A timeline of the linnen-lifting tribe

A timeline of the most celebrated, notorious and memorable sex workers throughout history.

This is a historical overview of the lives of many who earned their livelihoods in the sex trade. I hope that if you notice an omission, you will bring it to my attention and we can include them too. ;xNLx;;xNLx;The timeline is interactive and if you would like to make an addition, just email me at kate@whoresofyore.co and I will give you a password.

0020-12-17 00:00:00


Valeria Messalina married the Roman Emperor Claudius. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot. Her notorious reputation arguably results from political bias, but works of art and literature have perpetuated it into modern times. Accusations of sexual excess were a tried and tested smear tactic and most accounts about Messalina come from Tacitus and Suetonius, some 70 years after the fact; but, two accounts especially have added to her notoriety. Pliny the Elder wrote that Messalina challenged Rome’s top sex worker, Scylla, to a competition to have the most partners in a single night. Poets also record Messalina would secretly work in Rome’s brothels under the name ‘she-wolf’. Her husband eventually had to order the execution of Messalina and her lover, who had secretly marriage each other and planned to kill Claudius. The truth in such tales will never be known, but Messalina has gone down in history as a woman of spectacular power and sexual appetites.

0330 BC-12-01 00:00:00

Thaïs instigates the burning of Persepolis

Thaïs (Greek: Θαΐς) was a famous Greek hetaera who lived during the time of Alexander the Great and accompanied him on his campaigns. She is most famous for instigating the burning of Persepolis. At the time, Thaïs was the lover of Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander's generals. It has been suggested that she may also have been Alexander's lover, on the basis of Athenaeus's statement that Alexander liked to "keep Thais with him", but this may simply mean he enjoyed her company. She is said to have been very witty and entertaining. Athenaeus also says that after Alexander's death Ptolemy married Thaïs, who bore him three children.

0371 BC-12-01 00:00:00


Phryne was a famous Greek hetaira. She is best known for her trial for impiety, where she was defended by the orator Hypereides. Phryne means “toad” and was her stage name (apparently, she had a yellowish complexion). Yellow or not, Phryne was widely celebrated for her beauty, and was the model for several contemporary paintings and sculpture, including a statue of Aphrodite by her client Praxiteles. Phryne was so successful at what she did hat she became so fabulously wealthy in her own right. When Alexander the Great destroyed the walls of Thebes, she offered to pay for their repairs, on the condition the words “destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the whore” be inscribed upon them; the government of Thebes refused her. Angered by her growing popularity, politicians conspired to have Phryne charged for blasphemy. She was defended by Hypereides, who, when it looked like the court was going to find her guilty, tore off her gown to show her body to the judges and asked “How could a festival in honour of the gods be desecrated by beauty which they themselves bestowed?” The judges viewed her beauty as a gift from the gods and acquitted her.

0425 BC-12-01 00:00:00

Lais of Corinth

Lais of Corinth was a famous courtesan of ancient Greece who was probably born in Corinth. Little is known about her beyond a few passing references in ancient texts. She lived during the Peloponnesian War and was lover to the philosopher Aristippus (two of his alleged writings were about Lais) and the Olympic champion Eubotas of Cyrene.

0470 BC-12-01 00:00:00


Aspasia was the daughter of the wealthy Axiochus and was well educated. Her beauty and education allowed her to become a hetaerae (a high class of courtesan in ancient Greece). Plutarch wrote that Athenian men would bring their wives to visit her in hope that they would learn the art of conversation. She became Pericles’ mistress, and after he divorced his wife in 445 BCE she moved in with him, bearing his son, Pericles the Younger, a few years later. Aspasia was well respected for her intellect and political acumen; Socrates praised her as a teacher and for being a positive influence in government. Aspasia was charged with “corrupting the morals” of Athenian women to entice them into “satisfying Pericles’ perversions”, but was acquitted. After Pericles died in 429,Aspasia became the mistress of another general and statesman named Lysicles. Little is known of Aspasia’s life after this point, but most historians believe she died around 400 BCE.

0500 BC-12-01 00:00:00


Amrapāli was an Indian royal courtesan, in the republic of Vaishali. Following the Buddha's teachings, she became an arahant. She is mentioned in the old Pali texts and Buddhist traditions, particularly in conjunction with the Buddha staying at her mango grove, Ambapali vana, which she later donated to his order and wherein he preached the famous Ambapalika Sutta. Her name means ‘mango’, as legends has it she was found under a mango tree, in the royal gardens as a baby. Her beauty was legendary and Kings fought wars to win her favour. Amrapali she renounced her position as courtesan, accepted the Buddha’s teachings way, and became an active supporter of the Buddhist order.

0500-12-01 00:00:00

"Theodora-from-the-Brothel" becomes Empress of the Byzantine Empire

Theodora (c. 500 – 548) was empress of the Eastern Roman Empire by marriage to Emperor Justinian I. She was one of the most influential and powerful of the Eastern Roman empresses. But, Theodora’s origins were not quite as illustrious as her end. She was born to the bear-keeper of Constantinople's hippodrome in about AD500. Her mother, whose name is not recorded, was a dancer and an actress. By the age of 15, Theodora was the star of the hippodrome, and if sources are to be believed, performed highly sexualised and shocking acts on stage. Procopius's Secret History (548) calls her "Theodora-from-the-Brothel" and describes her allowing geese to peck grain from between her legs, to and has her saying she regrets God gave her only three orifices for pleasure. At 21, Theodora met and married the heir to the throne, Justinian. When Justin died and Justinian became emperor in 527, "Theodora-from-the-Brothel" became empress of Rome. The classic rags to riches story is made richer still by Theodora's achievements in power. As empress, she worked on the paper On Pimps, an attempt to stop pimps making their money from sex workers. Well aware of the impossibility of marriage and a safe life for such women, she set up a house where they could live in peace. Theodora worked for women's marriage and dowry rights, anti-rape legislation, and was supportive of the many young girls who were sold into sexual slavery for the price of a pair of sandals. Her laws banished brothel-keepers from Constantinople and from all the major cities of the empire.

0501-12-01 00:00:00

Chinese Courtesan Su Xiaoxiao Dies

Su Xiaoxiao (Chinese: 蘇小小, died c. 501),[1] also known as Su Xiaojun and sometimes by the appellation "Little Su", was a famous Chinese courtesan and poet from Qiantang City. Su Xiaoxiao died when she was only nineteenth years old. Legend has it that upon learning she would die young, Su Xiaoxiao decided her beauty was a gift to world. The many stories and poems written about her often portray her as caring for the poor and destitute with the money she has earned from her rich lovers. Su Xiaoxiao was the inspiration for many poets and artists, and is often a frequent figure for portrayal in Chinese theatre. Su Xiaoxiao's tomb was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but it was rebuilt in 2004, complete with a brand new pavilion decorated with twelve poetry posts handwritten by famous calligraphers. Su Xiaoxiao's tomb is now again a major tourist site in Hangzhou.

1003-12-01 00:00:00


Herleva (also known as Herleve, Arlette, Arletta, Arlotte, and Harlette) was mistress to Robert I, Duke of Normandy and Herluin de Conteville; she was mother to William the Conqueror (who was always known as 'William the Bastard' because of his illegitimate birth.) Herleva's background is subject to debate, but most sources (written after her death) state that she was the daughter of a tanner. According to one legend, still recounted by tour guides at Falaise, it all started when Robert, the young Duke of Normandy, saw Herleva from the roof of his castle tower. The walkway on the roof still looks down on the dyeing trenches cut into stone in the courtyard below, which can be seen to this day from the tower ramparts above. The traditional way of dyeing leather or garments was to trample barefoot on the garments which were awash in the liquid dye in these trenches. Herleva, legend goes, seeing the Duke on his ramparts above, raised her skirts perhaps a bit more than necessary in order to attract the Duke's eye. The latter was immediately smitten and ordered her brought in (as was customary for any woman that caught the Duke's eye) through the back door. Herleva refused, saying she would only enter the Duke's castle on horseback through the front gate, and not as an ordinary commoner. The Duke, filled with lust, could only agree. In a few days, Herleva, dressed in the finest her father could provide, and sitting on a white horse, rode proudly through the front gate, her head held high. This gave Herleva a semi-official status as the Duke's mistress. She later gave birth to his son, William, in 1027 or 1028. Herleva later married Herluin de Conteville in 1031. Some accounts maintain that Robert always loved her, but the gap in their social status made marriage impossible, so, to give her a good life, he married her off to one of his favourite noblemen. She had several children and died in her forties.

1079-01-17 00:00:00

Dangereuse de l'Isle Bouchard

Dangereuse de l'Isle Bouchard 1079-1151 (Also known as Dangerosa. The mistress of William IX Duke of Aquitaine, also known as William the troubadour. She received the name Dangereuse for her seductiveness. She was also known as La Maubergeonne for the tower William built for her at his castle in Poitiers. William IX was excommunicated for ‘abducting’ Dangereuse though most sources have her as a willing participant in her leaving her first husband for the Duke. Dangereuse is ancestor to Richard and John Kings of England and various other queens and nobility of Europe.

1150-01-13 00:00:00

Rosamund Clifford

Rosamund Clifford (before 1150 – c. 1176), often called "The Fair Rosamund" or the "Rose of the World", was a mistress of King Henry II of England, famous in English folklore. Rosamund Clifford was reputedly one of the great beauties of the twelfth century and inspired ballads, poems, stories, and paintings. Rosamund grew up at Castle Clifford, before going to Godstow Nunnery, near Oxford, to be educated by the nuns. Henry publicly acknowledged the liaison with Rosamund in 1174. When the affair ended, Rosamund retired to Godstow Abbey, where she died, not thirty years old, The traditional story recounts that King Henry adopted her as his mistress. To conceal his relationship from his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, he hid Rosamund within a complicated maze which he had made in his park at Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Rumours reaching the ears of Queen Eleanor, the perturbed queen enters and solves the labyrinth, confronts her terrified and tearful rival, and forces her to choose between the dagger and the bowl of poison; Rosamund chose the latter and died. All the stories of her death at the hands of Queen Eleanor are greatly exaggerated, varying from the poisoning stories to being roasted, stabbed and drowned by the vengeful queen. These are much later additions and more than likely untrue as Eleanor was imprisoned for encouraging her sons to revolt against their father for many years.

1340-12-18 00:00:00

Clarice la Claterballock

Clarice la Claterballock turns up in the medieval court records for soliciting in London. Nothing more is known about her, but her name alone earns her a place here.

1348-01-04 00:00:00

Alice Perrers

Alice Perrers (1348–1400) was an English royal mistress whose lover was King Edward III of England. She came to the kings notice as a lady-in-waiting to Edward's Queen and consort, Philippa of Hainault. She went on to become the wealthiest woman in the land, amassing a fortune equal to six million in today’s money. However, she was despised by many and was accused of taking advantage of the far older king with her youth, beauty, and opportunistic character. She was rumoured to have been only fifteen, the king being fifty-two, when their relationship started, of course she would have been to blame. She was rumoured to control the court on the behalf on a bedridden king, something unheard of for a woman of no royal or noble blood. At one point in their relationship Perrers was paraded around London dressed in golden garments, as "The Lady of the Sun" on the king's command, and courtiers were expected to behave respectfully towards her, this added to the ill feeling directed her way. Though Perrers was given many gifts and land grants from Edward, her financial success was largely earned. Some contemporaries claimed that she had seduced a senile king to gain property and goods, but most of her acquisitions were owed to her intelligence, business acumen, and use of contacts, and she became a wealthy landowner. So successful was she that at the height of her power she controlled 56 manors, castles and town houses In 1376, she was tried for corruption and subsequently banished from the kingdom by the Good Parliament, her lands forfeit, she was later able to return to England and work to regain some of her lands. Alice Perrers died in the winter of 1400/1401 aged 52 and was buried in the church of St Laurence, Upminster, her grave now lost to history.

1394-12-01 00:00:00

John/Eleanor Rykener is arrested in London

Not much is known about John before or after her arrest - but, she is included here as John's case is the only known record of a transgender person, as well as the only known legal record involving homosexuality in a temporal court — during the Middle Ages. As such, John's story is vital in understanding medieval sexuality, sexual identity and how these issues were processed within a legal setting. Eleanor Rykener was arrested for prostitution in 1394, and was discovered to be John Rykener. She was then charged with illud vitium detestabile, nephandum, et ignominiosum—that “detestable, unmentionable, and ignominious vice,” sodomy. The case is recorded in Plea and Memoranda Roll for the Corporation of London in 1395. Rykener had been living as a woman for considerable time, and testifies to having married a man, doing women’s work, and prostituting Rykener said that she “accommodated priests more readily than other people because they wished to give [him] more than others".

1422-12-01 00:00:00

Hwang Jini

Hwang Jini was known by her gisaeng name Myeongwol (bright moon), was one of the most famous Korean gisaeng of the Joseon Dynasty (gisaeng were highly educated sex workers, who were trained in arts, culture and dance.) She lived during the reign of King Jungjong. She was noted for her exceptional beauty, charming quick wit, extraordinary intellect, and her assertive and independent nature.

1422-12-01 00:00:00

Agnès Sorel

Agnès Sorel, known as Dame de beauté, was the mistress of King Charles VII of France and is considered the first officially recognised royal mistress. She was extravagant, sensual and held enormous power over the King. Agnès was a trendsetter and inspired many imitators at court; one of her most famous fashions was dresses that exposed one, or both of her breasts. Artists flocked to paint her, and the images left to us show her with bared breasts. Agnès bore the king four children, and died suddenly after the birth of the forth. Agnès’ enormous influence and power had earned her many enemies, and many suspected her death had been murdered. In 2004, French historians, led by Phillipe Charlier, exhumed Agnès’ body. The team tested her remains for cause of death and noticed an abnormally high amount of mercury. While mercury was used as a cure for parasites, which Agnès did indeed suffer from, Charlier found a suspiciously high amount of mercury in her hair, suggesting that she had ingested high quantities of mercury in the days before her death.

1500-12-01 00:00:00

Mary Boleyn

Sister to Anne Boleyn, and famous for being the mistress of two kings, Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. Mary was nicknamed "the English mare" by Francis I, who, in the series, stated "Because I ride her so often." She was said to be ‘a great wanton and notoriously infamous.’ 1520, in the Chapel Royal at Greenwich, she married Sir William Carey. Shortly afterwards she became Henry VIII’s mistress. During her affair with Henry,I she gave birth to two children, a daughter named Catherine in 1524 and a son named Henry in 1526. Since Mary was sleeping with the King during the period in which her children were conceived, many people believe that both Catherine and Henry or one or the other could be the illegitimate children of Henry VIII. Mary’s husband died in 1528, and Mary disappears from records. However, she does cause something of a scandal again in 1534 when she married a soldier, far beneath her station, and without the family’s permission. She was banished from court.

1546-12-01 00:00:00

Veronica Franco

Veronica was not born into wealth, but she was born to a very savvy mother who herself had been a cortigiana onesta; she taught her daughter well. Veronica was unhappily married in her mid-teens to a physician named Paolo Panizza. Though Venetian women of that time could be granted a divorce, whatever she had brought to the marriage, she would walk away with nothing. Veronica was deeply unhappy in her marriage, and was successful in getting divorced – though it left her and her young child penniless. Veronica had learnt much from her mother and went on to become of the most successful and sought after courtesans of all time. Beautiful, witty, passionate and intelligent, she became the lover of King Henry III of France, and Domenico Venier, a wealthy poet and literary advisor. Her relationship with Venier allowed Veronica to move in literary circles and she began writing her own poetry; editing collections, and seeking out collaborations. Her poetry is often erotic and daring. She never hides the fact she is a courtesan and in 1575, she penned a spirted rebuttal to obscene verse that had been written about her. Unfortunately, Veronica’s success was not to last; soon after her book was published plague broke out in Venice and raged for two years. She was forced to flee the city, and in her absence her house was looted; she lost most of her possessions (including a library that was among the best private collections in Europe), and was only saved from ruin by the generous patronage of Domenico Venier. The plague also took her mother and a brother, so she was left with the care of her nephews in addition to her own children (she eventually had six in all, three of whom died in infancy). Upon her return to Venice in 1577, she unsuccessfully attempted to convince the city to fund a charity for the children of courtesans. In 1575, Ridolfo Vannitelli denounced Veronica as a witch to the Inquisition on a charge. Veronica was able to use her impressive connections, money and sharp wits to secure an acquittal, but the damage was done. One by one, her protectors abandoned her and she died in virtual poverty at the age of 45.

1590-12-01 00:00:00

Black Luce

Black Luce (also known as Lucy Negroe) was a brothel owner and sex worker in Clerkenwell, London when Shakespeare was writing. Not much is known about her, but Dr Duncan Salkeld has suggested that Black Luce may have been the mysterious 'Dark Lady' of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Lucy also appears in a list of bawdy entertainments – the Gray’s Inn Christmas entertainments of 1594 – and in a few plays and literary texts of the period. Apart from a midnight raid on her premises, Luce is not recorded as being arrested, though her girls were, and court documents include references to her successful brothel.

1615-01-01 00:00:00

Sechir Para

Sechir Para was the favourite concubine of Ibrahim the Mad (1615-48), the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. (The date given in this timeline is Ibrahim's birth, not Sechir Para's; hers is unknown.) Ibrahim the Mad was locked up in a windowless cell by his brother, until he was 23. Many historians have traced Ibrahim's mental instability to this early, traumatic experience. When he was made Sultan, he developed a fetish for larger ladies. He also saw the private parts of a cow and became obsessed with finding a woman who had genitals that were the same. To this end, he ‘sent the shape of them in gold all over the Empire with orders to make enquiries whether a woman made in just that manner could be found for his lust’. After extensive search, a woman was found in Armenia. She weighed 150kg, and took the name Sechir Para (Sugar Cube) upon entering the harem. She quickly became Ibrahim's favourite concubine, he even made her Governor General of Damascus. Sechir Para's influence brought her many enemies. This was not helped when she told Ibrahim that one of his concubines had been unfaithful to him. He raged for days and had his chief eunuch torture a few of the harem girls to discover the identity of the mysterious girl. None of them spoke and so Ibrahim tied up every single one of his 280 harem women to weighted sacks and had them thrown into the Bosporus River in Istanbul. Only one girl survived (other than the sultana, kadins, and Sechir Para, who were spared) because her sack was not sufficiently tied and she was saved by a French ship. The Valide Sultana became jealous of Sechir Para's power after the drownings and had Sechir Para strangled. Ibrahim was told that she had died of a mysterious illness.

1615-12-01 00:00:00

Priss Fotheringham

Born in Scotland, some time around 1615, Priss was nothing if not creative when it came to sex and money. When Priss first turns up in the records of London's infamous Newgate gaol for stealing garments from Elizabeth Cragg, she was already a sex worker; scarred by smallpox, but described as an attractive “cat-eyed gypsy, pleasing to the eye”, nonetheless. This was the first of several stints in Newgate for Priss, including one in 1652, for running a house of ill-repute; where Priss was discovered “…sitting between two Dutchmen with her breasts naked to the waist and without stockings, drinking and singing in a very uncivil manner.” Her looks faded with illness and gin, Priss needed a new cash revenue. Eventually, she set herself up as madam of 'The Six Windmills' in the Moorfield district of London. Under her incumbency, the establishment came to be known as 'Priscilla Fotheringham's Chucking Office', as this is where Priss showcased her party piece. Priss would stand on her head, naked, with her legs apart and encourage customers to fill her vagina with coins; this practice was known as 'chucking', and prived quite lucrative. Priss could perform this feat several times a day, while 'four cullyrumpers chucked in sixteen halfcrowns into her commodity'. According to legend Priss Fotheringham’s “commodity” could fit 16 half-crowns, the princely sum of 40 shillings. Priss retired a wealthy woman, but died of advanced syphilis around 1668.

1618-12-01 00:00:00

Liu Rushi

Liu Rushi (1618–1664) was a famous courtesan living in the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). She was very talented and good at poetry, calligraphy, drawing and Chinese zither, she also demonstrated the upright character and personality when the country facing the dangerous conditions. She committed suicide on the death of her husband Qian Qianyi .

1620-12-01 00:00:00

Ninon de Lenclos

During his reign, the Sun King is reputed to have ignored second opinions, except for Ninon de Lenclos’s. What made a veteran courtesan’s advice so valuable? A patron of the arts, a writer, and a hedonist, Anne de Lenclos (also called Ninon) was born in Paris in 1620 to a middle-class family. A tomboy in her youth, she decided never to get married and pursued a life of both physical and mental pleasure. To this purpose, she allowed herself to be seduced by Comte de Coligny in her teens to make sure she would not be married off, laying the foundation of her new profession. She once said, “A woman who has loved but one man, will never know love.”Unlike most courtesans, Ninon was no oil painting. She had heavy eyebrows, double chin, and a long nose. Her mind was her greatest asset. Her beauty secret was that she bathed regularly. Ninon granted three months at most for her lovers and divided her men into three categories: “the payers,” “the martyrs,” and “the favored.” She did break her rule once, with Marquis de Villarceaux, with whom she stayed for three whole years; the two even had a son. Once she grew tired of his charms, Ninon returned to Paris and established a salon where there was no room for politics or religion but only the arts, entertaining some of the greatest minds in France: Moliere, Racine, Corneille, Duc de la Rochefoucauld, and de Francois. A long string of wealthy and influential men shared her bed, including the king’s cousin, the Great Conde. Cardinal Richelieu offered 50,000 crowns for one night with her; she cashed in the sum and sent her friend instead. Beauty is ephemeral, so Ninon retired from courtesanship in her forties and opened an academy where she taught the art of love to aristocrats. Young men were educated in pleasing women, in the ritual of wooing, taking care of their wives and mistresses, and how to properly end an affair. It’s no surprise that the school was an immediate success. “Feminine virtue is nothing but a convenient masculine invention,” she said. Ninon lived to be 85 and took on lovers even in her last days. In her sixties, she met young Voltaire, leaving an irrevocable impression on him.

1624-12-01 00:00:00

Dong Xiaowan

Dong Xiaowan (1624-1651) was one of “The Eight Most Popular Courtesans” along the Qinhuaihe River in Nanjing city. She was attracted by litterateur Mao Pijiang, who had good appearance, with casual and elegant bearing and was well-educated and later she became his concubine. Dong Xiaowan passed away at only 27 for falling sick in taking care of her husband.

1629-12-01 00:00:00

Lin Siniang

Lin Siniang was born in 1629, towards the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), to an impoverished military family. Lin Siniang's father trained his daughter in combat, and it is said to be highly skilled with a sword by the age of six. When she lost her family, Lin Siniang became a sex worker to support herself. She worked on the bank of the Qinhuai River. It was here that Zhu Changshu, king of the feudal Qingzhou state, first saw Lin Siniang. They fell deeply in love and Zhu Changshu took Lin Siniang away to be one of his concubines. When Zhu Changshu was captured by rebels, Lin Siniang raised an army and led them into battle. Lin Siniang's forces were outnumbered. She refused to surrender, and refused. Instead she continued to fight until she was killed. The date of this battle is uncertain, but it is believed that Lin Siniang died in 1644. The rest of the King's army were so inspired, they attacked and defeated the rebels. Zhu Changshu was freed and gave Lin Siniang and every one of her soldier’s an honourable burial.

1650-12-01 00:00:00

Nell Gwyn

The rags to riches tale of Nell Gwyn has elevated her to an almost folkloric status. Samuel Pepys famously called her ‘pretty witty Nell’, as well as ‘a bold merry slut’. Nell was most likely born in London brothel, close to Drury Lane. There is evidence to suggest that Nell’s mother (called Eleanor) was the madam of the brothel, and young Nell grew up serving drinks. Her father was an absent Welsh army officer. There was an elder sister, Rose, who married a highwayman and spent time in prison for theft. It hard to imagine what Nell must have been exposed to during what must have been a chaotic and no doubt dangerous childhood, but she emerged triumphant, nonetheless. At thirteen, Nell got a job as an orange girl at the newly opened King’s Theatre in Drury Lane. An orange girl sold oranges to theatre goers (which is neither as healthy or refined as it may sound.) The orange girls had a reputation for selling more than citrus fruit and they were encouraged to dress provocatively to entice men into the theatres. Theatres were not quite the cultured outing that they are today, rather they were regarded as dens of sin and inequity. William Prynne (1600-1669) once wrote ‘It hath evermore been the notorious badge of prostituted strumpets and the lewdest harlots to ramble abroad to plays, to playhouses; whither no sober girls or women, but only branded whores and infamous adulteresses, did usually resort in ancient times.’ Nell quickly graduated from the pit to the stage, making her first appearance when she was fourteen. She excelled in comedic roles and won much admiration for her beauty, and shapely legs. She had a number of affairs with wealthy men, until she eventually caught the eye of King Charles II himself. Charles had a veritable harem of mistresses, but Nell would remain one of his favourites until his death; his death bed wish was for his brother to "Let not poor Nelly starve”. Having previously been the mistress of Charles Hart and Charles Sackville, Nell jokingly called the King "her Charles the Third". One of her greatest rivals for the King’s affections was Louise de Kérouaille, who the public called ‘the catholic whore’ (Nell called her "Squintabella"). Comte de Gramont, recalled one of the most famous anecdotes about Nell and Kérouaille in 1681: “Nell Gwynn was one day passing through the streets of Oxford, in her coach, when the mob mistaking her for her rival, the Duchess of Portsmouth, commenced hooting and loading her with every opprobrious epithet. Putting her head out of the coach window, "Good people", she said, smiling, "you are mistaken; I am the Protestant whore.” Another story tells of Nell finding her coachman fighting with another man who had called her a whore. She broke up the fight, saying, "I am a whore. Find something else to fight about." Receipts of Nell’s expenditure were found in 2011, and reveal that she was getting through three barrels of oysters a week - at three shillings (15p) a barrel - as well as macaroons (1s), rum (1s 6d), brandy (8d), faggots (6d), cheese (3s 2d) and custard pots (2s 6d). Nell could spend money, but she was known for her generosity towards the poor, and left money in her will for the prisoners at Newgate. Nell died in her Pall Mall residence in 1687, at only thirty-seven years old. She was buried in St Martin’s-in-the- Fields in the same grave as her mother and at her funeral she drew a large audience for the last time. The sermon was preached by a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Tenison, who praised her kindness to the poor and found much good to say of her.

1692-12-01 00:00:00

Sally Salisbury

Sally Salisbury (real name Sarah Pridden) was a celebrated sex worker in early 18th-century London. She had an impressive list of aristocratic lovers and socialised in the most elite circles. Sally’s brief, but illustrious career was cut short when she stabbed and wounded client. She was sent to Newgate jail and died after nine months. Whilst still a child, Sally lost an apprenticeship as a seamstress and began selling broadside ballads in the streets of London. She was known as "the beautiful little wench who sells pamphlets to the schoolboys and apprentices...in Pope's Head Alley in the City of London". It is likely here that Sally began selling her favours as well. Colonel Francis Charteris made her his mistress, but abandoned her when she was 14, after which she was taken in by the bawd, Mother Wisebourne, whose house in Covent Garden was among the most exclusive and expensive brothels of the time. She adopted the name Salisbury from one of her lovers. After Wisebourne's death she moved on to the house of Mother Needham in Park Place. At the height of her fame, Sally could command "the highest price for the greatest pleasure" and she boasted that she had "at least half a score" of lords as clients. The Duke of Richmond, the poet and diplomat Matthew Prior, and Nell Gwyn's son, the Duke of St Albans all patronised her, and even the future George II was rumoured to have been amongst her lovers. Sally was known for her beauty, wit, intellect and a very fierce temper. In an argument over opera tickets, Sally lost her cool and stabbed John Finch, the son of the Countess of Winchelsea and brother to Lord Finch, in the Three Tuns Tavern in Chandos Street, Covent Garden. Finch recovered and publically forgave Sally, but the incident was a scandal. Salisbury was charged with violent assault and tried at the Old Bailey on 24 April 1723. She was found guilty of assaulting Finch, but not guilty of murder. She was ordered to pay a fine of 100 pounds, and sentenced to one year's imprisonment. Despite having the money and connections to live more comfortably than other Newgate inmates, Sally died within nine months of her imprisonment.

1700-01-08 00:00:00

Jane Douglas

Jane Douglas (c. 1700 – 10 June 1761) commonly known as Mother Douglas, was a brothel-keeper in mid-18th century London. Known at the time as "The Empress of the Bawds", her house in Covent Garden attracted customers from the higher echelons of society. She was born into a well to do Edinburgh family, but by age 17 she was working as a prostitute in London. She was praised by John Gay as "that inimitable Courtesan". At some point she took possession of the St. James's house and began to work as a procuress, choosing girls for their elegance, pleasant manners, and sexual expertise. By 1735, she had moved to Covent Garden, home to many of the famous brothels of the time. She took a house in the Little Piazza, to the east of the main piazza on the corner of Russell Street, that had recently been vacated by Betty Careless. As she had done in St James's, she decorated the house in opulent style and hired liveried servants to wait on her customers. Around 1746, her fortunes took a turn for the worse. Her house fell out of fashion with high society and a lower class of customer began to patronise the establishment. Douglas herself became pregnant; the child was thought to be Lord Fitzwilliam's and was the subject of much debate, although Rear Admiral Charles Holmes, another of Douglas' lovers, later turned out to be the father. Additionally, Douglas' health was beginning to fail. By 1759, she was unable to continue business, and the lease on the King's Head passed to a relative, Amelia Douglas. Jane was described as "much bloated by Drink and Debauch...her Legs swelled out of shape...suffering great discomfort". She died on 10 June 1761 leaving a considerable estate.

1704-01-11 00:00:00

Betty Careless

Betty Careless or Betsy Careless (c.1704–1739) was a notorious prostitute and later bagnio-owner in 18th-century London. Probably born Elizabeth Carless, she adapted her name to better suit her profession. Her name, beauty and reputation made her, like Sally Salisbury before her, something of an archetypal courtesan for the popular culture of the day. She was born around 1704 in London. Nothing is known of her early life, but she was an established courtesan by the 1720s. A comment attributed to her when an admirer compliments her on the perfection of her legs and says they are so alike that they "must be twins", to which Betty replies, "Oh no sir, for I have had more than one or two in between them". By early 1735 she had given up her house in Covent Garden (Jane Douglas took it over): she was drinking heavily and could not duplicate the success she had enjoyed as a prostitute when she attempted to run a brothel. It was announced in October 1739 that she had been buried from the poor house.

1713-12-01 00:00:00

Catherine Kinrade

Kath Kinrade, of the Isle of Man (UK) is convicted of being a 'notorious strumpet''. The following is recorded in the court records... [" ANOTHER unfortunate creature was soon afterwards subjected to the same treatment, although it was admitted she had 'a degree of unsettledness and defect of understanding,' and, as was certified by the clergy, that she had submitted 'with as much submission and discretion as can be expected of the like of her,' and 'considering the defect of her understanding.' The records state —'Forasmuch as neither Christian advice nor gentle modes of punishment are found to have any effect on Kath. Kinred of Kirk Christ, a notorious strumpet, who had brought forth three illegitimate children, and still continues to stroll about the country, and lead a most vicious and scandalous life on other accounts; all which tending to the great dishonour of the Christian name, and to her own utter destruction without a timely and thorough reformation. It is therefore hereby ordered (as well for the further punishment of the said delinquent as for the example of others) that the said Kath. Kinred be dragged after a boat in the sea at Peel, on Wed., the 17th inst. (being the fair of St. Patrick), at the height of the market To which end, a boat and boat's crew are to be charged by the general sumner, and the constable and soldiers of the garrison are, by the Governor's order, to be aiding and assisting in seeing this censure performed. And in case any owner, master, or crew of any boat are found refractory, by refusing or neglecting to perform this service for the restraining of vice, their names are to be forthwith given in by the general sumner, to the end they may be severally fined for their contempt, as the Governor's order directs. Dated at Bishop's Court this 15th day of March, 1713.'

1726-12-01 00:00:00

Mother Margaret Clap

Margaret Clap (died c. 1726), better known as Mother Clap, ran a coffee house from 1724 to 1726 in Holborn, Middlesex, a short distance from the City of London. Notable for running a molly house, an inn or tavern primarily frequented by homosexual men, she was also heavily involved in the ensuing legal battles after her premises were raided and shut down. While not much is known about her life, she was an important part of the gay subculture of early 18th-century England. At the time sodomy in England was a crime under the Buggery Act 1533, punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or the death penalty. Despite this, particularly in larger cities, private homosexual activity took place. To service these actions there existed locations where men from all classes could find partners or just socialize, called molly houses, "molly" being slang for a gay man at the time. One of the most famous of these was Clap's molly house.

1727-12-01 00:00:00

Peg Plunkett

Peg Plunkett (AKA Margaret Leeson) was an Irish brothel keeper in Dublin who wrote her memoirs in three volumes. Peg set up her first brothel with her right-hand-woman and fellow courtesan, Sally Hayes, near to Dublin Castle. Her establishment was patronised by aristocrats, barristers, captains and aid-de-camps. She had affairs with Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Rutland and David LaTouche, Governor of the Bank of Ireland. When she decided to reture, she published her memoirs. She was the first sex worker to do so and inspired a trend. Peg died at the age of 70.

1731-12-01 00:00:00

Mother Needham

Elizabeth Needham (died 3 May 1731), also known as Mother Needham, was an English procuress and brothel-keeper of 18th-century London, who has been identified as the bawd greeting Moll Hackabout in the first plate of William Hogarth's series of satirical etchings, A Harlot's Progress. Although Needham was notorious in London at the time, little is recorded of her life, and no genuine portraits of her survive. Her house was the most exclusive in London and her customers came from the highest strata of fashionable society, but she eventually ran afoul of the moral reformers of the day and died as a result of the severe treatment she received after being sentenced to stand in the pillory.

1739-12-01 00:00:00


Muddupalani was a Telugu speaking poet and devadasi courtesan at the court of Pratap Singh (1739-63). She is noted for her erotic epic Rādhikā-sāntvanam ("Appeasing Radha"). Not much is known about Muddupalani’s life, beyond that she was the granddaughter of the celebrated courtesan, Tanjanayaki and came from a family of devadasi. She was the consort of Pratap Singh, and her poem, Rādhikā-sāntvanam, offers glimpses into her life. Which other woman of my kind has felicitated scholars with such gifts and money? To which other women of my kind have epics been dedicated? Which other woman of my kind has won such acclaim in each of the arts? You are incomparable, Muddupalani, among your kind. [...] A face that glows like the full moon, skills of conversation, matching the countenance. Eyes filled with compassion, matching the speech. A great spirit of generosity, matching the glance. These are the ornaments that adorn Palani, when she is praised by kings

1741-12-01 00:00:00

Kitty Fisher

'Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it.' Kitty Fisher has been credited with being the first celebrity who was famous simply for being famous. She was a master manipulator of public image and courted the media as well as any of her many patrons. Sir Joshua Reynolds and other artists painted her often and fuelled public fascination. When in March 1759 she was thrown from her horse in St James’s Park, it inspired months of songs, verses, pictures, pamphlets and entire books. The subject of a ‘fallen woman’ actually falling down was irresistible. When he visited London in 1763, Giacomo Casanova met Kitty Fisher and wrote: 'the illustrious Kitty Fisher, who was just beginning to be fashionable. She was magnificently dressed, and it is no exaggeration to say that she had on diamonds worth five hundred thousand francs. Goudar told me that if I liked I might have her then and there for ten guineas. I did not care to do so, however, for, though charming, she could only speak English, and I liked to have all my senses, including that of hearing, gratified. When she had gone, Mrs Wells told us that Kitty had eaten a bank-note for a thousand guineas, on a slice of bread and butter, that very day. The note was a present from Sir Akins, brother of the fair Mrs Pitt. I do not know whether the bank thanked Kitty for the present she had made it' She eventually settled down in 1766 with an MP whom she married and gave up her profession. She settled down and enjoyed being the mistress of the fine Hamsted house, and was noted for being generous to the poor. Four months after her marriage she died suddenly and as was requested, buried in her finest ball gown.

1743-12-01 00:00:00

Jeanne Becu, Comtesse Du Barry

Madame du Barry was the last chief mistress to King Louis XV of France, who fell victim to the Reign of Terror that arose during the French Revolution.She began her career in Paris, accumulating a large base of aristocratic men who paid for her services. To become the mistress of the king, she required a title and was falsely married to her brother, while falsified documents claimed her to be three years younger and gave her a fictitious line of noble descent. Within a year, she was able to elevate her status from poverty to a noble courtesan of the king of France, but timing was not on her side because of the Reign of Terror. Her immediate association with Louis XV almost guaranteed her a date with the guillotine on December 8, 1793.

1745-12-01 00:00:00

Sophia Baddeley

Sophia was born in London and was the daughter of a low ranking army sergeant. Her father was a trumpeter and trained the young Sophia for musical career. However, all did not go according to plan, and at the age of eighteen she ran away with an actor called Robert Baddeley. She quickly made a name for herself on the stage playing Shakespearean heroines, Ophelia, Cordelia, Imogen, and Olivia. She was famous more for her looks than her acting skills, but it was enough and Sophia left her husband and took a series of wealthy lovers. Her extraordinary list of conquests included the 1st Viscount Melbourne, H.R.H. the Duke of York, and Stephen Sayre (with whom she had a child). Sophia’s extravagance makes one gasp: she spent the modern equivalent of £200 a day on hothouse flowers, a quarter of a million on diamonds, and thousands a month on hats and linen. A present from her protector Lord Melbourne for the equivalent of £3,000 would last her barely four days. Eventually, her debts caught up with her and she had to flee her creditors to Ireland, and later on to Scotland. As her looks faded, and her reputation waned, her protectors left her. She made her last appearance on the stage in Edinburgh in 1785. She died of consumption, aged 41. The London Chronicle gave the following obituary on the 8th July edition “By letter from Edinburgh, dated 3rd July, we learn that Mrs Baddeley, the comedian (formerly belonging to Drury Lane Theatre, whose beauty and talents, prudently managed, might have ensured her both fame and fortune), died there on Sunday last and was buried on Thursday, Mrs Baddeley had been humanely supported by the charitable contributions of the company of comedians of Edinburgh for the last twelve months and was 42 years of age when she expired.” A year after her death Elizabeth Steele, a woman who was Sophia’s lifelong friend, published Mrs Baddeley’s memoirs.

1753-12-01 00:00:00

Begum Samru

Perhaps the most famous is Begum Samru (1753-1836). Her given name was Farzana. She was raised to be a dancer, by a tawaif in Delhi. With the empire fraying, Europeans were seizing every opportunity they got. She helped a mercenary, Walter Reinhart Sommers, and they began to live together. The emperor gave Sommers land in Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh, and an annual income of Rs 6 lakh. When Sommers died, 25-year-old Farzana inherited his wealth and troops, and became Begum Samru (a corruption of “Sommers”). She converted to Catholicism and changed her name to Joanna, perhaps to legitimise her status as the widow of a man she never officially married. After she died, the British seized her property, and her Chandni Chowk palace became a bank.

1757-12-01 00:00:00

"Harris's List of Covent-Garden Ladies

Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies was published yearly between 1757 and 1795, and acted as a concise almanac of prostitutes available for hire in London. Each imprint generally listed more than 120 sex workers at work in and around Covent Garden and the West End, giving their address, ages and appearance. Here are the names from the first edition. Antr*b*s, Mrs B*nd, Miss B*lt*n, Miss Br*wn, Miss Bl*ke, Miss Betsy Br*wn, Miss B*r*n, Miss Phoebe B*rn, Miss Cr*sb*y, Mrs. C*rt*n*y C*rtn**, Miss Fanny Cl*nt*n, Miss Cl*rk, Miss Betsy Ch*sh*line, Mrs. C*p*r, Miss Ch*ld, Miss C*sd*l, Miss Charlotte C*p, Miss C*tt*n, Miss Charlotte Cl*rk, Miss C*rb*t, Miss D*d, Mrs. D*v*p*rt, Miss D*g*ss, Miss D*f*ld Mrs. D*v*nsh*re, Miss D*v*s, Miss Nancy D*rl*z, Madam Emmey Ell*t, Miss Emma Fr*s*r, Mrs. F*n*, Mrs. Charlotte Gr*n, Gr*n, Miss G**g*, Miss Gr*c*r, Miss G*rdn*r, Miss Gr*ff*n, Mrs. H*ds*n, Miss Betse H*rv*y, Mrs. H*ll*ngb*rg, Mrs. H**d, Mrs. H*st**ng, Miss Betsy H*ll*n, Miss H*nl*y, Miss Fann H*ll*nd, Miss H*rd*y, Miss J*n*s, Miss Harriet J*hn*t*n, Miss J*n*s, Miss J*ns*n, Miss K*n, Miss K*lp*n, Miss K*bb*rd, Miss Jenny L*nds*y, Miss L*ws, Mrs. Ll*d Miss Harriet L*st*r L*st*r, Miss L*ns*y, Miss L*c*s, Miss M*rt*n, Miss Sophia M*nt*n, Miss M*rr*s, Miss M*lt*n, Miss M*lsw*rth, Miss M*ns*n, Miss Louisa N*ble, Miss N*t*n, Mrs P*mbr*k*, Miss Du Par Mademoiselle R*ss, Miss R*b*ns*n, Mrs. R*l*ns, Miss Betsy R*ch*rds*n, Miss S*ms S*ms, Miss S*tt*n, Mrs. S*dd*ns, Miss Sarah Sp*ns*r, Mrs. T*wnsd*n, Miss T*s*n, Miss T*rb*t, Mrs W*lkins*n, Miss W*d, Miss W*tk*ns, Miss Elizabeth W*rd, Mrs. W*d, Mrs. W*ls*n, Miss W*bst*r, Mrs. W*ll*ms, Miss W*rp*l, Mrs. W*rn*r, Miss

1775-12-01 00:00:00

Madame Ching / Ching Shih; pirate Queen

Born Shi Xianggu, not much is know about her early life, beyond she was a sex worker in one of the floating brothels of Canton. It was whilst working here that she caught the eye of Cheng I, a notorious pirate , who commanded a small fleet of ships. They were soon married, and the young bride took to piracy like a proverbial duck to water. As her husband's reputation and fleet grew, Shi was honing her skills as a formidable leader. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Cheng's fleet was one of the most feared in all of China, and was known simply as the 'Red Flag Fleet'. 1807, Cheng I died, and Shi took over his command. The name she is most well known as (Ching Shih) simply means 'Cheng's Widow'. At the height of her powers, Ching commanded some 50,000 pirates, and saw off attacks by the Qing dynasty Chinese officials, as well as the Portuguese and British navy. During her reign, Ching was famous for implementing a ruthlessly enforced code amongst her fleet. First and foremost, anyone disobeying orders was beheaded. Beheading was also the penalty for withholding loot, raping and stealing from villages that supplied the fleet. Ching also brought in some pretty strict rules regarding women prisoners; women were supposed to be released, but if a sailor decided he wanted to marry one, that was permitted, as long as he remained faithful to her. Rape was punishable by death, and anyone caught having consensual sex with a female captive was put to death, as was his partner. Ching was never defeated; in 1810, an amnesty was offered to all pirates, and Ching took advantage of this. She retired a very wealthy woman, and died in 1844.

1786-12-01 00:00:00

Harriette Wilson

Publish and be Damned. Harriette was a celebrated British Regency courtesan, whose clients included the Prince of Wales, the Lord Chancellor and four future Prime Ministers. One of fourteen children, Harriette Dubouchet, was born in 1786, the daughter of a Swiss clockmaker who lived in England. By her own account, Harriette was not a classical beauty, nor was she especially educated; but, what she lacked in looks, she more than made up for with a fierce intellect, razor sharp wit and natural sex appeal. Harriette embarked on her career as a courtesan at the tender of fifteen. She wrote in her memoirs, “I shall not say why or how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl.” Harriette turned out to be a natural. She lived a life of excess and became one of the most sought after women of regency Britain. Harriette decided to bow out of her career as a courtesan in her thirties, and decided to publish her memoirs to secure a retirement nest egg. In 1824, the Duke of Wellington received a letter from Joseph Stockdale (a pornographer and scandal-monger) that began 'My Lord Duke. ‘In Harriette Wilson's Memoirs, which I am about to publish, are various anecdotes of Your Grace which it would be most desirable to withhold, at least such is my opinion. I have stopped the Press for the moment, but as the publication will take place next week, little delay can necessarily take place.' The Duke was a field marshal, cabinet minister, national hero, husband and father. Harriette wrote about Wellington extensively in her memoirs, calling him her ‘faithful lover, whose love survived six winters… my own Wellington, who sighed over me and groaned over me by the hour, talked of my wonderful beauty, ran after me . . .' and he was 'my constant visitor', a 'modern Bluebeard', 'my old beau'. Wellington was one of many past lovers Harriette approached to pay to be kept out of her memoirs. But, the Iron Duke Wellington simply responded with 'Publish and be damned.' And they did. The 1825 the memoirs appeared by instalments, and named half the aristocracy in order of rank - 'Dukes: Argyll, Beaufort, de Guiche, Leinster . . .' and so on through earls and viscounts down to humble esquires. The memoirs went through 31 editions in one year, and made Stockdale and Harriette a considerable amount of money. However, Stockdale was soon ruined by libel suits, and Harriette was down on her luck again within a few years. and died in obscurity. When she died in 1845 Harriette had just converted to Catholicism. One of her few mourners was her old fling, Henry Brougham, former Lord Chancellor, who arranged her funeral.

1819-12-01 00:00:00

La Païva (Esther Lachmann)

Little is known as Esther’s early life. She was born in Moscow to weaver, Martin Lachmann, and Anna Amalie Klein, who were Jewish and of Polish descent. She married at 17 to a local tailor, and they had a son together. Shortly after this, Esther left Russia and travelled through Europe, arriving in Paris some time around 1839. She took the French sounding name, Thérèse, and became this mistress of Henri Herz (1803-1888), a pianist, composer, and piano manufacturer. Herz was moneyed, but not wealthy. However, the relationship allowed Esther to move in artistic circles; Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Théophile Gautier, and Emile de Girardin were all friends of the couple. The couple had a daughter, Henriette (ca. 1847-1859), who was raised by Herz's parents. Eventually, with his finances dwindling, Herz left for America and his family turned Esther out of the house. Undeterred, she borrowed the finest clothes she could, from the most luxurious tailors and set out to London to create the illusion she was a woman of substance. It worked and she began a serious of affairs with extremely wealthy protectors. In 1851, Esther married Francisco de Araújo de Paiva (1824-1873), an heir to two important Macao wholesale fortunes. The day following the wedding, however, according to the memoirs of Count Horace de Viel-Castel, the new Madame de Païva gave her husband a letter ending the marriage. "You have obtained the object of your desire and have succeeded in making me your wife," she wrote. "I, on the other hand, have acquired your name, and we can cry quits. I have acted my part honestly and without disguise, and the position I aspired to I have gained; but as for you, Mons. de Païva, you are saddled with a wife of foulest repute, whom you can introduce to no society, for no one will receive her. Let us part; go back to your country; I have your name, and will stay where I am". The couple separated and Esther began an affair with Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, one of the wealthiest men in Europe. La Païva obtained an annullment of her marriage to Albino Francisco de Araújo de Païva, and wed Guido Georg Friedrich Erdmann Heinrich Adalbert, Count Henckel von Donnersmark. La Paiva bought the Château de Pontchartrain, secured an annuity of £80,000. Henckel von Donnersmarck financed the construction of a mansion, named Hôtel de la Païva. Artists who worked on its construction included Henri Lefeul, Auguste Rodin, and the sculptor Albert Carrier-Belleuse. There, La Paiva hosted some of the most luxurious parties Pairs had known. Writers, such as Gustave Flaubert, Émile Zola, Paul de Saint-Victor, Arsène Houssaye, and others, including the painter Eugène Delacroix, were all regular guests. La Païva and her last, richest husband lived out the rest of her days in a giant mansion in Silesia, in what today is Poland. After she died in 1884 her widower, heartbroken, did not bury her. Instead he had her corpse embalmed in alcohol, cried over the dead courtesan for months, and then stored her body in the attic – without telling his subsequent, shocked wife.

1821-12-01 00:00:00

Lola Montez

Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, better known by the stage name Lola Montez, was an Irish dancer and actress who became famous as a "Spanish dancer", courtesan, and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her Countess of Landsfeld. She used her influence to institute liberal reforms.

1822-12-01 00:00:00

Apollonie Sabatier

Apollonie Sabatier (born Aglaé Joséphine Savatier; was a French courtesan, salon holder, artists' muse and bohémienne in 1850s Paris.

1824-12-01 00:00:00

Marie Duplessis

Marie Duplessis was from a poor family, and begged on the streets with her siblings from a young age. So desperate was the family, that Marie’s father sold her to an elderly man, when she was only 14. She did some work as a seamstress, but had learnt how lucrative wealthy older men could be. Marie was self-educated and read veraciously. Her wit, intellect and keen fashion sense gained her access to the courts of Paris. She became one of the most successful courtesans in France. Alexandre Dumas was hopelessly in love with her. Her protectors included Count de Stackelberg and Franz Liszt. By this time, she was already ill with consumption, also known as tuberculosis. Marie had tuberculosis and died tragically young at only 23. Dumas based ‘La Dame aux Camillas’ on Marie, and Giuseppe Verdi was so moved by her story, hemwrote La Traviata.

1829-12-01 00:00:00

Eleanore Dumont (Madame Mustache)

Madame Moustache was the pseudonym of Eleanor Dumont; she was a notorious gambler on the American Wild West and rose to fame during the California Gold Rush. Her nickname was due to the appearance of a line of dark hair on her upper lip, when a drunk miner impolitely called her the name. Unfortunately, the name stuck, though few were unwise enough to call her that in her presence. She opened up the gambling parlor named "Vingt-et-un" in Nevada, California. As one of the only women black jack dealers, and therefore a novelty, men flocked to her establishment. She was a huge successful and went on to open Dumont's Place with Tom Tobin. Riding high on success, Eleanor moved to Carson City where she bought a ranch and some animals. It was there that she fell in love with Jack McKnight, who promptly conned her out of all of her money. About this time, Eleanor expanded her earning potential and invested in a brothel. In 1877, a Deadwood reporter would say of her: “A character who attracts the attention of all strangers is ‘Mme. Mustache,’ a plump little French lady, perhaps forty years of age, but splendidly preserved. She derives her name, which is the only one she is known by, from a dainty strip of black hair upon her upper lip. She deals her own game, and is quite popular with the boys, who treat her with marked respect. She has bright black eyes and a musical voice, and there is something attractive about her as she looks up with a little smile and says, ‘You will play, M’sieur?’” He continued by saying, “No one knows her history. She is said to be very rich.” Her last stop was Bodie, California. One night while gambling, she misjudged a play and suddenly owed a lot of money. That night she wandered outside of town and was found dead on September 8, 1879, of an overdose of morphine, apparently a suicide.

1829-12-01 00:00:00

Laura Bell

Laura Bell (1829–1894) was a famous courtesan of Victorian England. She was most notorious for allegedly earning £250,000 for spending a single night with Nepalese Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana, although other sources say that was the total he spent on gifts for her over their full relationship. In 1852 Bell married Captain Augustus Frederick Thistlewayte. She experienced a religious conversion and became a revivalist preacher on morality.

1832-12-01 00:00:00

Julia Bulette

Julia Bulette, whose real name was Jule, was born in 1832 in Mississippi of French ancestry. In about 1852 or 1853, she moved to California where she lived in various places until her arrival in 1859 in Virginia City. Women were in short supply in the wild west, and Julia quickly took to sex work. She was also a good friend to the miners, who adored her. One described her as having "caressed Sun Mountain with a gentle touch of splendor". Julia stood by her miners in times of trouble and misfortune, once turning her Palace into a hospital after several hundred men became ill from drinking contaminated water. She nursed the men herself. Once when an attack by Indians appeared imminent, Julia chose to remain behind with the miners instead of seeking shelter in Carson City. Julia also raised funds for the Union cause during the American Civil War. Julia's greatest triumph occurred when the firefighters made her an honorary member of Virginia Engine Number 1. On 4 July 1861, the firemen elected her the Queen of the Independence Day Parade, and she rode Engine Company Number One's fire truck through the town wearing a fireman's hat and carrying a brass fire trumpet filled with fresh roses, the firemen marching behind. On the morning of January 20, 1867, Julia's partially nude body was found by her maid in her bedroom. She had been strangled and bludgeoned to death. Virginia City went into mourning for her, with the mines, mills and saloons being closed down as a mark of respect. On the day of her funeral, January 21, thousands formed a procession of honor behind her black-plumed, glass-walled hearse; first the firemen, who were followed by the Nevada militia who played funeral dirges. Julia was buried in the Flower Hill Cemetery. A little over a year later, Julia's murderer was caught and hanged for the crime. He was a French drifter whose name was John Millain; and on April 24, 1868 he went to the gallows, swearing he was not guilty of having killed Julia, but had been only an accomplice in the theft of her meager belongings. Millain's hanging was witnessed by author Mark Twain.

1835-12-01 00:00:00

Cora Pearl

Many of the famous courtesans featured here could spend money in a style that could give Sir Elton pause for concern; but, perhaps the most extravagant was Cora Pearl. Cora’s light burnt briefly, but intensely, as she set Europe ablaze. Born Eliza Emma Crouch in Plymouth, no one could have predicted the dizzying heights Cora would scale. Cora’s father wrote a ballad called ‘Kathleen Mavoureen’ that earned enough to allow her to be schooled at a convent in Bourlogne. Thankfully, the nun’s ministering on good behaviour didn’t have much if an effect, and when Eliza returned to England she began spending her time in the theatres. Robert Bignell hired her to sing at the Argyll Rooms, where she drew a considerable crowd; what she lacked in musical talent, she certainly made up for in looks and charm. She became Bignell’s lover, and the two moved to Paris where she changed her name to Cora Pearl. Lured by the bright lights, Cora left her protector to sing in the music halls and entertain even wealthier men. And they were more than willing to accommodate her. One admirer sent her a silver horse, stuffed full of gold and jewels. Another sent a box of marron glaces, with each marron then wrapped in a £1,000 franc note. Her ‘golden chain’ of lovers included the Duc de Rivoli, Prince Achille Murat, the Prince of Orange who was heir to the Netherlands throne, Duc de Morny, half-brother of the Emperor, and Prince Napoleon, the Emperor’s cousin. Cora was known for her extravagance, as well as her looks and spent money freely. She slept in black silk sheets, embroidered with threads of gold. She often drove out in a pale blue carriage that was lined with yellow satin, having dyed her hair blue or yellow to match. She bathed in pink marble bathrooms where her initials had been inlaid with gold. She owned three different houses in Paris, a stable of 60 horses, and jewels valued at more than a million francs. Cora knew how to court controversy and caused a sensation by appearing on stage naked, but for diamond encrusted boots when she played Cupid in ‘aux Enfers’, and had herself served up naked on a silver platter to entertain her dinner guests. But it wasn’t to last. In 1870, when the Franco‐Prussian War began, most of Cora’s lovers left her to fight. Cora set her sights upon Alexandre Duval, a man whose family fortune was made in hospitality. Duval was desperately in love with Cora. He once wrote a letter to her declaring “Will you let me prove my devotion. Command me and I will die...’ to which she replied, “I would rather you lived and paid my bills.” Cora didn’t take the young man’s threats seriously, and once his money was spent and her affections cooled, Duval attempted suicide. Her lack of sympathy for the ruined man cost her dearly and her public opinion turn on her; she was famously turned away from the Grosvenor Hotel in London (who now have a Cora Pearl suite). With mounting debts, Cora had to sell her cherished possessions. Within ten years, she was renting rooms in the back streets of Paris. She died of cancer in 1886, at the age of 51, and an unknown gentleman saved her from a pauper’s grave and paid for her to be buried at Paris Batignolles cemetery.

1836-12-01 00:00:00

Theresa Berkley

Theresa Berkley or Berkeley (died 1836) was a 19th-century English dominatrix who ran a brothel in London, specialising in flagellation. She invented the "chevalet" or "Berkley Horse", a BDSM apparatus. Theresa earned a small fortune spanking and birching the behinds of wealthy men and women. Theresa's skills are best summarised Henry Spencer Ashbee in the following quotes... "Her instruments of torture were more numerous than those of any other governess. Her supply of birch was extensive, and kept in water, so that it was always green and pliant: she had shafts with a dozen whip thongs on each of them; a dozen different sizes of cat-o'-nine-tails, some with needle points worked into them; various kinds of thin bending canes; leather straps like coach traces; battledoors, made of thick sole-leather, with inch nails run through to docket, and currycomb tough hides rendered callous by many years flagellation. Holly brushes, furze brushes; a prickly evergreen, called butcher's bush [?butcher's broom]; and during the summer, a glass and China vases, filled with a constant supply of green nettles, with which she often restored the dead to life. Thus, at her shop, whoever went with plenty of money, could be birched, whipped, fustigated, scourged, needle-pricked, half-hung, holly-brushed, furze-brushed, butcher-brushed, stinging-nettled, curry-combed, phlebotomized, and tortured till he had a belly full." "For those whose lech it was to flog a woman, she would herself submit to a certain extent; but if they were gluttons at it, she had women in attendance who would take any number of lashes the flogger pleased, provided he forked out an ad valorem duty. Among these were Miss Ring, Hannah Jones, Sally Taylor, One-eyed Peg, Bauld-cunted Poll, and a black girl, called Ebony Bet."

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