The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball

Unless you’re a keen history buff, particularly fond of the Regency period, or an avid follower of MusiCB3, it may have escaped your attention that 18th June this year marked 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo. And perhaps despite the exhibitions going on (such as A Damned Serious Business currently on at the UL) it would have escaped my attention too but for my keen history buff friends who have spent the last 6 months planning their commemorative festivities.

It began with an intriguing invitation which read: “On the night of the 15th June 1815, Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond held what has been described as “the most famous ball in history.” During the evening, confirmation arrived that Napoleon had crossed the border into Belgium and “humbugged” Wellington. Officers hurried off to Quatre Bras, where some fought in their dancing shoes, having had no time to change. By the evening of the 18th, around a third of the party guests would be dead.”

Some mysterious documents were conveyed to our residence by a messenger (©Ian Caulfield)

Some mysterious documents were conveyed to our residence by a messenger (©Ian Caulfield)

We would be spending the week at Buckland House in Devon, a Regency manor, putting on a ball of our own on the 15th, and celebrating Waterloo with a marvellous banquet three days later. Regency dress would be compulsory! The musical amongst us were tasked with finding and rehearsing appropriate music for our own Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, and so I’ll share with you some of the interesting things that we found – and found out! – about Regency dance music.

We began with a couple of original resources for dance steps including one from a noted dancemaster of the time, Thomas Wilson, and a very interesting website which gave a bird’s eye view of how the steps would look!

This led onto more thorough research about typical balls of the era. They would begin usually with a slow march, basically to give everyone a chance to eye each other up whilst simultaneously strutting their stuff. One such which was apparently very popular at the time was the beginning of The Battle of Prague (there’s a copy in the UL arranged for piano duet – evidently a popular party piece), a piano sonata by Kotzwara. The last dance would be The Finishing Dance, or Sir Roger de Coverley, and the rest of the ball would consist of country dances, reels and cotillions. The waltz was just beginning to take off amongst the younger generation, much to their parents’ despair, and several of the ball’s attendees were keen waltzers, so it was likely that they had one or two of these scandalous dances to fill in on their dance cards too.

A disgraceful display of behaviour (©Stuart Pegg)

A disgraceful display of behaviour (©Stuart Pegg)

We looked to other sources for inspiration too. The BBC’s Pride & Prejudice used Lillibulero (MRA.340.80.843) and Mr Beveridge’s Maggot for their ball scene, so they were duly included, although the Maggot was popular much earlier – it would have been rather like going to a club today and dancing the Charleston. Also these dances were not stately, regal affairs, as we imagine when watching things like Pride & Prejudice, but lively and boisterous.

Being lively and boisterous, but also thoroughly respectable (©Alice Shepperson)

Being lively and boisterous, but also thoroughly respectable (©Alice Shepperson)

So with those, a few waltzes (Sir Arthur Wellesley’s Dash, Michael Turner’s Waltz) and a Morpeth Rant (see M340.a.90.206) thrown in for good measure, we had our programme. Our caller put together a booklet of the steps, and the ladies were supplied with dance cards to have the gentlemen fill in. The ball duly happened, and was a great success! Then of course we had our instrumental finale. Guess what we played?

Napoleon...not yet marching (©Ian Caulfield)

Napoleon…not yet marching (©Ian Caulfield)

Diana Wood


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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One Response to The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball

  1. Pingback: Jane Austen 200 | MusiCB3 Blog

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