Having decided that a draw Poussette is a twentieth century invention, I'm wondering the same about a double figure eight. Don't get me wrong — I think it's a lovely move and I've used it in many of my own dances — but I'm not happy with interpretations of old dances which throw it in without any justification.
Lots more to come here!
Admittedly there are some dances in Henry Playford's editions of the Dancing Master which seem to contain a double figure eight. For instance, Devonshire-House (10th Edition, 1698) starts:
First cu. cast off, the 2. cu. leading up, change places at the same time; 2. cu. cast down, 1. cu. lead up, changing places as before, men being on the wo. side…This reads to me like a half double figure eight — the ones casting and crossing up as the twos cross up and cast — and Henry Playford adds the phrase “men being on the wo. side” to reassure us that we've understood it. But he's spelt it out in detail, rather than the conventional “go the figure…” which says to me that what he's describing is not a standard move.
On the other hand, in The Hare's Maggot (12th Edition 1703) it says
Then go the double Figure in the third cu. …
I would have expected “with” rather than “in”, but here's Playford actually mentioning a “double Figure” without explanation, obviously expecting people to know what it meant. The odd thing is that in Pat Shaw's interpretation (in the book “Another look at Playford”) he just has the ones doing a figure eight and notes that “the third couples play no active part in the dance”.
And there's an earlier mention in Maids' Morris (8th Edition 1690) , which ends:
… then the double Figure, and the first couple lead down the middle
which Sharp converts to four changes of a circular hey, three steps each, and then the ones lead down as the twos cast up to progress. A double figure eight would certainly work better here, starting with the ones crossing down and the twos moving up the outside, flowing smoothly into the progression rather than losing the phrasing of the four changes and the first man man having to do an awkward turn back.