Charles Jennens is best known as the librettist of Handel’s Messiah, but he had a range of intellectual interests. This display brought together portraits, correspondence and printed documents reflecting the varied interests and achievements of this polymath of Georgian Britain.
Charles Jennens (1700-1773) was a wealthy landowner, patron of the arts, scholar and collector. Jennens was a non-juror, supporting the legitimacy of the deposed Catholic Stuart monarchy, although he himself was a devout Protestant. As a non-juror he was barred from public office, and devoted himself to other fields. His art collection was one of the best in Britain, and he rebuilt his home, Gopsall Hall in Leicestershire, as a grand Palladian mansion, complete with a music room with an organ built to Handel’s specifications. As a scholar Jennens commenced the first critical edition of Shakespeare’s plays, a task left unfinished at his death, and corresponded extensively with his friend the classical scholar Edward Holdsworth. Much of his substantial music library, which includes hundreds of manuscripts of Handel’s music, passed to a descendant and is preserved as the ‘Aylesford Collection’ in the Henry Watson Music Library in Manchester, although several volumes are now in the Coke Collection at the Foundling Museum. Jennens collaborated with Handel to create the libretti for several oratorios, including Saul, Belshazzar, L’Allegro and the most well-known work today, Messiah.