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Robert Willis: harp innovator, polymath, and illegitimate son of George III's physician.

On 7 May 1820, Robert Willis (1800-1875), the 20-year-old illegitimate son of Robert Darling Willis and grandson of Francis Willis (physicians to George III), wrote a parody of Handel's coronation anthem, Zadok the priest in his diary.


Sad dog the priest & Nathan the barber anointed Solomon’s chin And all the barbers rejoiced & cried Let’s shave the king! Let’s shave the King! May his beard grow for ever! Lather Lather! Amen.


We cannot be sure - he doesn't tell us, but one gets a hint of the anti-monarchy feeling that was common in London at that time. Aged only 19-years, Robert had already patented a complex mechanism for the double-action pedal harp and was working with the renowned maker, Jacob Erat, to perfect this. Jacob later offered to make the instrument for him, paying him £7 per instrument sold but the maker's 1821 death prevented this. Instead, Robert trained as an Anglican priest and late went to Cambridge University. In 1830, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1837 he became the Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy. Robert's diary (1819-21), detailing his harp-making but also his life in and around London, is further analysed in my new book, Harp Making in Late-Georgian London.'


Robert Willis (1800-1875)


Robert Darling Willis (1760-1821)


Francis Willis (1718-1807)

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© 2020 by Mike Baldwin

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