Celebrity patrons: the Montagu family and dance throughout the eighteenth-century

The papers of John 2nd Duke of Montagu (1690-1749) reveal a man suited in every way to have been a major influence on the business of musical entertainment in London during the early-eighteenth century. His father had moved in high circles at Court, first as ambassador to France, subsequently as a high-ranking official of the royal household in England. The 2nd Duke also inherited from him a love of music and dance,  becoming  the  main  sponsor  of French troupes of dancers and actors (known by their detractors as ‘Montagu’s French vermin’) at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. His friendship with  the  artist  Marcellus Laroon resulted in several pictures of music and dance with Montagu connections, and within the dance world the Duke also made the acquaintance of the leading theatrical dancing-master of his day, Anthony L’Abbé. Former theatrical dancers were retained by the Duke to teach his children to dance, and after his death members of the family continued to add music books and dance manuals to his private library. In particular his grand-daughter Lady Elizabeth Montagu (1743-1827), 3rd Duchess of Buccleuch, was a keen follower of the narrative ballets being performed by Charles Louis Didelot at the King’s Theatre, London. She and her daughters collected music scores of the ballets and annotated some of them with the stage directions and gestures written against the relevant bars of music, thereby providing for posterity a rare insight to how some of Didelot’s early narrative ballets were  performed  in London. This paper looks at the role of the Montagu family as celebrated patrons of theatrical entertainment throughout the century.

Jennifer Thorp has a particular interest in the dance of royal court and public theatre in England and France from the late-seventeenth to the late-eighteenth centuries. Her publications include studies of the status of the dancer in eighteenth-century society, the London careers of Kellom Tomlinson, Francis Nivelon, P. Siris and F. Le Roussau, and the place of dance in Rameau’s Anacreon. Her edition of Le Roussau’s Collection of new ball- and stage dances 1720 was published in 2008, and at present she is preparing for publication a biography and study of the dances of the London dancing-master Mr Isaac, and working on various aspects of the life and work of Anthony L’Abbé. She has co-edited, with Michael Burden, a study of Le Ballet de la Nuit (Pendragon Press, 2010), and The Works of Monsieur Noverre translated from the French, 1783 (Pendragon Press, 2014).



Jennifer Thorp
Author affiliation
New College, University of Oxford