So this week, we are back to Harriette’s affair with her under age lord. The Marquis, Lord Worcester. But before I continue their tale, let me do the quick recap for anyone joining my blog today. As usual, if you’ve read it, skip to 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.
So, to Harriette and Worcester. The last we heard of Worcester, Harriette had packed him off to charm his father, the Duke of Beaufort and his mother. Fortunately for Harriette while he was there, to be persuaded to drop the courtesan he’d fallen far too deeply for, his uncle advised his father of a new plan. Which Harriette only learned of years later (so she says). But his parents’ new plan, was to stop trying to persuade him to leave Harriette if he swore he’d never marry her, in the hope that his love/infatuation would die out with time. He wrote and told Harriette what they wished him to swear to, saying he’d refused, but she urged him not to let himself be cut off (there by taking away her income and any chance she would want to marry him), and so she said swear what they want you to.
After he had made that promise, he was allowed to return to her in Brighton and the two of them were left to live in peace for ‘six or eight months’ Harriette says, ‘during which time nothing very remarkable occurred, except that Worcester’s love and passion absolutely did increase daily.’
So of course when the Duke of Beaufort’s plan B did not work either, he grew angry again. Apparently according to Harriette they came to Brighton and called on him hourly, and a maid reported to Harriette his mother had actually said she’d prefer to see him dead under his horses hooves than married to the courtesan.
Lord Worcester’s answer to that was to beg Harriette to dress in disguise and travel with him to Gretna Green. (I’ve said before, as those of you who follow my blog will know that I think Harriette secretly hoped he would marry her, but she would not wish to be married to a man who had been cut off and lost his wealth even if she’d still be a duchess eventually). She reminded him of his promise. But Worcester claimed it to be invalid as it had been conditional and his father had not kept his side and left the two of them alone.
Worcester did escape his father though when he was posted to a village near Portsmouth to guard prisoners. But even then he would not leave Harriette, he begged her to come with him, which she did. She claimed to have never once argued with him. But instead of travelling there in the carriage he’d hired with four post-horses to pull it, Harriette says she rode among the officers, with him, all the way, dressed in her ‘regimental cap and habit, like a little recruit.’
While they stayed in the village she even lived with Worcester and the other officers in a ‘pot-house,’ ‘Our bedroom served us for parlour, kitchen, and hall, and we dined together in the only spare room there was.’
She gives us a fascinating view of what the inn looked like too. She speaks of heavy high-backed leather chairs, and the wainscot adorned with pictures of a fox-chase, the Virgin Mary, Bellingham the murderer of Perceval, King George III, a county map, and then the holy apostles eating the last supper, and finally a poll parrot done in cloth work. It sounds as eclectic as some pubs I’ve gone in today. There was also plenty of sand on the floor, and ‘wine glasses, toothpicks, and cruets on the sideboard’.
And beyond even that description she describes the smell of tobacco and beer, and that the sign outside was continually rocking in the wind, creaking constantly as it rained and blew up a storm for the first fortnight they were there.
Even in this, what Harriette describes as an ‘apology for an inn,’ though, Lord Worcester’s love endured. She describes him, one evening, wiping away the sour beer which fantastically varied the top of a mahogany table, (all her words, but jumbled up), and laying his ‘lordly head’ upon it, to say ‘Oh Harriette, my adored, delicious, lovely divine Harriette, what perfect happiness is this! Passing, thus, every minute of the day and night, in your society!! God only knows, how long I shall be permitted to enjoy all this felicity; but it is too great, I feel, to last. Nobody was ever been thus happy long.’
What brought their idyllic times, in a less than idyllic setting, to an end was a trip to the Theatre in Portsmouth, Harriette says the officers had hired a stage-box (see my post on the theatre in Bath to find out exactly what that looked like) but basically it was a box, but instead of being in front of the stage it would have been on the stage, above it and to the side, which of course put them in clear view of the audience, who were mainly sailors and took a dislike to the men in the dress uniforms of the Hussars. As I said in my post on the theatre in Bath sometime ago, audiences then were not like audiences now, they talked and shouted through a performance, and in this situation they threw oranges at Harriette’s and Lord Worcester’s party.
When this story reached the Duke of Beaufort, he was of the view that the only thing that could have caused the crowd to be offended was the fact that Worcester had attended with a courtesan, and so once again, poor Worcester was at the mercy of his father’s anger.I’ll tell what happens next, next week…
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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