Tag Archives: Catherine of Braganza

England’s Royal Dancing Masters, 1660-1714

When Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660, it seems that he lost little time in appointing a royal dancing master. The patent for Jerome Francis Gahory as ‘dancing master to his Majesty’ is dated 19 April 1665, but other evidence suggests that he had taken up his post by Christmas 1660. He was the first of a series of dancing masters employed to teach members of the royal family during the late 17th and 18th centuries. This post looks at the period 1660 to 1714. A second post will look at 1714 to 1788.

Gahory was sworn as a ‘Groom of her Majesty’s Privy Chamber’ on 21 July 1663 but, as my post on Catherine of Braganza suggests, he must have begun teaching her some months earlier. A later document specifies his duties as ‘attending and teaching the art of dancing to the King and Queen at all times when he shall be required’.Gahory may well have been required to decide on and teach the dances given at court balls and even been involved in the more elaborate court entertainments that included dancing. Various records suggest that he held his post until at least 1688, and that he was called upon to teach royal scholars even later.

In Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, published in 1711, Gahory is mentioned in the dedication of part two as ‘the admirable Mr. Goree’. The dedicatee is the Duchess of Buckingham and Normanby who is described as his ‘last Masterpiece’ and Pemberton tells us that Gahory ‘had the Honour to teach eight or nine Crown’d Heads, and likewise most of our Quality’ during his long career. Apart from Charles II and his Queen, who were these ‘Crown’d Heads’? He certainly taught three more Queens, for in 1669 he is listed among the officers and servants to James, Duke of York’s eldest daughter Princess Mary (later Queen Mary II) and in 1677 he is recorded as dancing master to the Duchess of York (Mary of Modena, later James II’s Queen) and the Duke’s younger daughter Princess Anne (later Queen Anne). By implication, he may have taught the Duke of York (later James II) himself and perhaps even William of Orange (later William III and known as a good dancer) when he married Princess Mary in 1677. Gahory had begun his career in Paris, where he appeared in the Ballet du Dérèglement des Passions in 1648. Might he also have given lessons to the young Louis XIV? His last royal pupil seems to have been Anne’s son William, Duke of Gloucester, to whom he gave lessons in 1694. Jerome Gahory died, a very rich man, in 1703.

In 1681, the reversion of Gahory’s post was granted to Francis Thorpe who thereby became his designated successor. Quite by accident, I discovered that Francis Thorpe was the famous Mr Isaac. The clue lay in Gahory’s will, for he left the residue of his English estate (he also had a considerable estate in France) to ‘Francis Thorpe his nephew (known by the name of Isaac)’. Francis Thorpe was the son of Gahory’s sister and Isaac Thorpe. His father, named as ‘Monsr. Isac’ was described in 1653 as one of the best dancing masters in Paris. Francis Thorpe may have used the name ‘Mr Isaac’ as a compliment to his father as well as to show his lineage with its associated status. Isaac Thorpe may have danced alongside Gahory in the 1648 ballet de cour mentioned above. Francis Thorpe seems to have danced (under the name Isaac) in the French comédies-ballets Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Psyché (1671).  By 1673 the younger ‘Mr Isaac’ was in England and in 1675 he danced in the English court masque Calisto.

Isaac Thorpe died in London in 1681, so references to the dancing master ‘Mr Isaac’ after that date must refer to his son. There is evidence for him teaching several young women, some of who appeared at court, including Katherine Booth, who may have danced a solo at a birth night ball in 1689, and Anne South, one of the Maids of Honour, in 1694. Oddly, there seems to be no direct evidence of him teaching Princess Anne, apart from the testimony of John Essex in his Preface to The Dancing-Master in 1728.

‘The late Mr. Isaac, who had the Honour to teach and instruct our late most excellent and gracious Queen when a young Princess, first gained the Character and afterwards supported that Reputation of being the prime Master in England for forty Years together: He taught the first Quality with Success and Applause, and was justly stiled the Court Dancing-Master, therefore might truly deserve to be called the Gentleman Dancing-Master.’ (p. xi)

Princess Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683 and thereafter was very often pregnant, so perhaps Mr. Isaac taught her (on behalf of his uncle) before then. Mr Isaac is now best known for his series of annual dances, published in notation between 1706 and 1716, several of which were created to celebrate Queen Anne’s birthday and probably performed at the birth night balls given at court. He died in 1721 and was buried at St James’s Church in Piccadilly.

After the death of William, Duke of Gloucester in 1700 there were no young princes or princesses for England’s royal dancing master to teach. This changed with the death of Queen Anne and accession of George I in 1714. I will turn to the later royal dancing masters in my next post.

So far as I know, there is no portrait of Jerome Francis Gahory, but Francis Thorpe – Mr Isaac – was painted by Louis Goupy. The original portrait apparently does not survive, but it was engraved by George White and published early in the 18th century.

Mr Isaac

Catherine of Braganza: A Dancing Queen

Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) is generally known as the Portuguese princess who married Charles II in 1662 and failed to provide him with an heir. As his Queen, she had much to endure – not only the King’s repeated and flagrant infidelities but also the spiteful politics of the English court. Much less well known is her love of dancing and her role in the promotion of dancing both at court and on the London stage.

Catherine of Braganza Huysmans 2

Attributed to Jacob Huysmans. Queen Catherine of Braganza, 1660-1670

She is first recorded as attending a ball at court on 31 December 1662, just a few months after her arrival and marriage. Samuel Pepys records the entrance of ‘the King and Queen, the Duke and Duchesse [of York], and all the great ones’. On this occasion, the Queen seems not to have danced, for Charles II ‘takes out the Duchess of Yorke, and the Duke the Duchesse of Buckingham, the Duke of Monmouth my Lady Castlemayne, and so other lords other ladies; and they danced the Bransle’. Pepys also mentioned that ‘when the King dances, all the ladies in the room, and the Queen herself, stands up’. Catherine of Braganza had a sheltered upbringing so she may not have been familiar with the courante, the formal couple dance repeated several times after the bransles, and she was unlikely to have encountered the English country dances which followed.

Charles II had appointed a royal dancing master, the Frenchman Jerome Francis Gahory, around Christmas 1660. In July 1663, Gahory was sworn as a groom of the Queen’s Privy Chamber. He must have begun teaching the Queen some months earlier, for John Evelyn records a ball at court on 5 February 1663 at which both the King and the Queen danced. On 11 May 1663, the French visitor Balthasar de Monconys wrote of the Queen’s ‘petit bal en privé’ at which ‘L’on commença le bal par un branle comme en France, & ensuite l’on dança des courantes & d’autres danses; le Duc d’York commença avec la Reyne’ adding ‘Quand elle ou le Roy dansoient, toutes les Dames demeuroient debout’. Catherine of Braganza had obviously learnt both the steps and the etiquette of the court ball quickly. Sadly, we have no record of the lessons she must have had (presumably from Gahory) to acquire this new skill.

The first ball to celebrate Queen Catherine’s birthday that we know of took place at Whitehall Palace on 15 November 1666. I have discussed the account by Pepys in another post, ‘The Restoration Court Ball’. There were certainly further birthday balls for the Queen in 1671, 1672, 1673, 1675, 1676, 1677, 1681 and 1684, enough to establish such events within the annual court calendar well into the 18th century. Such accounts as survive of Catherine of Braganza’s birthday balls tend to be brief, particularly those by John Evelyn who usually fails to mention whether or not the Queen danced herself. However, Evelyn’s account of the last ball on 15 November 1684 (when the Queen would have been forty-six) tells us that ‘all the young ladys and gallants daunced in the greate hall’ suggesting that she looked on rather than dancing. He adds that ‘The Court had not been seen so brave and rich in apparell since his Majesty’s Restauration’, presumably the King was there alongside her.

The Queen was also responsible for some more elaborate entertainments with dancing. The ‘Queens’ Ballett’ was given at Whitehall Palace in the mid-1660s but seems to have left no records of its performance. It may have been the event described by Pepys on 2 February 1665, at which Lady Castlemaine and the Duke and Duchess of Monmouth among others (he does not mention the Queen) ‘did dance admirably and most gloriously’. The ‘Queen’s Masque’ given at Whitehall, probably on 20 and 21 February 1671, did leave some evidence. One would-be member of the audience wrote:

‘The Queen is preparing a ball to bee danced in the greate Hall by herself and the Dutchesse of Buckingham, Richmond, Monmouth, Mrs Berkely, and Madame Kerwell the French maid of honor. There are no men of quality but the Duke of Monmouth, all the rest are gentlemen.’

The event did not disappoint, for the writer affirmed that the performers in this grand ballet ‘danced very finely, and shifted their clothes three times’. There is evidence that the music included pieces from the ‘Ballet des Nations’ in Lully and Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, which had been performed at the French court just a few months earlier. The ‘Queen’s Masque’ came a year before the first adaptation of the comédie-ballet reached the London stage in the form of Edward Ravenscroft’s The Citizen Turn’d Gentleman, given at the Dorset Garden Theatre in early 1672. Her lavish entertainment could not compare in scale and ambition with the court masque Calisto, given by young members of the royal family and the court before the King and Queen on 22 February 1675. Calisto, with its English and French professional dancers performing alongside the royal and noble amateurs, undoubtedly affected dancing on the London stage. The Queen’s earlier ballets must surely have influenced dancing at court as well as in the theatre.

Catherine of Braganza is well worth further study as both a dancer and a patron of dancing.