Last week, I told Amy’s story, of how she looked for a fairytale ending to her life as a courtesan, through marriage to a Duke. Amy’s ending wasn’t the fairytale she’d hoped; it came crashing to a sorry conclusion when her Duke married someone else two weeks after she gave birth to his son.
But now I’ll tell the story of Harriette’s younger sister, Sophia. I talked in an earlier post, about how Sophia was seduced into becoming a courtesan, but now she’s parted ways with Lord Deerhurst, she can consider better options.
Before I begin her story, as ever, here’s the quick recap of the background to this series of posts, as usual, if you’ve read it before skip to the end of the italics and read on.
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.
The first we here of Sophia’s new conquest is that he drives, back and forth, past Julia’s front door, in his curricle, all day, and it is highlighted that there is a coronet on his curricle.
Harriette then tells us, that after two weeks of this man passing the house, Sophia now shares with Julia, on a regular basis, he speaks to a friend who knows Julia, and seeks an introduction to Sophia. The man is Lord Berwick, Harriette calls him a Viscount. He was a Baron.
Harriette is very disparaging of poor Sophia, so I am never certain how much in her memoirs is realistic when it comes to Sophia, or whether Harriette just loved having a dig, and being mean to Sophia, but I’ll tell the story as she has.
Unlike Amy, from what Harriette says, Sophia had no eye for wealth or status when she met Lord Berwick, she judged people by whether she liked them or not, and she did not like Lord Berwick. Sophia was still under seventeen; and Lord Berwick in his forties – I think. Yet she had recognised that his barouche was very comfortable to drive in.
Lord Berwick took to calling daily, courting Sophia’s attention, but as she did not like him Sophia refused to meet him alone but always asked either Harriette or Julia to accompany her if she dined with him, or rode with him in his carriage.
Harriette recalls the era of Lord Berwick’s courting as a busy, pleasant time, as he took them all out for parties in Richmond regularly, with friends, and became one of the set the courtesans constantly mingled with (and perhaps Harriette began to build up her own hopes, with one of the party, but that’s another story). Lord Berwick’s courting even continued when Harriette went to Brighton with her new conquest, and Sophia went too.
But, Sophia’s story is entirely different to Amy’s, in that she never sought Lord Berwick’s favour. You might think she was being coy, perhaps she was, and showing him no interest, to increase his interest. But in Brighton, Harriette tell us, that Sophia so blatantly showed her disapproval of Lord Berwick, by being ill-tempered, that it made the whole party feel uncomfortable.
So when Lord Berwick comes to Harriette, asking her to help him persuade Sophia to become his mistress for £500 a year, Harriette, highlights that Sophia dislikes him. But Lord Berwick says ‘I do not mind that, and by giving her what she wants, she may perhaps get over that dislike.’ He goes on to say, what he likes about Sophia, is that he believes everything Sophia says, and does not feel he would need to watch or suspect her.
Harriette, describes this as Sophia being, candid. 🙂
The following night, they all go to the theatre and sit in Lord Berwick’s box, and Harriette describes Lord Berwick as sitting at the back in the dark, where he cannot see or hear the play, while Sophia completely ignored him.
The next night the party dined at Harriette’s love nest, and when the women retired from the table, leaving the men behind, as part of their discussion they told Sophia, she was wrong to be taking so much from Lord Berwick and to give him nothing. So by the end of the night Sophia had been persuaded to agree to his Lordship setting up, and furnishing, a house for her in London. (Although Harriette later says, Lord Berwick had paid Julia, for persuading Sophia to accept). But still Sophia avoided Lord Berwick, by asking Fanny to stay with her in the town house, he’d set up, for a whole week.
But true to his word, not only did he give her a house, but her own carriage, which she travelled out in with her sisters, paying calls.
Then, without any apparent persuasion from Sophia, he took it in his head to marry her.
Sophia, who Harriette loves telling us had been hugely impressed by a few valueless trinkets when she was seduced at a very young age by Lord Deerhurst, was perhaps convinced purely by his gifts, as he’d planned. Because, although she continued to protest her dislike of Lord Berwick, and Harriette says, delayed the wedding, her sisters thought the delay was only a ruse to make it appear she had not been easily won. Harriette relates, that when Fanny played devil’s advocate and told Sophia his Lordship was thinking of withdrawing the offer, so it was a good thing Sophia did not care for him, Sophia blushed and then the next day went ahead with her wedding plans.
So for Sophia, there was a respectable end, and a very happy father who was thrilled to have a daughter raised to the status of nobility. While Harriette and her other sisters, who were courtesans, were left behind and no longer recognised, now Lord Berwick considered Sophia washed clean of sin by marriage. (This is why I doubt Harriette’s descriptions because jealousy does, sometimes, seem to ooze from the page, although Harriette never admits any envy)
But a fairtytale? Well, Sophia, had everything she wanted, and I’m currently sharing pictures of the house she lived in on my Facebook page, so you can see the luxury she resided in. Yet although Lord Berwick continued to shower her with gifts, to make her happy, Sophia never really liked him… The consequence was that in the end he became bankrupt and they had to leave the country to avoid debtors prison, while all their lovely things went up for auction. Fortunately Lord Berwick’s brother saved a lot of it.
I think Sophia’s fairytale ending, was far more likely be the point in her life after Lord Berwick died in Naples, when she came back to England, supported by his family, and lived comfortably, and alone, until she died in her eighties.
You can still see some of their furniture at Lord Berwick’s house, and a very special gift Lord Berwick gave to Sophia, a music box…
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Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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