The tale of the ‘Three Graces’, the life story of a real 19th Century courtesan continues

Harriette_Wilson00As I told you last week, Lord Lorne was not entirely devoted to Harriette, and perhaps it was his lack of complete devotion which inspired Harriette to raise her game, or maybe it was simply that she had his money to spend now. But whatever inspired and enabled it, Harriette began to increase the circles she moved in and opened up a shop window for her beauty.

Now, for those joining my blog this week, here’s a quick snapshot of Harriette’s history. For anyone who’s already read this, pick the blog up at 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.

Harriette says her eldest sister, Amy, was the one who led them all astray. She tells the tale that Amy left home, met a man, and then became his mistress the next day. This man then paid for Amy to return to school and become educated but, while there, Amy ran away with another lover. Amy and Harriette did not get along. But Harriette did visit her when she lived with her lovers even before Harriette had left home. Perhaps Harriett learnt her tricks from Amy.

Fanny was also an ill-example, another of Harriette’s older sisters, and one who Harriette was very close to. Fanny also left home to live with a man but would have married her first lover whom she had three children with, if his wife had not refused to divorce him. Then he died.

But whichever one of Harritte’s sisters inspired her to adopt the life of courtesan, when Harriette was settled in London, and now had Lord Lorne’s money to spend, her sister Fanny and her friend Julia, whom she’d met when she was with her former lover, for company, Harriette realised new heights.

Harriette, Fanny and Julia regularly went about together and they hired an opera box to share for the season. Of course the box meant they might show themselves off to society. It was their shop window, to offer their wares – beauty, conversation and perhaps more.

Harriette’s older sister Amy had her own box near theirs, where she courted her own set of admirers. (Perhaps where Harriette got the idea from). Knowing Harriette through her writing, I bet she loved setting up in competition to the sister she disliked.

At the opera Harriette says she learnt to become a complete flirt. And her implication is that this increased flirtation was inspired by Lord Lorne. When she went to the opera she frequently sat facing him as he occupied a box with his married mistress, leaving his employed one across the room.

Harriette declares that she would purposefully look tenderly towards other men, hinting at seeking to make Lorne jealous. She even says one day when she was with Fanny and Julia and met Lord Lorne in the park she gave him a note, which he slipped in his pocket, thinking it a love note to him, but then Harriette asked him to put in the post. It was addressed to another man she had been at the opera with the night before – that girl had such a sense of humour and a great wicked streak :-).

I love the life Harriette describes when they entertained in her theatre box. It must have been constant banter and laughing as it filled up with the elite men of London Society. She speaks of one evening when she could only let a man in when one left because her box became so full. When Julia and Fanny went to visit the enemy, as one of the men called Harriette’s sister Amy, one of her frequent visitors opened the door and says ‘room for two?’ as he brought in a friend.

William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, known as 'Hart'

William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, known as ‘Hart’

She speaks of the Duke of Devonshire visiting her box too.  This was Hart, the son of Georgiana, the Duchess whose story was told in the film. He was also the cousin of Lady Caroline Lamb . He was profoundly deaf and Harriette doesn’t like him and I hate to say it, was a bit mean to him, hinting that he should go and make room for someone she did like.

She mentions men telling her Lord Lorne was looking, from Lady W’s box. Which she loved to hear but refused to acknowledge.

Then she tells us that in the refreshment room Lord Lorne would pass her and whisper in her ear, to ask if she was not going to go home now. Presumably Refusing to be ordered Harriette would tell him, no, and say she would be out another three hours if she was going to one of Amy’s parties. At which Lord Lorne would simply ask if he might visit her in three hours then, to come to her bed. (Let’s remember, he was funding her lifestyle – so she was playing very close the edge).

Harriette describes one of Amy’s parties, saying there were men in the passage, in the parlour and in the drawing-room where Amy sat entertaining three Russians, you could scarcely breathe.

Beau Brummell

Beau Brummell

So now when Harriette speaks of men she is not talking of one or two but twenty, and she is mixing with men at the very peak of English society in 1800’s. She speaks of a conversation with Beau Brummell, friend of the Prince Regent and the man half of English Society looked up to at the time, and Brummell whispering to her to tease another gentleman and keep him dangling so she might laugh at him.

But all this time Harriette was enjoying herself and seeking to inspire jealousy in Lord Lorne,  neglecting the man who was keeping her, Amy who had no constant engagement was angling to win that man for herself…

The story continues next week 🙂

Links for blogs

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 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