A Year of Dance: 1660

For England, the most significant event by far of 1660 was the Restoration of Charles II. At the beginning of the year there was no indication that the monarchy might return, but following the arrival of General George Monck in London during February 1660 thinking began to change. On 25 April Parliament voted to restore the monarchy. On 8 May Charles was declared King. On 25 May he landed at Dover to be welcomed by Monck and on 29 May (his thirtieth birthday) he entered London to popular rejoicing. The King soon began to rebuild his household and to revive court life. The theatres had started to reopen, albeit quietly, in anticipation of the King’s arrival and only a few months after his return Charles II granted two courtiers – Sir Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant – permission to form theatre companies for public performances. In October 1660 a united company of players, under the direction of both men, played briefly at the Cockpit playhouse in Drury Lane (an indoor theatre dating back to the Jacobean period). By November the two companies were playing separately, establishing a duopoly that would survive well into the 18th century. Killigrew’s King’s Company was in the converted Gibbons’s Tennis Court in Vere Street, while Davenant’s Duke’s Company apparently began playing at the Salisbury Court playhouse, which also dated back before 1642.

Another noteworthy, but very private, development was the beginning of Samuel Pepys’s diary on 1 January 1660. Thanks to his testimony, far more is known about the plays and other entertainments given in London’s playhouses during the first decade after the Restoration than would otherwise have been the case. Pepys’s entries on his theatre-going quite often make references to the dancing he saw.

So far as theatrical dancing is concerned, the only indication we have for 1660 is an undated performance of Le Ballet de la Paix before the French ambassador. We do not know when, or even if, the performance actually took place, since the ambassador concerned was accredited to the Protectorate and left London in June 1660. If it did happen, who were the dancers? We don’t know. There must surely have been dancing in London’s playhouses too, but there is no known evidence to prove this.

In France, the year was marked by the marriage of Louis XIV to the Spanish Infanta Maria Theresa on 9 June 1660 (New Style). This event was celebrated with Lully’s Ballet de Xerxes, six entrées added to a performance of Cavalli’s opera Xerxes. The whole entertainment was given at the Louvre on 22 November 1660 (New Style). The dancers were all men and all professionals, including Lully himself and Pierre Beauchamps. Neither Louis XIV nor his new Queen took part. Another event of note at the French court was the death of the King’s uncle Gaston duc d’Orléans on 2 February 1660 (New Style). His title was assumed a few months later by Louis XIV’s brother Philippe, also known simply as Monsieur.

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