The first of the truths a real courtesan excluded from her memoirs ~ How she fell

Harriette_Wilson00If you have been following my blog for a little while, you will know that Harriette Wilson, the real Regency courtesan who published her memoirs in 1825 as a kiss and tell series, inspired the first novel in the Marlow Intrigues series, The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, I have been sharing the version of her life she told in her memoirs here for about a year, but over that year so many times people have told me – but it’s known she lied in them.

Well recently, I discovered the work of someone who has researched Harriette’s real life, and so I can now share with you some of the things she did not include.

As to whether or not she lied, well I will also cover that… But… I will say now, I have used her memoirs as a wealth of insight into the Regency world, her writing is like looking in through a window to see how life was for someone who lived then, and yes, you can definitely spot the scenes where there is some embellishment, either because she was writing for an audience, or because she wished to hurt someone who had hurt her… But overall, many of her scenes are from truth. Plenty more of this in the next couple of weeks, including some insights which I have found really upsetting.

But let’s start at the beginning, Harriette opens her memoirs at the point she had already become a courtesan, and was living in Brighton, on the Marine Parade with Lord Craven, everything she tells us about Lord Craven implies she thinks him tedious and from the beginning she appears unhappy with him. So why had she taken him as her first protector?

Harriette does not tell us.

But here is what Frances Wilson has discovered.

Harriette was the 6th daughter in her family, and she also had 4 younger sisters  and 2 brothers so there were 12  children in all.

I have been saying for weeks her father was a watchmaker, but apparently that was a myth. Her father really laundered silk stockings, which you may think a mundane task, but only the genteel wore silk, and there was an art to keep the fashionable white stockings clean. It was a business that paid well, and her father and mother ran it from a large town property in Queen Street, in between Curzon Street and Charles Street, right in the heart of fashionable London, among their customers.

The family were not poor, but obviously not upper class,  yet their neighbours included Dr Merriman, Lord Craven, Lord Lucan, Lord Whitworth and the Dowager Countess of Granard… Harriette and her sisters grew up watching wealthy young and titled gentleman walk past No. 23 Queen St hourly.

Harriette was taught to read by one of her older sister’s, the one she calls Paragon in her memoirs, growing up she recorded her favourite novel as Gil Bas, the story of a rogue who has many adventures and becomes a wealthy Lord. She apparently imagined herself writing a female version of the story.

Harriette says when she was younger, that her sisters constantly spoke of the men who lived near them. Fanny was kissed by Tom Sheridan, and read aloud the love letters she had received, and Paragon agreed to walk out with a man, while the others glorified Berkeley Craven’s bright eyes. Harriette at this point was uninterested, but then she declares that listening to such things for so long inspired her to become inquisitive, and then she started curling her hair, and receiving her own love letters through the hands of the maids.

It was then her mother chose to send her off to a convent school in Rouen, as far away from the interest of the debauched men of London society, who thought nothing of trying to tempt young girls into sin, as possible.

She returned in 1800, to discover that two of her older sisters, Fanny and Amy, had given in to the charms of such men, and run off to become the mistresses of a Mr Trench and a Mr Woodcock. Amy had found Mr Trench who sent her back to school, settled a hundred a year on her, and then never saw her again, and so Amy found General Madden to keep her company. It was then that Fanny followed the example of her sister and let herself be set up in a house by Mr Woodcock. She used his name although he already had a legitimate wife he lived with.

When Harriette published her memoirs in 1825, someone who claimed to have known Harriette in 1800 wrote a letter to The Times, signing himself ‘An Old Rake’ he described Harriette as ‘a little dirty girl, whose name was Du Bouchet, who was five and twenty years ago a regular tramp in St Jame’s Street… bunch backed with a shuffling gait.

Harriette was then fourteen, and her father was unwilling to feed her, he wished her to support herself, and her father had been a figure to be frightened of all her life. When she was younger, once she recorded angering him, and then taking a beating with a birch that disfigured her entire body, while beyond the chamber door her mother screamed for her father to stop.

From a family that was not poor, but not at the level of someone who might be a companion, Harriette had one option, teaching, it would have been abohorent to her to take on a labouring job or a position as a servant when she came from a family who had servants. She had lived a lifestyle in town, probably similar to that which Jane Austen lived in the country, but Harriette’s family were not descended from a title, so there were no wealthy relatives to be looked to for support.

Of course her sisters had taken another option, to become kept women, a role in which they would still have servants, and be paid more money than they would as teachers, and the role must have seemed far less strenuous 🙂

Harriette’s mother found her a position as a music teacher in a school initially, near Hyde Park, but Harriette only survived three months there. The French mistress, having claimed to see Harriette’s breast uncovered, said she could not be a virgin. Harriette returned home. An appointment was then found for her at a girls’ school in Newcastle upon Tyne, and she travelled there on the mail coach, with Tom Sheridan, who was returning to his regiment in Edinburgh.

To express the sort of young man Tom was, like so many of the young men of the day, Francis Wilson records some of the things he was known to have said ‘Told by his father to take a wife, Tom replied ‘Yes but who’s?’ Told by his father he would be cut off with a penny, Tom asked whether he might have the penny now.’

It is not known what occurred on their journey, but there are hints in Harriette’s memoirs, that imply she may have allowed herself to be seduced by Tom, during the two days and one night they travelled, and certainly when she left him at Newcastle upon Tyne, she had agreed to him sending her love letters, with which she could tease her sisters.

Harriette did not survive long at this school either, such a life was too boring, and Tom Sheridan suggested to her in his letters that she should become an actress. The idea appealed, and Harriette headed back to her family home in London. But her father refused such a notion. Being an actress was no better than being a prostitute, and he said ‘he would rather see me in my grave.’

It was her father’s anger which finally drove her away. Francis Wilson, says, Harriette made him his favourite meal, and waited up beyond the time she was supposed to be in bed to ensure it remained hot, only to receive a scolding for her attempt to placate him, for her disobedience in staying up…

Harriette then planned her escape, but she did not run very far to look for her saviour, only to the end of the street where her parents lived. It is believed she ran away initially with Berkeley Craven – he who was revered by her sisters for  his bright eyes. She had known the family for years. But it was not Berkeley Craven she remained with, it was his older brother, Lord Craven, who she became the mistress of…

And what happened then, I will continue next week… 🙂


Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.

Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see 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


The tale of ‘The Mad Cavalier’ Prince Rupert – another Stuart dynasty story

Prince Rupert

This week, before I progress to some more stories of women with disreputable reputations in the rest of November, and then some stories about 18th/19th Century balls in December, I thought I would share another tale I heard when we visited Ripley Castle in September.

Staying with my King Charles theme of the last couple of weeks, I thought I would tell you about ‘The Mad Cavalier’ a character straight from the pages of a novel but the wonderful thing is this story is all true.

Prince Rupert ‘The Mad Cavalier’ was the grandson of King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) therefore nephew to King Charles I and first cousin of King Charles II. He was the 3rd son of the ‘Winter King and Queen’ of Bohemia – the 3rd son of Elizabeth Stuart whose love story I told in a blog a couple of weeks ago.

A Young Prince Rupert visiting King Charles I’s court

Prince Rupert was raised in exile with his parents in The Hague, his father died when he was 13 years old, and by the age of 14 Rupert was already fighting in battles in the 80 years war over Dutch Independence and in the 30 years war against the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany making his living as a soldier and by visiting the Courts of his English Uncle and his Continental alliances. But he was captured in October 1638 at the end of a battle in which he’d fought alongside Lord Craven (the man his mother had a long-standing love affair with). Lord Craven tried to negotiate Rupert’s freedom and then begged to remain with him but failed. Rupert tried to bribe himself free but again failed and was imprisoned in Linz until the end of 1641. In the years of Rupert’s imprisonment the Holy Roman Emperor tried to convert him to Catholicism even seeking to bribe him with the offer of a small principality and the position of general in his own army. Rupert held firm and refused but his imprisonment was then relaxed and he was treated more as guest, being allowed to do such things as play tennis and hunt. During his captivity he was given a rare dog, a giant poodle who he named Boye.

He was finally released after much negotiation on the grounds that he would promise to never again take up arms against the Emperor.

Prince Rupert

After his release Prince Rupert came to England with his brother, slipping through the Parliamentary defences in August 1642 to find his Uncle King Charles I at Leicester Abbey and offer his support on the Royalists side in the Civil War. He was still only 23 but he was appointed Generalissimo, General of the Horse, and immediately set about raising 3,000 cavalry in the first month of his return. He fought valiantly with great skill both in physical combat and as a tactician. His manoeuvres, determination and tactics won many battles. As a good-looking young man with a reputation for fearless fighting and charismatic energy he became highly respected and admired within the Royalist Army, however he was not so skilled at court. He did not use flowery words and subtle manipulations as others did but was very prepared to argue if he disagreed and tell a man he did not like him straight to his face no matter his status and influence.

He must have been quite a sight in battle with his fearless assaults charging forwards and racing too and fro across field while beside him, his giant poodle, Boye, whom he been given when in captivity in Linz, fought equally as hard, biting and clawing horses and men. Apparently Rupert was so energetic and enthusiastic in battle he sometimes confused his own men by his rashly cast orders to charge here and then there. He was key to many Royalist victories during the Civil War. It was his lack of skill in influencing other advisers in King Charles I court which ended his success.

Parliament propaganda – Boye was often portrayed as a witch’s familiar

He urged the King to return to London when they won a battle and take the city immediately before the Parliamentary army could regroup but the King ignored Rupert’s advice and took that of others, waited on a larger force and returned more slowly. By the time they reached London, London’s defences were prepared. Some say the Royalists may have won the war if the army had followed Rupert’s advice.

Rupert’s dog, Boye, was slain in the battle of Marston Moor while in the act of pulling a Cromwellian soldier from his horse, causing Rupert significant grief. The Royalists lost that battle and it was one of the turning points of the war.

Eve of the Battle of Edgehill – Prince Rupert seated at the table

In 1645, after numerous victories, Rupert was now general of the entire Royalist army but despite the respect he’d earned on the battlefield his advice in preparation for battle was still being ignored. He counselled against accepting battle at Naseby which resulted in another defeat, and Rupert’s enemies then turned the blame for the defeat upon Rupert. Rupert by this point had lost heart in the war, he no longer believed they would win, but again the King chose to not listen to Rupert’s warning and seek a peace agreement. When Rupert gave up Bristol after a siege in September 1645 he was dismissed from his post but Rupert proved his fighting skills again and rejoined his Uncle requesting a Court-martial hearing. He was exonerated for his submission of Bristol and reappointed, but his reappointment did not last long. In 1646 he gave up Oxford following a siege and then resigned his post taking many of the best Royalist cavalry officers with him. They knew Rupert was the wiser and more skilled.

Rupert and his officers then instead offered their military services to Louis XIV of France and fought against the Holy Roman Emperor once more until 1648 when the Parliamentary Navy mutinied and sailed to Holland. With opportunity to support his Uncle once more Rupert took a commission in the Navy but it was a poorly disciplined fleet and Rupert was known on one occasion to dangle the ringleader of a rebellion over the edge of a ship and threaten to drop him in the sea. When this shambolic navy collapsed and half the fleet returned to the Parliamentary side in 1650, Rupert took it into his head to raise funds for the Royalist cause through piracy.

He led the six remaining ships to the Caribbean capturing vessels whenever possible and did not return until March 1653, but in the process of this campaign he lost two ships and on one of them his brother Maurice who had remained with Rupert since his escape from captivity in Linz in 1641.

Pepy’s, a diarist of the time, records Rupert’s own account of his Civil War experiences

In France Rupert joined his cousin’s exiled court but again struggled with the personalities there and suffering with lack of money he sought out his eldest brother who had now taken up his throne in the Palatine and owed Rupert an income from the crown. It was here there was a laughable courtly intrigue, Rupert fell for his brother’s mistress – without realising she was his brother’s mistress – and sent her a love letter which was read by his brother’s wife. His brother’s wife, thinking the letter addressed to herself, was inclined to accept the offer of an affair and approached Rupert to agree only to be told, no, that the letter was addressed to her Lady’s maid. This shambles ended in Rupert’s brother’s wife insisting upon an annulment of her marriage as when Rupert then corrected his approach to the right woman, his brother warned him off and the whole affair eventually became public. Rupert left Palatine and never returned.

Princes of Palatins – Prince Rupert on the right with his brother Charles Louis

Following the reformation when King Charles II returned to be crowned in England, Prince Rupert came to live in England in 1660, and Pepy’s diary of the time records his return. ‘This day or yesterday, I hear, Prince Rupert is come to Court, but welcome to nobody.’ He became a prominent figure in the Charles II courtly set, including Lord Craven and the Countess of Castlemaine who I have written blogs about in the last couple of weeks. I would guess Rupert was one of those who visited Lord Craven’s property for hunting at Ashdown House and enjoyed draining the huge cellar of its wine. Rupert’s brother tried to persuade Rupert to return to the Palatine and marry to establish an heir as his brother’s own son was not healthy but Rupert never married, possibly deliberately.

Perhaps Rupert brought one of his known mistresses with him for rakish episodes of carousing at Ashdown House though.

He had his two known mistresses painted by Sir Peter Lely in true Charles II court’s style.

First there was Frances Bard, daughter of a Civil War veteran and explorer. Frances claimed Rupert had married her in 1664 but he denied it, although he recognised their son.

Frances Bard

His later mistress who usurped Frances in the late 1660s was a Drury Lane actress, Peg Hughes, (quite possibly a friend of the Kings Mistress Nell Gwynn). With a penchant for gambling she enjoyed spending the money he lavished on her and he gave her copious amounts of jewellery during their affair including pieces from the Royal collection he’d inherited from his mother the ‘Winter Queen’. Once she had borne him a daughter he purchased a house for her and lived there with her on occasions. He was noted to comment on his daughter and family life, saying she ‘already rules the whole house and sometimes argues with her mother, which makes us all laugh.’

Margret Hughes

In the years after the reformation Prince Rupert took office in the Navy once more, sat on the Privy Council, and also progressed to work on inventions and fund explorations. These years of his life are recorded at times in Pepy’s diary and we can see within the diaries he continued to have frequent disagreements at court and express a countenance that lacked discretion notably laughing and cursing with regularity and flying into a temper at times.

Prince Rupert painted by Sir Peter Lely 1670

All of Pepy’s diary entries incorporating Prince Rupert comments about Prince Rupert

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