Tag Archives: John Essex

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

Country Dancing Further Improved

The publication history of For the Further Improvement of Dancing, John Essex’s translation of Feuillet’s 1706 Recueil de contredances, is not entirely straightforward and raises some interesting questions.

For the Further Improvement of Dancing is dated 1710 on its title page. The earliest advertisement I know is in the Tatler for 23-25 March 1710. A third edition was advertised in the Spectator (the successor publication to the Tatler) for 5 March 1712. I have not yet come across an advertisement for a second edition. Indeed, there is no explicit evidence for the successive editions in any of the surviving copies of this collection. The first edition was sold by the music publishers Walsh, Randall, Hare and Cullen, together with the author. According to the Spectator advertisement, the third edition was ‘to be had nowhere but at the Author’s House in Rood-lane, Fenchurch Street’. How should this be interpreted? Had Essex simply taken over the remaining copies printed in 1710 to sell himself as a ‘third’ edition? Or had he fallen out with the music publisher John Walsh, as others were to do later?

There is just one copy of For the Further Improvement of Dancing which is indisputably a new edition, or, to be more precise, a reissue of the original edition in a different format with additional dances. Essex’s translation had originally been printed in the small, duodecimo format. This reissue is a much larger folio. It uses the original plates (For the Further Improvement of Dancing is printed throughout from engraved copper or pewter plates), but these are placed four to a page.

John Essex, For the Further Improvement of Dancing [1715?], plates 1 - 4

John Essex, For the Further Improvement of Dancing [1715?], plates 1 – 4

The newly added dances are readily identified by their larger format. There is one ballroom duet, The Princess’s Passpied, which shows the new layout:

John Essex, The Princess's Passpied, [1715?], first plate

John Essex, The Princess’s Passpied, [1715?], first plate

There are five new country dances, also in the new layout:

Liberty & Property

The Lottery

Mr La Gard’s Royall Swede

The Careless Husband

The Little Whigg

I will return to the titles of these in a subsequent post.

The volume is dedicated to the ‘Princess of Wales’, dating it to after the Hanoverian accession on 1 August 1714. The Princess is Caroline, wife of George Augustus the son of King George I. Essex praises her ‘Patronage and Encouragement’ of the art of dancing and offers her the dances he has added to his original treatise. I suggest that The Princess’s Passpied was intended for performance by Caroline’s eldest daughter Anne, the Princess Royal aged around seven, who would be the dedicatee of several more notated ballroom dances. The sole surviving copy of this folio edition of For the Further Improvement of Dancing, now in the British Library, may well be a presentation copy made especially for Caroline, Princess of Wales.

It is interesting to note that this unique copy, which has been dated to 1715, has an imprint claiming that it was to be sold by Walsh, Hare and ‘the Author’.  By this time, John Essex was presumably well-known as a dancing master. He was certainly careful to ensure that the title page specified that he ‘taught all the Ball Dances of the English and French Court’, probably meaning those that had been published in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. The inclusion of The Princess’s Passpied would have underlined his expertise. Was he trying to recommend himself as dancing master to the new royal family?

Country Dancing Improved

A little while ago, I attended a ball where one of the country dances was The Busie Body. When I was told that it was by John Essex, I thought I ought to explore further.

In 1710, Essex translated Feuillet’s 1706 Recueil de contredances as For the Further Improvement of Dancing. What he translated was Feuillet’s introductory treatise on the simplified notation system used to record country dances. Instead of merely reproducing Feuillet’s collection of 32 country dances, Essex selected 10 from various sources. Three come from Feuillet’s 1706 Recueil: Pantomime; Gasconne; and The Female Saylor (La Matelotte in Feuillet). Two more dances are also French: Micareme and The Diligent, both from Feuillet’s VIme. Recüeil de danses et de contredanses pour l’Année 1708. The other five dances were, as Essex tells us in his Preface, ‘my own composing’. These are the dances titled Trip to the Jubilee, The Great Turk, The Busie Body, The Tatler and The Tost.

If the French were acknowledged as the masters of ballroom and stage dancing, la belle danse, the English claimed primacy in country dancing. Essex was happy to wave the flag in his Preface to For the Further Improvement of Dancing.

John Essex, Preface, For the Further Improvement of Dancing (1710), first page

John Essex, Preface, For the Further Improvement of Dancing (1710), first page

In this post, my interest lies in the titles of Essex’s own country dances and their links with stage and society in London.

Trip to the Jubilee must refer to Farquhar’s play The Constant Couple; or, The Trip to the Jubilee, first performed (so far as we know) at the Drury Lane Theatre on 28 November 1699. Farquhar’s play was one of the most popular of the early 18th century and was performed regularly until the 1790s. The ‘Jubilee’ was the Pope’s Jubilee year to be celebrated in Rome in 1700 – a trip to this event was a running joke throughout The Constant Couple. The dance and its music were first published in 1701 in the 11th edition of The Dancing-Master, described ‘as ‘tis Danced at the Play-House’. So it seems that Essex actually created this country dance for Farquhar’s play. He is certainly recorded as a professional dancer at Drury Lane in the first years of the 18th century.

The Great Turk uses music from the Turkish Entrée in Campra’s 1697 opéra-ballet L’Europe galante. Anthony L’Abbé made use of the same piece for his Türkish Dance in the early 1720s. Essex’s use of the music suggests that it was already familiar in London some years earlier. It is worth noting the danced entr’acte ‘Entertainment after the Turkish Manner’ given at Drury Lane on 2 February 1710. Did this perhaps also use Campra’s music?

The title of The Busie Body is taken from Mrs Centlivre’s play of the same name, first given at Drury Lane on 12 May 1709. This was another successful comedy played regularly in London’s theatres until the end of the century.  The published play has ‘A Dance’ towards the end, in accordance with the convention of a country dance performed by a play’s characters as the plot concludes. Could Essex’s dance have been performed in the original production of The Busie Body, even though he makes no mention of this?

The Tatler, obviously, refers to the famous periodical launched by Sir Richard Steele in 1709 and published three times a week until 1711. It dealt in news, gossip and the manners of the day and was frequently reprinted in collected editions throughout the 1700s.

The title The Tost was corrected to The Toast when Essex reissued For the Further Improvement of Dancing around 1715. (I will talk about this reissue in a later post). Essex may well have had in mind the ‘Toast’ as explained by Steele in the Tatler for 4 June 1709. She is:

‘… the Lady we mention in our Liquors, … call’d a Toast. … The Manner of her Inauguration is much like that of the Choice of a Doge in Venice: it is perform’d by Balloting; and when she is so chosen, she reigns indisputably for that Year; but must be elected anew to prolong her Empire a Moment beyond it.’

Was this dance implicitly dedicated to a well-known ‘Toast’ of the Kit-Cat Club (of which Steele was a member and to which he was referring)? Or was it meant as a compliment to the Duchess of Bolton, to whom Essex dedicated his collection? She was Henrietta née Crofts (c1682-1730), the illegitimate daughter of James, Duke of Monmouth. She married the second Duke of Bolton in 1697.

With his dances in For the Further Improvement of Dancing Essex is surely trying to appeal to a fashionable, London-based élite – the beau monde – members of which he hoped to attract as pupils.