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Paper 3

Wilson's Quadrilles

Contributed by Paul Cooper, Research Editor

I recently animated three Quadrille Sets from Thomas Wilson's c.1817 second edition of the Companion to the Ball Room1 (see Figure 1). I thought it might be interesting to discuss those Quadrilles here, and to review the evolution of the Quadrille as a dance form during the Regency era.

Figure 1. Frontispiece and title page for Wilson's c.1820 fourth edition of the Companion to the Ball Room

Quadrilles became very fashionable in London in the second half of the 1810s. They usually involve eight dancers in a square formation, much like the earlier Cotillion dances. Figures 6 and 7 show examples of Quadrilles being danced. Quadrilles were generally arranged in groups of four to six separate dances, collectively referred to as a Set. Examples of popular Quadrille Sets include Paine's First Set and The Lancers. Hundreds of Quadrille Sets were published in England in the 1820s (though often as music without dance figures), in this article we'll investigate some of the earliest, particularly the Quadrilles of Thomas Wilson.

Before going further, I'd like to acknowledge that my research on this subject has been heavily influenced by two key books. First there's Ellis Rogers' wonderful The Quadrille2, then Dr. John Gardiner-Garden's Historic Dance series, especially volumes 63 and 74. My research and conclusions (and errors!) are my own, but these works investigate the subject in far more detail. If you're interested in the historicity of dancing during the Regency era, they're essential reading.

The Form of the Quadrille

Quadrille dancing appears to have evolved out of the popular four-couple Cotillion dance form. Cotillions were published in England from the late 1760's, the Quadrilles emerged as their successors in London's ball rooms from the mid-1810s. Cotillions and Quadrilles share much in common, including their French origins, but there are important differences:

  • A distinctive feature of the Cotillion is the concept of changes. These are simple connecting phrases that punctuate each repetition of the Cotillion; examples include the Grand Rond, Grand Chain and Promenade. Quadrilles don't have this concept, the dance flows smoothly from one lead couple to the next.
  • The dance figures in Cotillions usually involve all eight dancers acting simultaneously. Whereas, most Quadrille figures only involve part of the company. It's common for the head couples to dance a figure (or an entire Quadrille), and for the side couples to repeat it.
  • English Quadrilles are generally danced in Sets. Once a partner has been engaged for the first Quadrille, the couples remain together for the duration of the Set.
Figure 2. A two couple Quadrille

Many French Quadrilles were danced by just two couples. Figure 2 shows an example of a two-couple Quadrille figure5. The requirement for fewer dancers may have been one reason for the Quadrille's early popularity. In 1786 the London based dance master S. J. Gardiner wrote that Quadrilles are Danced the same as the Cotillions, only with this difference, that instead of four Couple in the Cotillions, there are but two in the Quadrilles6. Gardiner makes it clear that the number of dancers is a key characteristic of the Early Quadrille.

English Quadrilles of the Regency era were usually danced by eight dancers, but most can be danced with just four. By the 1820s English quadrilles might be danced by twelve or even sixteen dancers7. Thomas Wilson even published sets of Quadrille Country Dances for pairs of couples in a longways set8; in this variant the first couple begins improper (the man on the ladies side), Quadrille figures are used, and the dance ends with a progression.

The couple at the head of a Quadrille is referred to as the 1st Couple, and they lead the dance. The Quadrille figures are repeated either twice or four times to allow each couple a chance to lead the dance in turn. The second couple to lead is the couple opposite the 1st Couple, and then the couple to the right of the 1st Couple, and finally the couple to the left of the 1st Couple. A simple counter-clockwise numbering system was also used during this same period (as used in typical Cotillion dances), so either sequence can be authentic.

The French Dance Master Landrin published groups of Cotillions in Sets from around 1760. A collection of 10 such Potpourri Cotillion sets are available through the Library of Congress9. This may have been influential in the publishing tradition that would eventually emerge for Quadrilles. According to the anonymous author of the 1823 The Etiquette of the Ball-Room by A. Gentleman, the English Cotillion dancers at the Hanover Rooms c.1780s danced Cotillions perpetual, in the manner of Quadrilles, hinting that the traditional form of the Cotillion was evolving.

The First Set

Figure 3. An illustration of the La Trenis Quadrille from The First Set

Two different publications in 1829 report (in identical words) on an important event in the history of the Quadrille10,11. They claim that a lady of celebrity held a Parisian Fête on the 16th August, 1797 in which Monsieur Hullin introduced an entirely new set of figures of his own composition. These elicited general approbation: they were danced at all parties and still retain pre-eminence. The names of Pantalon, L'Eté, La Poule, La Trenis, &c which were given to the tunes, have been applied to the figures. This party appears to have launched a new Set of Quadrilles which would later evolve into what was known in England as The First Set. The originator was Jean-Baptiste Hullin, a successful choreographer12 and ballet dancer; he went on to perform at London's King's Theatre Opera House from 182013. The dance figures associated with these supremely popular Quadrilles were danced in England for the next 100 or so years.

Figure 3 shows an 1821 illustration of the La Trenis dance from the First Set14. I don't know whether the creation myth is accurate, but it was endorsed by the Lowe family in the 1831 third edition of their Ball-Conductor and Assembly Guide (and presumably also in the 1822 second edition). However, I've also found the First Set of Quadrilles arranged as Cotillions in a 1786 collection published in London (see, for example Les Pantalons), and a close approximation in Michael Kelly's c.1804 Eight French Country Dances, so their origin is clearly more nuanced. Regardless of their origins, they eventually became so popular in England that Thomas Wilson in 1824 complained that most dancers only knew the figures for the First Set and The Lancers, and refused to learn anything else15.

The first English dance master to promote these Quadrille figures was Edward Payne. Payne's First Set of Quadrilles were published c.1815 (perhaps 1816), they preserved the French figures. Payne went on to publish 10 sets of Quadrilles before his death in 1819. The earliest British document I can link to that shows Payne's First Set is Edinburgh based dance master Barclay Dun's 1818 A Translation of Nine of the Most Fashionable Quadrilles16. Dun recorded that Payne selects the Quadrilles that were chiefly used in London. Payne's First Set consisted of Le Pantalon, L'Été, La Poulle, La Trénise and La Finale; you can learn how to dance them here.

Another early promoter of the First Set was James Paine. Paine was an orchestra leader at the Almack's Assembly Rooms in London. Paine's First Set of Quadrilles were published c.1816 (perhaps 1815)17, they reused the figures of Payne's First Set, but added an extra Quadrille called La Pastorale. Paine went on to publish 17 sets of Quadrilles by 1821. The obvious potential for confusion between the names Payne and Paine resulted in both men being credited as the originator of the First Set. It's not uncommon for commentators, both contemporary and modern, to confuse or conflate them. The term "First Set" can therefore imply Payne's First Set of Quadrilles, Paine's First Set of Quadrilles, or the first set of Quadrilles publicly danced at Almacks. Regardless of the etymology, the figures were recognised to be French in origin, though it was in England that they achieved unrivalled adoption.

The First Set are often claimed to be the first Quadrilles danced in London, but Quadrilles were being danced at fashionable venues from as early as 1811. The Morning Post newspaper for June 13th 1811 contains a glowing report of a Quadrille Waltz Ball held at the Argyll Rooms, and hosted by the Duchess of Devonshire and other ladies of distinction18 (see Figure 4). Early Quadrilles had been displayed on Stage in the 1780s, and adverts for Monsieur Le Pulley indicate that he'd taught Quadrilles from 1802 (The Morning Post, 27th December, 1802). The composer Louis Litolff was selling Quadrille music in London from 1806 (The Morning Chronicle, 18th July, 1806), and Dance Master Delatre claimed to have published the first Quadrille in England in 1775 (Ipswich Journal, 1st July, 1775). It was the First Set that popularised the Quadrille, even if earlier examples were known in Britain.

Captain Gronow, in his memoirs, recalled the introduction of the First Set to Almack's: It was not until 1815 that Lady Jersey introduced from Paris the favourite quadrille, which has so long remained popular.19. It was this favourite quadrille that became the First Set; it seems to have been instantly fashionable. Lady Jersey was a keen Quadriller, not only did she champion the Quadrille at Almack's, she was also a patroness of the Quadrille Ball from Figure 4. We also know that Quadrilles (not necessarily the First Set) were danced in Brussels and Paris by the officers who faught at Waterloo, and that they may have returned to England with a taste for them. For example, F. B. Hervey wrote to his friend Mrs Lloyd in July 1815 of the Quadrilles that they'd danced together at a Ball in in Brussels shortly prior to the battle (he didn't name it, but the Ball was almost certainly the Duchess of Richmond's Ball). A c.1816 publication from Brussels by Hendrik Messemaeckers named Choix Des Plus Jolies Contredanses Exécutées dans les differentes fêtes données a Bruxelles par S. A. R. le Prince d'Orange et par S. A. Le Duc de Wellington Prince de Waterloo includes music and figures for several Quadrilles that were popular in London in 1816, many themed around the Battle of Waterloo. It may be the direct source for some of the early British Quadrilles (or it could be a later tribute to them, the date of publication is uncertain).

By the early 19th Century the Quadrille had evolved into a four couple dance. Thomas Wilson wrote in the 1822 second edition of his Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama that the first set of French Quadrilles that were publicly danced in this country don't need eight dancers, but eight persons generally stand up for the sake of convenience, as it enables the second and fourth Couples, or those not employed, to see the Figure (should they require it) before it comes to their turn to perform it20. The anonymous French author of the 1818 Le Maître a Danser went further, and wrote Quadrilles are some times danced by sixteen, twelve, or eight partners; but by eight is quite the original dance and are always the most commonly danced.

Figure 4. Report of a Quadrille and Waltz Ball, 1811.
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

We know the First Set was very popular in Regency London. So much so that many subsequent Quadrille Sets either omitted dance notation (the figures of the First Set were implied), or they supplied notation but could substitute the First Set figures. One clue to the importance of the First Set is the existence of aide-mémoire Fans decorated with Quadrille instructions. A superb example tentatively dated to 1816 (I'd date it to 1820 or later) can be seen in the Ventagli collection21.

Chronology of Wilson's Quadrilles

Thomas Wilson was a London based Dance Master, he published at least ten Quadrille Sets of his own invention, not including his Quadrille Country Dances or his Waltz Quadrilles. There are four sets of Quadrilles in his c.1816 Quadrille Instructor22, three in the 1817 second edition of the Companion to the Ball Room1, and three more in the 1824 Danciad23; he was also credited with the Quadrille Set in the c.1816 No 31 of Button, Whitaker & Compy's Selection of Dances, Reels & Waltzes. He was also credited with publishing instructions for popular Quadrilles by other choreographers in The Complete English Quadrille Preceptor for 1823 (which was expanded further in 1830, though his authorship of these works is uncertain), in La Batteuse and Le Moulinet &c. in 1817, and in the Danciad in 1824. As can be seen from the dates, Wilson was active in teaching Quadrilles from the moment they became popular.

I don't know if Wilson's published Quadrilles were ever danced at a Ball, but they would certainly have been used in his own dance academy24, an advert for which can be seen in Figure 5. The cover of the 1817 second edition of the Quadrille Instructor claimed that they are used at the Author's Balls & Assemblies. Several newspaper adverts from the 1820s mentioned further Wilsonian Quadrilles that were danced at Wilson's public Balls, but as far as I know they were never published. Examples include Les Saisons and Les Graces (from the New Times, 1st March 1822), though Les Graces was probably the popular Quadrille of the same name that was widely danced in London.

In 1817 Button & Whitaker published a collection of Quadrilles called Button, Whitaker, and Co's Miniature Edition of Payne's and Wilson's Quadrille Figures, in French and English25. It contained 50 quadrilles, presumably 10 sets of 5; this may be independent evidence of Wilson's Quadrilles being danced socially; dancers would find such cards convenient as an aide-memoire when attending a Ball. However, Wilson regularly published through Button & Whitaker, so I suspect it's a work that he himself sponsored.

Before investigating the dances, it's perhaps worth reflecting on the chronology of these works. Wilson didn't date either the Quadrille Instructor, or the Companion to the Ball Room. I've had to do a little research to provide reasonably plausible dates. The main challenge is that multiple editions of each work exist; I don't have access to each edition, so I can't easily determine whether the Quadrilles date to the first editions, or to later editions; here's what I've discovered:

The May 1817 New Monthly Magazine26 records the publication of the Second Edition, greatly improved of 'The Quadrille Instructor'. They had previously reviewed the first edition in February 1817. The differences were the 10 new diagrams, and the 15 new tunes and figures. This suggests that one of those Quadrille sets dates nearer to 1816, and three to 1817. The edition I have access to is the second edition22.
Figure 5. Thomas Wilson's advert, c.1820
The Gentleman's Magazine in 1816 records the publication of the first edition of the Companion to the Ball Room27. At this date the book is 232 pages long, and neither its title page nor review mention the inclusion of any Quadrilles. A similar 1816 review in the Repository of Arts28 also fails to mention any Quadrilles. It appears that there were no Quadrilles in the first edition; this is confirmed by a footnote in the fourth edition that apologies for the lack of Quadrilles in the index of the 1817 second edition: The Sudden popularity of Quadrilles made necessary for the Author, in publishing the second Edition, to use the Letter-Press printed for the first, which was the reason they were not inserted in the Index. The edition I have access to is the 257 page long fourth edition1 - I've not been able to date it, but someone wrote the date 1820 on the title page (see Figure 1). This date seems plausible, it certainly dates no earlier than 1818 as it quotes a review from December 1817. The third edition was also published in 181729, so I've assumed it must be the fourth edition.

The significant expansion of the second edition of The Quadrille Instructor, and the inclusion of new Quadrille dances in the second edition of the Companion to the Ball Room, are evidence of the sudden (Wilson's word) popularity of this dance form at this time. Wilson's 1819 Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama (expanded in its 1822 second edition) provides a systematic review of the figures used in Quadrille dancing; it doesn't include any new Quadrille dances, but is clear evidence of the demand for teaching collateral.

Further evidence of the Quadrille's new found popularity can be seen in the caricatures and prints published around this time, including the images in Figure 6 30 and Figure 7 31, both of which date to 1817. These images show French Dancing Masters teaching Quadrilles in private London homes; Wilson had a significant teaching business, it's tempting to imagine him into the pictures (and affecting a French accent)! It's notable that the first 'Department' of dancing mentioned in his c.1820 advert (see Figure 5) was the Quadrille.

Figure 6. Practising the La Poule Quadrille at home, 1817. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Content of Wilson's Quadrilles

The Quadrilles I've studied most closely are those I've animated from the Companion to the Ball Room and the Quadrille Instructor. Each Quadrille Set is made up of 5 dances, for a total of 35 separate Quadrilles. Unfortunately Wilson didn't use a simple naming convention, so I've had to apply my own. I've called the first (and earliest) unnamed Set in the Quadrille Instructor Wilson's 1816 Set. Wilson numbered the remaining Quadrille Sets from 1 to 3, and did the same thing in the Companion to the Ball Room. I've called them Wilson's First Set, Wilson's Second Set and Wilson's Third Set, and suffixed them with (QI) or (CB) to indicate which source they come from.

The first dance from Wilson's First Set (CB) is called La Coquette32, and can be seen in Figure 8.

I'm unsure of the provenance of the tunes for the Quadrilles. If any reader is able to shed light on the subject, then please do get in touch. I'd like to know if Wilson wrote/commissioned the music himself, or whether he 'borrowed' established tunes from somewhere else. In the introduction to the Quadrille Instructor Wilson emphasised that most other Quadrilles published in England had little musical merit and were incompatible with modern taste, implying that he was particularly proud of his music.

You may be able to see in Figure 8 that La Coquette is subtitled La Pantalon. Wilson provided dance figures for this Quadrille, but he designed it so that the figures from the Pantalon quadrille of the First Set could be used instead. This is made explicit in the Preface to the Quadrille Instructor, where we are told: The Figures in this set of Quadrilles will be found to differ from those already published and which have been copied ... into almost every collection of recent date. It being the Author's intention to accomodate those persons who wish to dance those Quadrilles as well as the others, he has adapted his music to suit both; thereby affording the choice of two sets of Figures instead of one22. This convention continued into the 1820s, Wilson may have been influential in initiating the trend.

The Quadrille Instructor is a particularly helpful work for anyone seeking to interpret Quadrilles. Wilson provides the music, an indication of which strain to use for each dancing figure, a diagram and description of each figure, and specific stepping instructions.

Most of the figures in the Quadrilles employ only four dancers at a time; the dance has to be repeated to allow the other couples to have a turn. This follows the convention from the First Set, and emphasises the early heritage of the Quadrille as a two couple dance. The figures used in many of the Quadrilles are simple, perhaps indicating that they are used to teach novices. They're often composed of turns, promenades, chasse movements and chains; figures that are easily learned. The Quadrilles do include some unusual figures, such as the Pousette and the Tranverse Lines, with detailed instructions to explain them.

Figure 7. Quadrilles: practising the La Trenis Quadrille for fear of accidents!, 1817. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Each Quadrille Set ends with a Finale dance. This involves all of the dancers, and marks the end of the Quadrille. Wilson explained this further in the Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama: It has been usual, in Quadrille Dancing, to have, to every Set of Quadrilles, what is termed a Finale, or Finishing Dance. These Finales, are more properly Cotillions, as they all contain some Figure or Figures, that employ the whole set, or eight persons33. It's interesting that Wilson considered a fundamental difference between a Quadrille and a Cotillion to be the number of dancers involved in the figures.

Wilson's Quadrilles were published at an important transitional time when the Quadrille was rapidly gaining popularity in England. As such, they're a fascinating insight into the era. Here are the individual dances (with alternative figures from the First Set in parentheses):

1st Dance
2nd Dance
3rd Dance
4th Dance
5th Dance

Wilson's 1816 Set
La Psyche (La Pantalon)
Le Pomone (L'Ete)
L'Amour (Poule)
La Floré (La Trenise)
La Finale

1st Dance
2nd Dance
3rd Dance
4th Dance
5th Dance

Wilson's 1st Set (QI)
La Juliette (La Pantalon)
Le Phantome
La Sensible (La Poule)
La Somnabule (L'Ete)
La Bruyante (La Promenade)

Wilson's 2nd Set (QI)
La Chinoise
La Bonne Vielle
La Biche

Wilson's 3rd Set (QI)
Le Lys
Robinet et Mariette (Pastourelle)
Les Pantouflettes
La Brillante

1st Dance
2nd Dance
3rd Dance
4th Dance
5th Dance

Wilson's First Set (CB)
La Coquette (La Pantalon)
La Sibylle (L'Ete)
Jacintha (La Poule)
Nannette (L'Ete)
La Finale (Finale)

Wilson's Second Set (CB)
Atalanta (La Pantalon)
Ariadne (La Trenise)
La Junon (La Poule)
Floretta (La Trenise)
The Pavilion (A)

Wilson's Third Set (CB)
Le Point Du Jour
The Regency
The Union
The Terpsichore
The Pavilion (B)

Figure 8. The La Coquette dance from Wilson's First Set (Companion to the Ball Room)

Many of the Quadrilles are designed to be compatible with the figures from the First Set, though some aren't. Wilson included two L'Ete dances in his First Set (CB), and none in the second; he used two La Trenise dances in his Second Set (CB), but none in the first. My guess is that this is deliberate, though it could be a printing error. A further curiosity involves the length of the La Trenise dances; two are 32 bars long, and one is 40 bars. Paine's version from the First Set used 40 bars, but the associated figures are less standardised than the rest of the First Set.

A further anomaly is that Wilson didn't provide a Finale for his Second Set (CB), but provided two for his Third Set (CB); I've assigned one of the Finales to the Second Set.

The Triumph of the Quadrille

Quadrille dances gained popularity incredibly quickly. So much so that within a few short years they had almost completely displaced the English Country Dance from England's fashionable Ball Rooms. There were relatively few new Country Dances published in England in the 1820s compared to previous decades, but hundreds of Quadrille Sets. Wilson did his part to ensure their success.

The poet Thomas Moore, writing under his pseudonym of Thomas Brown, the Younger wrote an 1823 poem called Country Dance and Quadrille34 (see Figure 9); this poem beautifully describes the changes to the Ball Room of his day. In his poem, the anthropomorphic 'Mamselle Quadrille' reigns in London, the 'Nymph' of the Country Dance is relegated to a provincial town. The Country Dance experiences one last victory, before the Quadrille takes over entirely.

Figure 9. The first three verses of Thomas Moore's 1823 Country Dance and Quadrille.


1. Wilson, c.1816, Companion to the Ball Room

2. Rogers, 2008, The Quadrille, 4th Edition

3. Gardiner-Garden, 2013, Historic Dance, Volume VI

4. Gardiner-Garden, 2013, Historic Dance, Volume VII

5. Marque, 1821, Étrennes à Terpsichore (page 14)

6. Gardiner, 1786, A Definition of Minuet-Dancing

7. Wilson, 1824, The Danciad

8. Wilson, c.1830, The Fashionable Quadrille Preceptor

9. Landrin, c.1760, Potpourri françois des contre-danse ancienne

10. Anonymous, 1829, The Young Lady's Book

11. Smith, 1829, Festivals, Games, and Amusements

12. Hullin, 1798, 2eme Receuil Des Nouvelle Contre-damse

13. VauxhallGardens.com, Performers at Vauxhall Gardens, 1661-1859

See also: Asperne, 1820, Theatrical Journal

14. Marque, 1821, Étrennes à Terpsichore (page 28)

15. Wilson, 1824, The Danciad

16. Dun, 1818, A Translation of Nine of the Most Fashionable Quadrilles

17. The Morning Post, London, Aug 13, 1816: New Music

18. The Morning Post, London, Jun 13, 1811: Fashionable World

19. Gronow, 1862, Reminiscences of Captain Gronow

20. Wilson, 1822, The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama

21. Fan, c.1816, Hand written instructions for the First Set

22. Wilson, c.1816, Quadrille Instructor

23. Wilson, 1824, Danciad

24. Wilson, c.1820 Wilson's advert, from The Companion to the Ball Room, fourth edition

25. Ackermann, 1817 The Repository of Arts

26. Anonymous, 1817, New Monthly Magazine

27. Anonymous, 1816, The Gentleman's Magazine

28. Ackermann, 1816, The Repository of Arts

29. Reeve et. al., 1817, The Literary Gazette

30. Sidebotham, 1817, Quadrilles - practising at home

31. Cruikshank, 1817, Quadrilles - practising for fear of accidents!

32. Wilson, c.1820, La Coquette, from The Companion to the Ball Room, fourth edition

33. Wilson, 1822, The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama

34. Moore, 1823, Country Dance and Quadrille











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