Tag Archives: Charles II

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

THE RESTORATION COURT BALL

Samuel Pepys provides us with two descriptions of balls at the Restoration court that deserve to be better known.

The first took place on 31 December 1662. After seeing the Duke and Duchess of York at supper, Pepys went ‘into the room where the Ball was to be, crammed with fine ladies, the greatest of the Court’, all waiting for the ball to begin.

‘By and by comes the King and Queen, the Duke and Duchesse, and all the great ones; and after seating themselfs, the King 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. After that the King led a Lady a single Coranto; and then the rest of the Lords, one after the other, other ladies. Very noble it was, and a great pleasure to see. Then to Country dances; the King leading the first which he called for; which was – says he, Cuckolds all a-row, the old dance of England. … The manner was, when the King dances, all the ladies in the room, and the Queen herself, stands up; and endeed he dances rarely and much better then the Duke of Yorke.’

Pepys enjoyed the occasion. ‘Having stayed here as long as I thought fit, to my infinite content, it being the greatest pleasure I could wish now to see at Court, I went out, leaving them dancing.’

On 15 November 1666, Pepys wrote of ‘the Ball at night at Court, it being the Queenes Birthday’. He took himself along to Whitehall Palace to watch the event.

‘Anon the house grew full, and the candles lit, and the King and Queen and all the ladies set. And it was endeed a glorious sight to see Mrs. Steward in black and white lace – and her head and shoulders dressed with Dyamonds. And the like a great many great ladies more (only, the Queene none); and the King in his rich vest of some rich silk and silver trimming, as the Duke of York and all the dancers were, some of cloth of silver, and others of other sorts, exceeding rich. Presently after the King was come in, he tooke the Queene, and about fourteen more couple there was, and begun the Bransles.’

Pepys tried to recall all the dancers, but could remember only some of them, ‘But all most excellently dressed, in rich petticoats and gowns and Dyamonds – and pearl.’ He then turned back to the dancing.

‘After the Bransles, then to a Corant, and now and then a French Dance; but that so rare that the Corants grew tiresome, that I wished it done. Only, Mrs. Steward danced mighty finely, and many French dances, especially one the King called the New Dance, which was very pretty. But upon the whole matter the business of the dancing itself was not extraordinarily pleasing. But the clothes and sight of the persons was indeed very pleasing, and worth my coming, being never likely to see more gallantry while I live – if I should come twenty times.’

Pepys does not say what time the ball began, but ‘About 12 at night it broke up’. He had mixed feelings about it ‘between displeased at the dull dancing, and satisfied at the clothes and persons.’

Pepys is not the most reliable narrator when it comes to dancing. His attention was constantly drawn to the women, particularly the countess of Castlemaine, and it is doubtful that he knew much about dance steps and figures. Nevertheless, he provides us with valuable information about the sequence of dances at court balls. These began with branles, led by the King, followed by a series of courantes (also initiated by the monarch) which might be interspersed with ‘French Dances’ before the country dances with which the ball ended. The ‘French Dances’ were perhaps choreographed duets – earlier versions of the ballroom dances published in notation in the early 1700s – whereas the country dances may well have been regarded as distinctly English.

The order, with its emphasis on precedence according to rank, is very similar to that outlined by Pierre Rameau in chapter 16 of Le Maître a danser, published in 1725. Charles II was the son of a French princess, Henrietta Maria, and had spent part of his exile in Paris, so he must have been well aware of the protocol governing the court balls of Louis XIV. There was also a French dancing master at the Restoration court, Jerome Francis Gahory, who must surely have been involved in organising these balls and perhaps creating choreographed dances for them, as his successors Mr Isaac and Anthony L’Abbé certainly did.

Charles II Dancing

Gonzales Coques, Charles II dancing at the Hague, May 1660? (Identification of the dancers is uncertain, but their deportment is very similar to other versions in which Charles II is recognisable)

It seems that there was a long tradition behind the grand balls at the early 18th-century French court, which was shared by the English court. Although Charles II rarely celebrated his birthday with a ball, those for his Queen became almost annual occasions. Such birthday balls would continue from the Restoration well into the 18th century. The bransles disappeared and the courante was replaced by the minuet but, except for these changes, later evidence suggests that the sequence of dances observed by Pepys remained much the same throughout the reigns of William and Mary, Queen Anne and the first three Georges.

Who was the first female professional dancer on the London stage?

There has been much debate, over many years, as to the identity of the first actress to appear on the London stage following the Restoration. Nobody seems to have bothered to ask who the first female professional dancer might have been. It is fair to point out that this is, probably, an even more impossible question to answer. There simply isn’t enough evidence to work with. There was stage dancing in London from at least as early as 1660, even before the arrival of Charles II to reclaim his throne. Who were the dancers? Were any of them professional dancers, as we understand the term? Were any of them female professional dancers? Mostly we don’t know.

Using The London Stage as the principal source of information, the first dancing to be reported for the period is Le Ballet de la Paix recorded in a printed scenario dated 1660. There are many questions surrounding this piece which, if it ever was performed, may have been given in London during spring 1660 just before the King’s restoration. However, there are no hints as to who may have danced in it. During the years immediately following the Restoration, all the reports on dancing in London’s theatres come from the diary of Samuel Pepys. They are quoted in The London Stage. His earliest mention dates to 5 February 1661, when he saw Glapthorne’s Argalus and Parthenia (a pre-Restoration drama) which was ‘pleasant for the dancing and singing’. Presumably the cast danced and sang, but we don’t know who they were.

Pepys’s first reference to a particular dancer came when he saw Davenant’s The Law against Lovers (an adaptation from Shakespeare) at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 18 February 1662 and commended ‘the little girl’s (whom I never saw act before) dancing and singing’. She was probably Mary or ‘Moll’ Davis, whom Pepys would subsequently mention quite often. Around 18 months later, he took note of Winifred Gosnell in Davenant’s The Rivals at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 10 September 1664, remarking ‘Gosnell comes and sings and dances finely’. Of course, both were first and foremost actresses and cannot be described as professional dancers, at least not according to 21st -century ideas.

Moll Davis apparently began her stage career in 1660. John Downes, prompter at Lincoln’s Inn Fields from the 1660s and author of Roscius Anglicanus, or an Historical Review of the Stage published in 1708, named her as one of Sir William Davenant’s four ‘Principal Actresses’ whom ‘he boarded at his own House’ when he formed his company. Some years later, in a diary entry for 11 January 1668, Pepys reports the opinion of ‘Pierce’ who said of Moll ‘she is a most homely jade as ever she saw, though she dances beyond anything in the world’. As I mentioned in another post, Pepys thought ‘little Mis Davis’ a far better dancer than Nell Gwyn. Like her more famous counterpart, Moll Davis left the stage in 1668 after becoming yet another of Charles II’s mistresses. The poet Richard Flecknoe wrote ‘To Mis: Davies, on her excellent dancing’, publishing his verses in Epigrams of all Sorts in 1669.

Dear Mis: delight of all the nobler sort,

Pride of the Stage and darling of the Court,

Who wou’d not think to see thee dance so light,

Thou wer’t all air? Or else all soul and spirit?

Or who’d not say to see thee only tread,

Thy feet were feathers! others feet but lead?

Atlanta well cou’d run, and Hermes flee,

But none e’er moved more gracefully than thee;

And Circe charm’d with wand and magick lore,

But none, like thee, e’er charm’d with Feet before.

Thou Miracle! Whom all men must admire

To see thee move like air, and mount like fire.

Whoe’er would follow thee or come but nigh

To thy perfection, must not dance but fly.

Who trained Moll Davis to achieve a style and technique that was so much admired?

Pepys first met Winifred Gosnell in 1662. His diary entry for 12 November that year describes her as ‘pretty handsome’ and ‘with a good voice and sings very well’. Some days later, he commented that she ‘dances finely’. Miss Gosnell became, very briefly, companion to Mrs Pepys and only later joined the Duke’s Company as an actress. I have mentioned elsewhere Pepys’s reaction to her singing and dancing in Davenant’s The Rivals in 1663. Her stage career seems to have lasted until at least the 1680s, but when she petitioned the Lord Chamberlain about her discharge from the company she described herself as a singer rather than a dancer or even an actress.

So, the player with the best claim to be the first female professional dancer on the Restoration stage is Moll Davis. If she does not quite fit our definition of a ‘professional dancer’ she seems to have had the skills to be accepted as one.

Moll Davis

Moll Davis. Engraving by Richard Tompson after a painting by Sir Peter Lely, 1675-1690.

 

A Year of Dance: 1665

In 1665 the most significant event by far for England was the great plague of London, which took hold during the summer months and lasted until early 1666. The court moved to Salisbury in July 1665 and only returned to London the following February. The country was in the midst of the second Anglo-Dutch War, which began in March. (The first Anglo-Dutch War had been as long ago as 1652-1654, under the Commonwealth). An equally important event was the birth of a second daughter to the Duke and Duchess of York – Princess Anne would become Queen in 1702. Charles II’s third illegitimate son George Fitzroy, by Barbara Villiers Countess of Castlemaine, was born on 25 December 1665. He would later become Duke of Northumberland.

The diarist John Evelyn recorded a masque at court on 2 February. Samuel Pepys provided some additional details in his diary entry for the following day:

‘Then Mrs Pickering … did, at my Lady’s command, tell me the manner of the masquerade before the King and court the other day. Where six women (my Lady Castelmayne and Duchess of Monmouth being two of them) and six men (the Duke of Monmouth and Lord Arran and Monsieur Blancfort being three of them) in vizards, but most rich and antique dresses, did dance admirably, and most gloriously.’

There are no mentions of dancing in the theatres up to their closure, because of the plague, on 5 June 1665. They did not reopen until the autumn of 1666.

In France, Louis XIV’s mistress gave birth to two sons during 1665, one on 7 January (N.S.) and the other on 27 December (N.S.). Both babies died during 1666. The ballet de cour for 1665 was the Ballet de la Naissance de Vénus, in which the King’s sister-in-law Madame appeared as the goddess in the first Entrée with her husband as the Morning Star. She made her second appearance in the final Entrée as Roxane, with Louis XIV as Alexander the Great. The professional ballerina Mlle de Verpré appeared in the second Entrée of Part 2 as Daphne with a noble dancer, the Marquis de Beringuen, as Apollo. Another comédie-ballet by Molière and Lully, L’Amour Medecin, was given at Versailles on 15 September (N.S.) as an entertainment for a hunting party. It was later performed before the public at the Palais Royal in Paris.

 

 

A Year of Dance: 1663

The most significant event of 1663, so far as the London stage was concerned, was the opening of the new Theatre Royal in Bridges Street (just off Drury Lane) on 7 May. The playhouse, built for Thomas Killigrew and his King’s Company, occupied the site which is still home to today’s Drury Lane Theatre.

So far as dancing in London’s theatres is concerned, we still know very little, although Pepys did record seeing ‘the little girl’ (Moll Davis) dance in ‘boy’s apparel’ at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 23 July 1663. There was also a ‘greate Masque’ at court on 2 July, mentioned by John Evelyn in his diary, but nothing is known about it.

In France, the Ballet des Arts was given at the Palais Royal in Paris on 8 January 1663 (N.S.). The King danced with his sister-in-law Madame, in the first Entrée, as a Berger to her Bergère. That was his only appearance in the ballet. Madame returned to dance Pallas Athene, surrounded by court ladies as Amazones, in the final Entrée. Later in the year, on 3 October 1663 (N.S.), Louis XIV appeared as a Fille du Village and a Bohemien (Gypsy) in the mascarade Les Noces de Village performed at the château de Vincennes. The cast of this comic piece (which cannot be classed as a ballet de cour, despite its text by Benserade and performances by the king, his courtiers and professional dancers) was entirely male.

Louis XIV had begun a liaison with Louise de la Vallière in 1661. Their first child together, named Charles de la Baume le Blanc, was born on 19 December 1663 (N.S.). He lived for only 18 months. In England, Charles II’s mistress Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, gave birth to his son on 28 September 1663. The boy was named Henry FitzRoy and would later become Duke of Grafton.