England’s Royal Dancing Masters, 1714-1788

On 1 August 1714, Queen Anne died and the Elector of Hanover became King George I. He arrived in England with his son, George Prince of Wales, in September. The following month Caroline Princess of Wales arrived with her three daughters, Anne the Princess Royal, Princess Amelia and Princess Caroline. The couple’s son, Prince Frederick, remained in Hanover as the representative of the electoral family. For the first time since the turn of the century, the royal family included children who would need the tuition of a dancing master.

There seem to have been at least two contenders for the role. John Essex made a pitch for the post with a new edition of his translation of Feuillet’s 1706 collection of contredanses, For the Further Improvement of Dancing (first published in 1710). This seems to have appeared in 1715 and is known from a copy now in the British Library in London. Essex reprinted the treatise in a much larger folio format, adding five new country dances and a ballroom duet the Princess’s Passpied. On the title page he pointed out that he taught ‘all the Ball Dances of the English and French Court’. More tellingly, he dedicated the new edition to Caroline, Princess of Wales, with particular reference to her ‘Patronage and Encouragement’ of the art of dancing. The single surviving copy may once have belonged to Caroline herself.

The other contender, who would become royal dancing master, was Anthony L’Abbé. His ballroom duet, The Princess Royale ‘a new dance for his Majesty’s birth day 1715’ must have been published in the Spring of 1715 (George I’s birthday was on 28 May). L’Abbé included a dedication to the five-year-old princess, revealing that he had already been appointed as her dancing master.

‘Madam, I should not think I entirely deserved the Honour of Instructing Your Royal Highness in the Art of Dancing, did I only confine myself in teaching You what has been published by other Masters.’

He went on to offer her his new dance, the first in a series that he (like Mr Isaac before him) would create for royal birthday celebrations.

Anthony L’Abbé had begun his career at the Paris Opéra in 1688 and came to London in 1698 at the invitation of the actor-manager Thomas Betterton. That year, L’Abbé danced before William III at Kensington Palace and in 1699 he and the visiting French star Claude Ballon performed a duet before the King, later published in notation. L’Abbé danced and choreographed in London’s theatres for several years. Like Isaac, he seems initially to have had no official appointment as royal dancing master. By 1720, though, he was receiving an annual salary to teach the three princesses. It is worth noting that L’Abbé was Mr Isaac’s brother-in-law, suggesting an element of family interest (if not inheritance) in the post. His tenure lasted until 1737, just a few years after his eldest pupil Anne the Princess Royal married Prince William of Orange and left England. He may also have taught the younger children of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince William, Princess Mary and Princess Louisa.

L’Abbé was succeeded by Leach Glover who, according to Read’s Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer 7 January 1738, ‘was appointed Dancing Master to the Royal Family’ at the beginning of that year. Like L’Abbé, Glover danced for many years on the London stage before retiring as a performer in 1741. The reason behind the choice of him to teach the younger children of George II and Queen Caroline remains obscure – he does not seem to have moved in court circles or to have been related to L’Abbé in any way. Glover apparently taught Prince William and the princesses Amelia, Caroline, Mary and Louisa. Princess Mary married Frederick, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel in 1740, for which Glover created his only known ballroom duet The Princess of Hesse, published in notation that year. He continued to be listed in The Court and City Register as royal dancing master until at least 1759, by which time his only pupil was Princess Amelia (Princess Caroline had died in 1757 and Princess Louisa had married Prince Frederick of Norway in 1743). Leach Glover died in 1762.

Prince Frederick had his own dancing master in Hanover. George Desnoyer was first advertised on the London stage at Drury Lane on 11 January 1721, dancing there for the rest of the season and returning in 1721-1722. Three dances created for him by Anthony L’Abbé and published in notation around that time show him to have been a virtuosic dancer. He may have been born in Hanover, where his father (who had danced at the Paris Opéra) was dancing master to the Elector. In 1722, Desnoyer was appointed in succession to his father, who had died the previous year. The Weekly Journal or Saturday’s Post 15 September 1722 reported:

‘One Mr. De Noye, a Dancing Master, is gone over to teach Prince Frederick, for which we hear his Majesty allows him a Sallary of Five Hundred Pounds per Annum.’

If the reporter had not highly inflated the amount, it must have reflected Desnoyer’s appointment as court dancing master and not simply as personal tutor to the prince.

In 1729, Prince Frederick came to London at the command of his father, now King George II. Desnoyer was dismissed from his post in Hanover the following year. He later followed his pupil to England, making his first appearance in nearly ten years at Drury Lane on 20 December 1731. He would enjoy a renewed and very successful career on the London stage until 1742. There is much evidence to suggest that Desnoyer was close to Prince Frederick, so it is not surprising that when the Prince married Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha in 1736 Desnoyer quickly became her dancing master. He subsequently began to teach the couple’s children. The General Advertiser 1 August 1748, reporting on the celebrations for the birthday of their eldest daughter, described Desnoyer as ‘Dancing Master to the Prince of Wales’s children’. By then, there were five – Princess Augusta, Prince George (later King George III), Prince Edward, Prince William and Prince Henry. George Desnoyer continued to receive a salary as dancing master to Princess Augusta’s children until 1764 (Prince Frederick died in 1751). He may have died not long after.

The last of the royal dancing masters with whom I am concerned provides further evidence of a hereditary strand to the appointment. Philip Denoyer (his preferred spelling) is listed as dancing master in the household of the Princess Dowager of Wales by the Royal Kalendar in 1767, having taken up the post the previous year. Over the following years, he appears as dancing master to the children of King George III and Queen Charlotte. He taught George Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and King George IV), Prince Frederick, Prince William, Prince Edward, Prince Ernest and Prince Adolphus. He continued as dancing master to the younger princes until 1788, the year he died. There is no evidence to suggest that Philip Denoyer ever appeared on the stage, marking a break in tradition. Such dance training as he received must surely have been from his father, and may well have been limited to ballroom and country dances. He brings to an end the service by the Desnoyer family to the Hanoverian royal family that had lasted for nearly 100 years, from the first employment of his grandfather by the Elector of Hanover in 1694.

There are, so far as I know (and I would be happy to be proved wrong), no surviving portraits of Anthony L’Abbé, Leach Glover, George Desnoyer or his son Philip. There is only Hogarth’s caricature of George Desnoyer, used in his painting ‘Taste in High Life’ as well as the print ‘The Charmers of the Age’ and within plate 1 to The Analysis of Beauty. Hogarth’s cruel depiction probably belongs to the final years of Desnoyer’s career in the early 1740s. Here he is with his last dancing partner La Barberina in ‘The Charmers of the Age’.

Charmers of the Age BM

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