Harriette Wilson, the true story of a 19th Century, Regency, Courtesan, and pastures greener

So last week we had left Harriette at the point her contract with Lord Craven had drawn to end. This week we’ll begin with her timely receipt of an invitation from Frederick Lamb, to join him and his regiment in Hull.

But before I begin I’ll review, for those who’ve not previously read my blogs, the brief introduction of Harriette’s history. I’ll put this piece in every week for people who might pick the blog up for the first time, but skip it if you’ve already read it.

In 1825 Harriette Wilson, a courtesan, published a series of stories as her memoirs in a British broad sheet paper. The Regency gentleman’s clubs were a buzz, waiting to see the next names mentioned each week. While barriers had to be set up outside the shop of her publisher, Stockdale, to hold back the disapproving mob.

Harriette was born Harriette Debochet, she chose the name Harriette Wilson as her professional name, in the same way Emma Hart, who I’ve blogged about previously, had changed her name. Unlike Emma, it isn’t known why or when Harriette changed her name.

She was one of nine surviving children. Her father was a watchmaker and her mother a stocking repairer, and both were believed to be from illegitimate origin.

Three of Harriette’s sisters also became courtesans. Amy, Fanny and Sophia (who I have written about before). So the tales I am about to begin in my blogs will include some elements from their lives too.

For a start you’ll need to understand the world of the 19th Century Courtesan. It was all about show and not just about sex. The idle rich of the upper class aspired to spending time in the company of courtesans, it was fashionable, the thing to do.

You were envied if you were linked to one of the most popular courtesans or you discovered a new unknown beauty to be admired by others.

Courtesans were also part of the competitive nature of the regency period too, gambling was a large element of the life of the idle rich and courtesans were won and lost and bartered and fought for.

So courtesans obviously aspired to be one of the most popular, and to achieve it they learnt how to play music, read widely, so they could debate, and tried to shine in personality too. They wanted to be a favoured ’original’.

The eccentric and outspoken was admired by gentlemen who liked to consort with boxers and jockeys, and coachmen, so courtesans did not aim for placid but were quite happy to insult and mock men who courted them, and demand money for any small favour.

Harriette calls the letter Frederick Lamb sent her, ‘very affectionate’ and said, ‘He dared not… be selfish enough to ask me to share his poverty, and yet he had a kind of presentiment, that he should not lose me.’

Her heart ‘feeling lighter from the release of the cocoa trees’, and hating Lord Craven’s ‘fine carriage, and his money, and everything belonging to, or connected with him,’ Harriette set Lord Craven’s servant to secure a place on ‘the mail’, coach I presume, to Hull, where Frederick Lamb’s regiment was – I know it’s all awfully Pride and Prejudice isn’t it. Ha! Ha!

Harriette says Frederick flew to meet her and took her to his house, where his general met her and promised to ensure Hull was made as comfortable for her as possible. On other occasions in Harriette’s memoirs she mentions interactions with senior officers in regiments when one of the lower ranked, but titled, soldiers takes a mistress. It just again shows how accepted a thing it was for men to be open and social with their mistresses among other men in the Georgian and Regency period.

469px-Frederick_James_Lamb,_3rd_Viscount_Melbourne_by_John_PartridgeIt seems Harriette was happy with Frederick for three months in Hull, but then Frederick returned to London, and therefore to all the social interaction of his class, the ton (the most influential of the titled elite in Great Britain). He attended balls, masquerades, and other events. Of course women were at these entertainments. Harriette could not go. So while he went out Harriette was left to endure dreary evenings alone. She doesn’t strike me as a girl who would appreciate being bored, and she notes that Frederick felt safe in her constancy because he knew she had been faithful to Lord Craven, so he made no effort to ensure she stayed with him. She calls him selfish, and then she starts to try and make him jealous and spur him in to being more attentive. When she doesn’t succeed and he leaves her alone in London with very little money, well then, she isn’t going to put up with it…

On to pastures greener… The Marquis of Lorne (a friend of Frederick’s), is known to be handsome and well-liked by women, so Harriette has a punt, well why not. She writes to tell him that if he walks up Duke’s Row, ‘he would meet a most lovely girl.’ I wish I was as confident of my looks as Harriette, and at this stage I think she was probably still only between sixteen and eighteen.

Her letter received a response, ‘If you are but half as lovely as you think yourself, you will be well worth knowing; but how is that to be managed? Not in the street! But come to No.39 Portland Street, and ask for me. L.’

Harriette’s reply was this;

No! Our first meeting must be on the high road, in order that I may have room to run away, in case I don’t like you

You have to love that girl…

The Marquis (spelt in the old spelling Harriette used) replied;

Well then, fair lady, tomorrow, at four, near the turnpike, look for me on horseback; and then, you know, I can gallop away. L’

And thus an assignation between a courtesan and a gentleman was arranged. Harriette clearly knew how to spot her market and sell herself.

I really like their old-fashioned humour. In a blog I wrote a while ago, I mentioned about Jane Austen’s humour, which I think very often goes over our heads now, but would have been grasped easily when her books were first published.

200px-George_Douglas_Campbell,_8th_Duke_of_Argyll_by_George_Frederic_WattsAnyway back to Harriette. When she met the Marquis, who later became the Duke of Argyll, when he inherited his full title, he did not gallop away, and Harriette recalls, ‘I had never seen a countenance I had thought half so beautifully expressive. I was afraid to look at it, lest a closer examination might destroy all the new and delightful sensations his first glance had inspired in my breast.’

She says they walked together for two hours, and shared stories, and interests and then agreed to meet again. But when Harriette returned home she had a fit of conscience and decided to tell Frederick all, saying she could not become, ‘artful’ dishonest and manipulating, even if she was now fallen.

The way Harriette describes her fears of Frederick’s anger over her admission, I get the impression she would have loved him to get angry, I think she was really just attention seeking and trying to prove she could have someone better than Frederick. But Frederick did not get angry at all, he saw it as a great way to win one over on a friend who always had the best women. He encouraged Harriette to keep meeting Lorne, so he might mock his friend for expressing devotion to Harriette when Frederick was convinced Harriette would never be unfaithful to him.

Harriette therefore did go back for their second meeting. But;

With my heart beating very unusually high, I attended my appointment with Argyle (Harriette’s spelling). I hoped, nay, almost expected, to find him there before me. I paraded near the turnpike five minutes, then grew angry; in five more, I became wretched; in five more, downright indignant; and in five more wretched again-and so I returned home…

Harriette, sent a tirade to Lord Lorne in a letter, but when he wrote back he pleaded that his lack of attendance had been unavoidable and that he did think highly of her and begged her to meet him the next day. Harriette showed the letter to Frederick for revenge, and then did not go…

Of course that was fuel to Frederick who then asked Lord Lorne, “How the air was at the turnpike”.

But having captured the competitive interest of Lord Lorne the game was not over…

(Note the portraits of Frederick Lamb and Lord Lorne shown above were painted much later than the days Harriette speaks of, then they were all young)

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

About janelarkhttps://janelark.wordpress.coma writer of compelling, passionate and emotionally charged fiction

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