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WORLDS APART? David Hunter links the slave trade, Handel and opera in

18th-century London

Since Eric Williams’s groundbreaking book Capitalism & Slavery was issued in 1944, it has become clearer with each new piece of research just how integral to and enmeshed with the slave economy was the broader economy of Britain. We know that some direct participants in the slave economy used their profits to amass art collections, build grand houses and refashion landscapes. Our knowledge of music’s involvement has been limited to George Frideric Handel’s investment (c. 1715-17) in the South Sea Company, which was brought to light by Sir Newman Flower in 1923— something that has since been ignored, denied or occluded by other biographers and music historians. My discovery in 2013 of additional Handel investments has spurred this preliminary analysis of the engagement that 18th-century subscribers to the opera had with the economy of human bondage.

‘The Names of the Adventurers of the Royal African Company of England’ (RAC) is a six-page publication, dated 9 May 1720, which lists the investors in the Company, identifies those who are qualified to be elected an official, and details the number of votes held by each investor. Among the 1,000 names is ‘Mr Frederick George Handle’— not the usual form of his name, given the reversal of forenames and the mis-spelling of

■  Money notes: George Frideric Handel the surname, but the musician nonetheless, which is proven by the RAC’s records at the National Archives. Transfers of stock were recorded in large ledgers and signed, in most cases, by both parties. Two pairs of buy-and-sell orders exist for Handel. The figures suggest that Handel made a profit on the first trade and a small loss on the second.

Handel had James Brydges, Duke of Chandos, as his patron from July 1717 to August 1718. On Sunday 27 April 1718 Handel was a dinner guest along with the Reverend Dr Henry Brydges (the Duke’s brother), who records coming from nearby Stanmore with Humphrey Walcot, then the deputy governor of the RAC, and Colonel William Dobyns,


Opera, December 2015

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