These were fights in which you could be very seriously injured or die. But then, of course, Elizabeth Stokes fought Ann Field for a purse of 10 pounds, at a time when a maid might earn six pounds a year. It was a ladder out of poverty, and if you fell, well, wasn’t it worth the risk?

- Anna Freeman

The story of Elizabeth “Lady Bare Knuckles” Stokes


One of the most famous female fighters in early 18th century Britain was Elizabeth Stokes, a mother and fighter whose career lasted mostly throughout the 1720’s. In 1722 she was challenged by Hannah Highfield for a prize of three guineas. Stokes accepted the challenge but offered a counter challenge, “I, Elizabeth Wilkinson of Clerkenwell, who had earlier had some words with Hannah Hyfield, ‘challenged and invited’ her to meet me on the stage for three guineas. Each fighter will hold half-a-crown in each hand and the first to drop the money would lose the battle” Elizabeth won after a 22 minute fight, giving Hannah Hyfield a savage thumping that caused her to drop her coin. Later in the evening she won another fight against a woman named Martha Jones.