Fiddles & Dancing at George II’s Court

The court of George II and Queen Caroline was animated by minuets, country dances and arias by composers such as Handel. The courtier Sir John Evelyn, grandson of the celebrated diarist, described how on 1st January 1729 he heard ‘musick & song perform’d in the Council Chamber the King, Queen & Royal family being in the great drawing roome with ye Company to hear them.’ At the Prince of Wales’ birthday several weeks later, Evelyn attended a sumptuous evening ball ‘which his Royal Highness begun by dancing a minuet with his eldest sister the Princess Royal, after which the French dances held from ten to twelve, when countrey dances succeeded.’

(c) National Trust, Seaton Delaval; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Combining sources such as diaries, letters, paintings and recordings on period instruments helps us to imagine the sounds as well as the sights of entertainments at court. Paintings such as John Theodore Heins Sr’s A Music Party at Melton Constable (1734) suggest how musicians at court may have looked, with the two violinists sharing a double-sided music stand designed for duets. While several men pause to listen, a group of women gather in the corner.

Courtiers like John Evelyn could choose between a host of entertainments, such as listening to music, dancing and card playing. The equerry Peter Wentworth wrote from Kensington Palace in 1729 that he watched the Queen playing the card game quadrille, while in the next room ‘the Prince had the fiddles & danced.’ Nonetheless, there were limits to their gaiety, with the Queen publicly reprimanding one courtier for ‘getting drunk in her company.’

Listen to some of the music which may have been played at George II’s court here:

William Babell, ‘Aire and variations in E major’

G. F. Handel, ‘Florindo Suite for strings & b.c. in B flat major’

Francesco Geminiani, Concerto Grosso No.12 in D minor ‘La Follia’, Ensemble 415

Sally Holloway
Historical Researcher, Kensington Palace

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