Once Lord Worcester had left the courtesan, Harriette, behind, she had two choices. To stay at home and pine, or get on with her life. Well if you have been following this series of posts there are no odds at all on which she picked. But before I tell you what happened, as usual here’s the quick recap on the history of this series of posts for anyone joining the story today. Skip to the end of the Italics 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 does try to convince us that when Lord Worcester left London she would by choice have stayed at home and declined from the pain of his loss – but. Yes she then gives us a but, and I am not convinced by her denial at all. The but is that of course he had already paid for her opera box, and how stupid then would it be not to use it. Even the fact his parent’s opera box is directly opposite hers and they would willing report to Lord Worcester any sign that she intended to break her agreement to wait at least 12 months for his return did not put her off. No she decides that currently Lord Worcester is only on route to France and not in danger of death, and so tries to convince her readers there could be nothing wrong in her deciding to watch a few ballets before she would feel it too distasteful to socialize while he had bullets flying about his head. So she buys a new dress and accompanies her sister and her friend Julia to use their opera box.
Then it seems that perhaps Harriette was not the only one to immediately, figuratively, stab poor young Lord Worcester in the back.
Harriette says that, that same night, who should send an acquaintance of hers to request permission to be received in her box for an introduction, but Mr Meyler. If you’ve been reading these posts you may remember Mr Meyler was the young man who was a little older than Lord Worcester but had been at school with him, and developed a questionable relationship with Lord Worcester’s mother. He had been staying with Lord Worcester’s mother and viciously condemned Harriette as being entirely unworthy of Lord Worcester’s interest. At the time Harriette had heard he was pretty and admitted being in half a mind to make his words false by making him love her, and here he was asking to see her.
She and her sister were concerned about his intentions. Harriette thought he was here as a spy, or perhaps his plan was to encourage her to be unfaithful and then if she agreed he would walk away laughing and write to Lord Worcester. But because he was reported charming and beautiful (a sucker for pretty face) Harriette agreed to meet him.
Harriette’s perspective of their meeting, ‘certainly of very interesting appearance, and with a most expressive countenance. His manner too was particularly unaffected and gentlemanlike, and the tones of his voice were very sweet: nevertheless, it was easy to discover, in spite of his naturally good breeding, that he held me rather cheap.
In short, to put the idea of respect to me out of the question, he attempted to give me a kiss as we descended the stairs together…’ Now Harriette could have just told him no, but instead, ‘…but though I refused decidedly, it was done rather coquettishly, on purpose that he might be induced to renew the attack at some future day, with a little more ceremony.’ Naughty girl, but what did we expect this is Harriette we are speaking of.
But even odder the next day, at three o’clock, who should call on Harriette at home, but Lord Worcester’s father. He did not initially give his name but announced himself as a man who lived in Grosvenor Square. As always Harriette never liked the men she spoke to to have the upper hand so she insisted on having his name before seeing him, but even so when the Duke of Beaufort did come into her drawing-room she admits bewilderment.
‘I was surprised to receive a visit from His Grace, and still even more so, when I found that he really had nothing particular to say to me. He hesitated a good deal, looked rather foolish, and wishes, for my own sake, as well as his son’s, that I would abandon all hopes, and leave off corresponding with his son.’
Harriette then challenged him by asking if he would have her break the oath she had made to his son.
‘The Duke, from very shame, perhaps, was silent, and stood against my door, fidgeting and hesitating, as though he would have proposed something or other, but that he wanted courage. After a long pause, he suddenly , and with abruptness, said, ‘Who makes your shoes?’ (Harriette had very little feet)
I fixed my eyes upon His Grace in unaffected astonishment at this irrelevant question.
“We will say nothing of the feet and the ankles,” continued His Grace.
This compliment was so very unlooked for from such a quarter, and struck me so very odd, that I felt myself actually blushing up to my very eyes, and I immediately changed the conversation from my feet and ankles to the young Marquis and the peninsular war.
His Grace when he took his leave of me, had made no single proposal, nor said one single word, which could in any way assist my guess, as to why he did me the honour to call on me.’
Well clever old Harriette, let us remember when she wrote this she has been through a horrendous battle with the people over her intentions towards Lord Worcester and in this one two page excerpt she’s successfully destroyed the characters of the two men who spoke most hotly against her. She carefully tiptoes around telling us his father was there to make an inappropriate offer, but ensures that is what we think, rightly or wrongly…
I do love the woman’s strength of character… more next week 🙂
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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