This week, Harriette tells us about her sister’s darker experience of the men of Regency England. But before I begin this story let me recap, as usual, for any one joining the story today. If you’ve already read the background then just skip to the end of the italics.
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.
Now Harriette and her sisters, Fanny and Amy, had become famous, or rather infamous, you can, perhaps, imagine the turn of some men’s thoughts. There were still younger girls in the Debochet home… What of them?
So, in the spirit of competition, and the desire to seek out a new beauty to show off to his friends, to encourage envy, Lord Deerhurst had the idea of plucking one of the Debochet sisters straight from the nest, rather than wait for her to choose her own path and perhaps favour a another man, or decide not to follow her sisters into the illicit life of a courtesan at all.
Sophia was still a child, only about thirteen, when Lord Deerhurst took an interest in her. He watched her, and followed her, and then began giving her gifts, just little worthless metal trinkets, which he convinced young Sophia were valuable.
Sophia had her sisters model to follow, and she must have seen their impressive, expensively furnished town houses, their carriages, their presents from gentlemen callers, and their servants, and fancied a place in that life. But from Harriette’s description, she, believed her young, vulnerable sister as ‘innocent as an infant of the nature of seduction, and it’s consequences.’
When Sophia went missing, word flew about the family. ‘She is off! Sophia is off! Run away, nobody knows where.’ She had disappeared in the evening, and her mother and father were set into a panic.
Harriette’s father called on Lord Deerhurst suspecting the man who had been watching his house and his daughter, only to be told Lord Deerhurst was not at home.
Harriette’s mother called on Harriette and begged her daughter, who was wise in the world of these, arrogant, competitive, self-indulging men, to tell her what to do.
Harriette says she wrote in the strongest terms to Lord Deerhurst, begging him to think of the consequences of detaining a child, and if he ‘was not really dead to all shame’ to bring Sophia back to her, immediately, while she encouraged her father to find legal help to get Sophia back.
Calling Lord Deerhust, both the ‘Prince of hypocrites’, and a ‘monster’ Harriette then recounts how he returned Sophia to her, having forcible obtained all he wished from her sister. He pleaded that Harriette’s letter touched him so deeply he had to bring Sophia back, and claimed she was untouched, and that they had merely talked all night. But Harriette judges his motive for seeking forgiveness, mercenary, as the cheapest way he can see to bring back the child, without incurring any expense.
Harriette describes Sophia as looking frightened.
Now ruined, Sophia was kept out of sight, while her father sought recompense on her behalf, for her damaged reputation. It was unlikely any decent man would take Sophia now, her life had been set upon the same course as her sisters.
But this recompense came at a high personal price, Sophia had to choose to stay with the man who had seduced her and coerced her into letting him take what he wished, if she was to receive an annual sum of three hundred pounds. But then, if she left him, or was unfaithful, the sum would reduce to one hundred pounds per year.
Harriette advised her sister to accept the agreement, believing there was no honest future for Sophia now.
Ten months after the abduction, Lord Deerhurst moved Sophia into rented rooms, which Harriette describes as ‘miserable lodgings’ near Grosvenor Place.
And so, another of Harriette sisters joined the Regency courtesans.
More next week 🙂
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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