Historical biography Uncategorised

Body on Show: Mlle Rose Parisot part 1

Sarah McCleave

Mlle Rose Parisot (1777?-after 1837) was a young French dancer whose reception in London is well documented in the contemporary press, and also through satirical prints as well as two portraits. From her King’s Theatre début in February 1796 she attracted attention for her looks and the physicality of her movement, as this Morning Chronicle review (10 Feb. 1796) reveals:

Madamoiselle PARISOT, a new dancer from Paris … is a most beautiful figure, about 18 years of age, and with a face full of expression. A little divertissement has been got up to introduce her to the public, and she displayed powers in the grand character extremely striking. Her attitudes are graceful, her step firm, her balance is positively magical, for her person was almost horizontal while turning as on a pivot on her toe. From the specimen of last night, she is a great acquisition to the Theatre; and if her talent for acting be equal to her dancing and figure, they will be able to give us ballets in good style.

Parisot had previously served as première danseuse in Rouen and had also danced in Paris (2). Press reports in London suggest that she was obliged to become professional through the events of the French Revolution (3), further indicating that she supported her mother and a sister. There’s no sense, however, that she enjoyed any familial protection, or indeed that she had any valuable guidance or support during what would prove to be a turbulent career for this young foreign dancer. The Morning Chronicle review touches on two issues that would dominate her reception: her beautiful figure, and the unusual attitude she introduced to the London stage. Towards the end of her first London season we are told ‘Parisot, the beautiful Parisot, captivates, by her curvets and her attitudes, all the hearts in Fop’s Alley’ (4). Her winning combination of curves and poses stimulated strong responses from a certain kind of theatre spectator.

Richard Newton, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This blog post reproduces two satirical prints of Parisot’s spectators (5). Above we have Newman’s print, which shows Parisot being ogled by the then 72-year-old William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry. It’s likely the cleric pictured is Shute Barrington, Bishop of Durham, who openly censored the immorality of current stage practices. Below we have Isaac Cruickshank’s ‘A Peep at the Parisot – with Q in the Corner’. So once again the faithful Duke of Queensbury – an inveterate gambler popularly known as ‘Old Q’ – is in attendance. As the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (5 May 1796) reported, ‘the Duke of QUEENSBERRY looks not at any other garter than that appertaining to the enchanting leg of PARISOT’. The experienced satirist Cruickshank focuses on those enchanting legs, the outline of which can be appreciated underneath Parisot’s costume. By drawing the opening in her skirt – a detail we don’t have in the Newman – Cruickshank brings a greater immediacy to the scenario. We apprehend the young dancer’s level of exposure without seeing beneath the skirt ourselves.

Isaac Cruikshank, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

While the furore that Parisot’s attitudes caused was a lively enough introduction to the London theatre scene, she had to cope with an even more significant scandal the following season.

To be continued.


1) ‘Arts and Culture.’ Morning Chronicle [1770], 10 Feb. 1796. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Gale Primary Resources, accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

2) The Biographical Dictionary of Actors indicates Parisot’s pre-London experience; for a most interesting blog that includes some detail about her press coverage from the age of 14, see Naomi Clifford, ‘Mademoiselle Parisot’s shocking pirouettes put London in a spin’, in Books and Talks (blog), 10 Sept. 2018., accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

3) ‘News.’ Oracle, 18 Aug. 1796. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Gale Primary Resources, accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

4) ‘News.’ Sun, 9 June 1796. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Gale Primary Resources, accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

5) For further on these men, and the notion that they are the object of the satire rather than the dancer, see Caitlyn Lehmann, ‘Madame Rose Parisot, “Attitudinarian”‘, in vintage pointe (blog), no date., accessed 26 September 2021.


  1. Richard Newton. 1796. ‘Madamoiselle Parisot.’ London: William Holland. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 21 April 2021. 
  2. Issac Cruikshank (artist). 1796. ‘A Peep at the Parisot with Q in the Corner.’ London: S.W. Fores. Accessed 21 April 2021.

Next Post

“Three’s a Crowd,” a continuation of the account of Mlle. Parisot’s London reception, will appear on 10 October.

Historical biography Uncategorised

The reputation of Nancy Dawson part 2


It was words that were later set to her hornpipe tune that led to Nancy Dawson’s posthumous reputation.  In the eighteenth-century it became a popular and innocuous ballad tune, used for numerous new sets of words, satirical, political, amorous, Masonic and commercial, as well as for airs in musical pieces for the theatre.  The tune also became popular among sailors, being used in the navy to call the men for their ration of grog (7), and was used for shanties, some of course indecent.  The tune was also used for the bawdy song ‘Nancy Dawson was a whore’ in which Nancy entertains sailors of every age and rank from a midshipman to the commodore.  We have been unable to trace this song in print before its appearance in Nancy Dawson’s Cabinet of Choice Songs [1842?], where it is headed ‘a very celebrated and out-and-out ditty, not to be had in any other collection’ (8).  (No other song in the book has anything to do with Nancy Dawson.)  Several of the correspondents to Notes and Queries in the nineteenth century appear to have been familiar with this song.  For instance, in April 1876, J. Standish Haly remembered it ‘being sung with “rapturous applause” when he was a boy at the Royal Naval College, and he added ‘The Memoirs of Miss N— D— must refer to some one else’.  Between 1866 and 1958, various writers to Notes and Queries believed that the first eight lines of  the indecent song were engraved on her tombstone, before being obliterated or hidden by a later rector. Surprisingly, Nancy Dawson’s supposed tombstone continues to affect her reputation, for the final sentence of her current Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry states: ‘The size and prominence of her tombstone have prompted speculation about liaisons in her later years’.  This statement is taken from the Biographical Dictionary of Actors, for in 1966 one of the editors visited the site of her burial, now St George’s Gardens, and was spun a yarn by the ground keeper that the largest monument in the garden, a six metres high obelisk, was her memorial (9).  The enormous obelisk in fact dates from 1729, two years after she was born (10).  

The obelisk wrongly associated with Nancy Dawson. Photo: Wilson.

It is ironic that Nancy Dawson would not have a modern reputation, good or bad, were it not for writings about her long after her death.  Her undoubted skill as a hornpipe dancer would merit only limited coverage in modern reference books, her entry in the Biographical Dictionary of Actors would be shorter and she would almost certainly not have been allocated an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


 7) Dear, I. C. B., and Peter Kemp, The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 376.

8) Nancy Dawson’s Cabinet of Choice Songs, being a collection of some of the most superlative, amatory, flash, luxurious, and dainty ditties, ever before printed (London: W. West, [1842?]).  In the British Library catalogue, the author of the collection (C.116.a.45) is given as Nancy Dawson!

9) Burnim, Kalman A. ‘Nancy Dawson’s tombstone’, Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research, First series, 5.1 (1966), 59.

10) She was almost certainly born in Axminster, Devon, where Ann, daughter of William Newton, was baptized on 27 January 1727.  See: Chapman, Geoffrey, A History of Axminster to 1910 (Honiton: Marwood, 1998), 135-6. 

Next post

24th September, Mademoiselle Parisot Part 1