Academic journal article Notes

Handel Manuscripts and the Profits of Slavery: The "Granville" Collection at the British Library and the First Performing Score of Messiah Reconsidered

Academic journal article Notes

Handel Manuscripts and the Profits of Slavery: The "Granville" Collection at the British Library and the First Performing Score of Messiah Reconsidered

Article excerpt

Debate over the significance to the broader British economy during the eighteenth century of monies from slave trading and the production and sale of slave-produced products such as sugar, molasses, rum, tobacco, coffee, and indigo continues.1 Undeniable is the fact that some families were able to buy land, build mansions, and become politically powerful in Britain thanks to the repatriation of profits.2 Like other wealthy families, those that engaged directly in the slave economy sought to enjoy the best cultural offerings of the day, which included hiring musicians to entertain and to teach, and purchasing manuscripts and printed scores of favorite works. Though we may wish it were not so, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) himself was an investor in the official slave trading business, the Royal African Company, as was the royal family that he served.3 One in three of the persons who subscribed to the opera-producing Royal Academy of Music during 1719-27 were also investors. But rather than focus on Handel and the economic grounding of opera and oratorio seasons, I here examine how the purchase of a manuscript collection-the "Granville" collection now at the British Library-and of one notable manuscript-the first performing score of Messiah-were made possible in part thanks to slavery's profits.

THE "GRANVILLE" COLLECTION OF HANDEL MANUSCRIPTS AT THE BRITISH LIBRARY

The Granville family was among the earliest of England's investors in the colonial enterprise. William Granville (1628-1701) was raised to the peerage as Earl of Bath by Charles II in 1661, for his support of the Stuart family. His first cousin General George Monck (1608-70), Duke of Albemarle, was one of the eight initial Lords Proprietors of Carolina.4 Following the death of the duke's son Christopher in 1688, the share passed to the Earl of Bath and briefly to his son Charles, who died two weeks after his father. The share then passed to the earl's second son John (1665-1707), Baron Granville of Potheridge. Upon the baron's death it passed to Henry Somerset (1684-1714), 2d Duke of Beaufort, his stepson.

The first earl's brother Bernard Granville (1631-1701) and his wife Anne (d. 1701) initiated the branch of the family that is of greatest interest to us. They had four children who survived to adulthood. Sir Bevil (1665-1706) was an army officer and member of parliament who was appointed governor of Barbados in 1703.5 Barbados was, at that time, the most productive British colony in the West Indies, having instituted the plantation system in the 1620s.6 His brother Bernard Granville (16711723), then an army captain, accompanied him to Barbados and was an officer in the garrison there. Sir Bevil died during his return to England in 1706. Bernard was appointed a major and then lieutenant colonel and lieutenant governor of Hull, while also being a member of parliament. Their sister Anne (d. 1730), who was a maid of honor to Queen Mary, married Sir John Stanley, Baronet. He was an agent (administrative contact) in London for Barbados possibly from 1703 to 1708.7 Sir John was very well connected, having been the private secretary to the Duke of Shrewsbury, a commissioner of stamp duties (1698-1700), and secretary to successive noble holders of the office of lord chamberlain of the royal household (1697-1719).8 One of the duties of the lord chamberlain was regulation of the London theaters, and presumably it was for that reason Sir John was one of Handel's initial contacts in London in 1710, along with Dr. John Arbuthnot (1667-1735) the satirist and polymath, and the impresario J. J. Heidegger (1666-1749).9 And last but not least, the eldest Granville brother was George (1666-1735), the author and politician, who was created Baron Lansdowne in 1712, and whose wife was Lady Mary Villiers (d. 1735), the widow of Thomas Thynne and the mother of the 2d Viscount Weymouth (1710-51). It was thanks to his marriage that the Lansdownes came to live at Longleat, Wiltshire. …

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