Harriette – the 19th Century Courtesan- faces a little competition

Harriette_Wilson00In my last post on Harriette’s affair with Lord Worcester, I gave you more insight into his devotion, but now let’s have another look from Harriette’s point of view.

If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ll know I have a suspicion that Harriette had marriage and security on her mind when she began her affair with the young infatuated heir to a duke. Imagine the coup in living the life she’d done as an infamous courtesan and to then become a duchess. As I said last week, he already spoke as though he was married to her, and you might think then, well why hasn’t she already made a move if that was her intent.

There’s a very simple answer, he wasn’t of age, he wasn’t twenty-one so he still needed his parents’ consent.

But before I explore this a little more let me do a quick recap of the history for these posts if you joined my blog today. If you’ve already read it, read on from 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.

Bored of Brighton, and desiring a little more than Lord Worcester’s constant company, Harriette urges him to agree to her going to London to stay with her sister. He concedes, he might not wish to leave her, but he is willing to do anything that makes her happy.

But while she is away, he writes her a long letter, of which the first three pages say how much he misses her, while the fourth turns to telling the story of the paymasters wife who’s taken an interest in him. Though Lord Worcester has a suspicion her interest is only to try to blackmail money out of him.

While riding, he had a chance meeting with her and her husband, and despite her husband’s presence Harriette surmises from Lord Worcester’s words that she is flirting outrageously.  Her husband then tickles her horse so it charges off, forcing Lord Worcester to go to her rescue, stopping it before it charges over a cliff. This then gives the lady reason to write to him, and offer a certain type of gratitude, if he meets her behind the barracks – I’m laughing, I don’t know about you.

When he doesn’t meet her behind the barracks, she writes again naming a place that is on his way home. He does stop at her chosen point but only to tell her he’s not interested, as he’s devoted to Harriette, and then he escorts the lady home to make the point even clearer.

The Marquis of Wiltshire. 7th Duke of Beaufort. in later life

The Marquis of Wiltshire. 7th Duke of Beaufort. in later life

In the same letter, Lord Worcester also shared his anger over his parents’ intervention in his life. His uncle who lived locally has told his parents about Harriette, and they are both writing to him daily, telling him to give her up immediately, and cut her off without settlement. His answer to this is to remind her in his letter he is not far from coming of edge, and to beg her to promise herself to him for life.

So what does Harriette do? Rush back in three days, telling him not to worry she will be there soon, and not to irritate his parents (which of course might damage her chances if she is seeking a longer term thing). But nor does she rush her fences and speak back to him of marriage, in my view, I can imagine her making sure if this is what she wants the idea will only ever seem like it’s his, not hers, to avoid any risk of him thinking her grasping and pulling back.

And when she arrived back in Brighton, to be given two more letters written by the wife who is after him, declaring love and desperation, Harriette writes back;


It is not my fault that you are treated so cruelly by Lord Worcester; for I gave you a fair chance of working on his affections, when I went to London. You must therefore, by this time, be convinced that… the case is hopeless. If, in your extreme distress, I can afford you any consolation, you have only to speak.  Shall I forward you a lock of his hair? Or get his portrait copied for you? Further I cannot do, myself, you know; and with regard to all your effusions… it merely serves for my use and amusement.”  

Clearly the woman involved was punching above her weight. But this says to me that for all Harriette’s profusions of only amiable interest in Lord Worcester and nothing more, she wanted to keep him.

Harriette ends the story by saying that the woman then shared her love for Worcester about the 10th Hussars – ooo waspish.

More next week…

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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