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an RAC investor. At Cannons they met Dr Pepusch (the musician), Dr Arbuthnot, Dr John Desaguliers (who was chaplain to the Brydges family as well as incumbent of St Lawrence’s Church, Little Stanmore), Captain Inwood and Mr Lowthorp. Of these ten men only Pepusch and the Captain were not investors in the RAC in 1720. Although Handel was then no longer directly in the patronage of the Brydges family, he retained some ties, perhaps through Arbuthnot, that could have influenced his choice of a new investment. The Duke was elected to the board of the RAC at the meeting in May 1720 for which the printed list of investors was issued, and became its most energetic entrepreneur.

Other names found on the list include Handel’s long-time London friends Bernard Granville (either the Colonel, c. 1670-1723, father of Mary Delany; or her brother, 1698/9-1775) and Sir John Stanley, the uncle by marriage of the Granville children. Women comprise almost 12 per cent of the investors; among them are the King’s mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg, Duchess of Kendal, who was the mother of two of Handel’s students.

■  The Duke of Chandos, James Brydges, patron of Handel and a leading investor in the slave trade

Family and social connections among the investors were extensive, as was experience with colonial affairs. For example, among the Granville family, Colonel Granville accompanied his brother Sir Bevil to Barbados in 1703 when the latter was appointed governor. Sir Bevil died during his return journey to England in 1706. A Granville uncle and cousins, the earls of Bath, were among the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. Anne Granville, the sister of Colonel Bernard and Sir Bevil, married Sir John Stanley, who was one of three agents (administrative contacts) in London for Barbados, possibly from 1703 to 1708. Stanley was very well connected; he acted on behalf of the Lord Chamberlain in regulating the London theatres, and presumably it was for that reason that he was one of Handel’s initial contacts in London in 1710.

The works that Handel wrote for the Duke of Chandos are well established and include Esther (1718), which was given an expanded performance in 1720, probably in early summer, a moment that represents a high point of the stock value of the RAC. Twenty-three years after Esther Handel wrote Messiah. Notwithstanding the numerous historical contingencies that brought Handel’s most famous work into being, it is clear that long-form, English-language dramatic but unstaged works (oratorios) began in circumstances that are not as benign as we might wish.

Opera, December 2015

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