

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