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Posts Tagged ‘courtesans’

I’m a 23-year-old professional who wants to pursue a Masters degree in a related field, but my current job alone just won’t pay for tuition on top of my rent, bills and current student loan payments.  I already tend to attract successful men and I’m a skilled and empathetic listener, so I feel I could make it as a courtesan with a select few clients.  However, I’ve never been an escort so I have no existing clientele to draw from.  Also, I’ve read that real courtesans don’t discuss payment openly with a client…I don’t understand how that works.

Given your circumstances, you might want to consider advertising on one of the sugar baby sites.  A 23-year-old graduate student is exactly the kind of lady many potential sugar daddies are looking for; the hours tend to be pretty brief, the pay is good (you can probably get about $3000-$4000 per month), and best of all it isn’t illegal yet so in the present climate of hysteria, it would be much safer for you.  Furthermore, you need to be very discreet in your advertising because even legal sex work could potentially come back to bite you.  As for “real” courtesans not discussing it…you should always be wary when people make statements like that.  Some of the courtesans of old charged set rates, some used a sliding scale and some preferred to let their patrons give them money and gifts, then complain if they weren’t generous enough.  It’s absolutely true that women who let their patrons set the fees and benefits generally do better in the long run, but it can take a lot of time investment to reach that point and you have to be good at sizing up a man’s income and generosity level right from the get-go so as not to waste too much time with a skinflint.

I am a mature and educated paid companion who has traveled the world and speaks several languages; men tend to find me fascinating and I live in a resort area.  I have three kinds of clients:  those who live here, those who come in for a few days a month or so and one-time vacationers.  I’m working on transitioning some of my regulars in the first two groups to longer-term arrangements; I think I could have client types 1 & 2 pay a monthly “allowance” plus a fee for dates, and just charge a regular flat fee to vacationers.  Do you have any suggestions on how to set my prices?

If you’re going to have regular “sugar daddy” type clients (the 1s and 2s), you may want to consider just charging them the flat fee and leaving it at that, especially if they only see you once a month to once a week at most.  Obviously you have to be sure it’s enough to justify whatever time you spend with them, but you may find that they tend to give you other presents and tips beside the fee anyhow.  Setting a rate in your situation is tricky; I expect most things in your area are more expensive than in a city, and that the clients tend to be wealthy?  That, and the fact that you can provide a more “upscale” experience, would tend to drive your price up.  You may want to do some research to see what other escorts in similar resort areas charge, and ditto what sugar babies in such areas tend to ask for…and then go just a smidgen higher.  Given your circumstances you can probably get it, and the higher price reinforces the image you’re trying to project.  As time goes on you will be able to tell if you can raise your prices, but it’s usually best to allow those who are already seeing you to continue at their current rates.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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Lady Castlemaine…[went] away…upon some slighting words of the king, so that…the king, the next morning, under pretence of going a hunting, went to see her and make friends…After which she came back to court, and commands the king as much as ever, and hath and doth what she will.  –  The Diary of Samuel Pepys, July 22nd, 1663

Though the majority of whores have always been born in the working class, when disposition, circumstance and necessity converge to make harlotry the most attractive choice, women of noble birth are just as quick to make it as their humbler sisters.  And when looks and personality converge to give her a higher-than-ordinary degree of sexual power over men, a noble-born courtesan is no more likely to be sparing in the use of that power than any other.

Barbara Villiers was born in Westminster on November 17th, 1640*, the only child of William Villiers, the 2nd Viscount Grandison, and his wife Mary (heiress of the 1st Viscount Bayning).  She would have been a very wealthy little girl after her father’s death in battle** had it not been for the fact that he had given his entire fortune to the Cavalier war effort; Mary and her daughter were left in poverty, and she was forced by necessity to marry her husband’s cousin Charles (the 2nd Earl of Anglesey) in order to have any income at all.  The Commonwealth was not a good time for the Villiers family; though like many others they had officially espoused loyalty to Cromwell, they secretly supported the claim of the exiled Charles II and lived under a cloud of suspicion due to their active participation on his father’s side during the Civil War.  Barbara was raised in the country by relatives, but by 15 she had blossomed into an exceptionally beautiful young woman (tall and voluptuous, with chestnut hair and eyes of so dark a blue they looked black); her mother brought her to London with the idea of marrying her to a wealthy family despite her lack of a dowry.  Within a year the intelligent, independent Barbara had become the mistress of Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Chesterfield, and on April 14th, 1659 she married a young lawyer named Roger Palmer, heir to a large fortune, over his family’s vociferous objections (including, but not limited to, the fact that he was Catholic and she Anglican).  Though on paper they never divorced, in reality they separated in 1662.

The reason for that separation was, as you may have already guessed, her infidelity.  In the autumn after their marriage, the royalists dispatched Barbara to The Hague with letters and money for the King; since she was only 18 at the time, it was felt she would arouse less suspicion (and her person was much less likely to be searched in any case).  Before she returned to England, she had already become Charles’ lover; at first they were relatively discreet about it, but by the Restoration of the monarchy in April of 1661 it was secret to virtually nobody.  When her daughter Anne was born in February of 1661 the King, her husband and Chesterfield all claimed the child as theirs, and when Palmer was created Baron Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine later that year it was whispered that the titles were payment for his wife’s services; unlike the husbands of Lillie Langtry and Alice Keppel, however, Palmer was not at all sanguine about the arrangement.  When Barbara’s second child, Charles, was born in June of 1662, Palmer had him baptized Catholic; Barbara later had him re-baptized Anglican in a ceremony attended by His Majesty, who publicly proclaimed the child his.  It was the last straw for Palmer, who never saw his wife again; though he had a long (but stormy) political career until his death in 1705, he was deeply humiliated by his reputation as “Europe’s best-known cuckold”.

When the new Queen, Catherine of Braganza, arrived at court from her honeymoon soon after baby Charles’ birth, she discovered her new husband’s mistress already in control; the fact was hammered home when the King demanded she accept Barbara’s appointment as a Lady of the Bedchamber, an official position which would give both an income and rooms at the Palace.  The Queen had already been told about Barbara by friends, so naturally she refused; Charles became furious and sent the ladies she had brought with her home to Portugal.  The King’s chief advisor, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, hated Barbara with a passion, but gritted his teeth and advised the Queen to relent for her own good; Barbara repaid this reluctantly-given help by plotting with his political enemies to bring about his downfall in August of 1667.

These are only a few examples of Barbara’s extraordinary selfishness and viciousness.  Though she was witty and charismatic and could be generous and even kind when it suited her, she had a terrible temper and was merciless to those she perceived as enemies; she was described by George Reresby as “the finest Woman of her age“, but by John Evelyn as the “curse of our nation“.  She had a powerful hold on King Charles, partly due to her looks and partly to her legendary sexual prowess; her influence was so great that after one of their many arguments she could always get him to come crawling to her, and on more than one occasion she actually got him to apologize in front of witnesses.  He showered her with gifts, and not long after his coronation gave her a payment of £30,000 (about £2.5 million today); he also granted her an annual pension of £4700 (£400,000) from the Post Office, and allowed her to take additional money out of his own purse whenever she liked.  After her sudden conversion to Catholicism in December of 1663, she also made extra money by charging French and Spanish diplomats for using her persuasive powers to sway the Anglican King in their favor.

Barbara bore King Charles three more children:  Henry (1663), Charlotte (1664) and George (1665); all of her children were eventually granted titles, even the youngest (also called Barbara), who was born in 1672 and was probably the daughter of John Churchill.  Neither Barbara nor King Charles had ever been faithful to each other, but while the King did not care she was quite jealous because it meant her income.  The concern was not an invalid one; since April of 1668 the King’s favorite had been the younger and far more even-tempered Nell Gwyn.  In June of 1670 he gave Barbara one final set of generous gifts as a kind of severance package:  she was given Nonsuch Palace, built by Henry VIII, and the titles Baroness Nonsuch, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland (the latter was a true peerage, made with a condition allowing her to pass the title to her son Charles).  She was still nominally the official mistress until 1673, when the Test Act banned Catholics from holding office; she thus lost her position as Lady of the Bedchamber to Louise de Kéroualle, Nell Gwyn’s chief rival.  In 1676 she moved to Paris with her four younger children, but returned to England in 1680 and enjoyed a friendly relationship with the King until his death in February of 1685.  By this time she had developed a terrible gambling habit, and in 1682 had Nonsuch Palace entirely dismantled so she could sell off its expensive materials to pay her debts.  In her later years she became involved with a series of unscrupulous fortune-hunters; after Roger Palmer’s death in 1705 she actually married one of these, though it was later annulled when she discovered he already had a wife.  In 1709 she developed what was then called dropsy, a condition which caused her to become so edematous that she died of congestive heart failure on October 9th.  It is clear that Barbara, like so many other courtesans, had been totally unable to recognize that her sex appeal had deserted her, and adjust her expectations, lifestyle and expenditures so as to live out her declining years in comfort and some small measure of dignity.  But then, dignity was never something that Barbara was very good at, even when she still had her youth and looks.

*Because Catholic realms (including France and Ireland) had already converted to the Gregorian calendar at this time but the United Kingdom had not, it is not unusual to see her birthday expressed in the new style as November 27th, and some sources record the year as 1641.
**There is considerable disagreement about which Civil War battle claimed Villiers’ life; Wikipedia says Newbury (September 20th, 1643); other sources say Bristol (July 26th, 1643); and Bishop Burnet’s contemporary history says Edgehill (October 23rd, 1642).

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To seek in the bright sky a place for freedom and unrestraint.  –  Liu Rushi, “On the Kite”

The gender roles of traditional Asian cultures were even more rigid and uncompromising than those of contemporary European cultures, but harlots have always stood outside of the limits their societies set for “good” women.  Where “good” women were expected to be chaste, whores were promiscuous; where “good” women were expected to be meek, whores were bold; where “good” women were expected to be ignorant, whores were well-educated; where “good” women were supposed to be submissive, whores accepted or rejected clients as we pleased; and where “good” women were prisoners of convention, whores flouted it.  And despite the feminist claims that men prefer women as ovine as possible, and that the patriarchal system is set up for men’s benefit at women’s expense, yet men have throughout history sought out the company of (and paid high prices for) women who were not only their equals, but often their superiors.  Like other courtesans, Liu Rushi ignored the rules her society set for “good” women, but unlike others she often ignored the rules it set for any women.

Liu RushiYang Ai was born in 1618 to a poor family of Zhejiang province, but her exceptional looks and intelligence allowed her family to sell her at the age of eight to the courtesan Xu Fo for training in the profession.  She learned so well that Xu was able to place her as a concubine to the prime minister, Zhou Daodeng, soon after she turned thirteen; however, Zhou died a year later and his widow threw her out of the household.  She sought out the famous poet Chen Zilong, whom she had met at Zhou’s house a few months before; he took her in as a concubine and the two fell in love and exchanged many poems.  Unfortunately, Madame Chen was just as jealous of her as Madame Zhou had been; when Chen went to take the Imperial Examination in 1635, she abused the poor girl so terribly that she fled back to Xu Fo, who now owned a brothel.  When Xu married in 1638, Yang Yin (as she now called herself) took over the management; she was already famous as a poet and painter by this time, and published three collections of poetry between 1638 and 1640.  But though she was doing well financially, she craved the stability of marriage; when a regular client named Song Yuanwen kept promising to marry her but never followed through, she is said to have thrown him out in a violent tantrum.

It was during her time as a madam that her androgyny began to assert itself; though her romantic poems were conventionally feminine, she also wrote in a masculine, “heroic” style and often left the narrator’s gender ambiguous.  In letters she favored gender-neutral terms for herself, and her calligraphy is distinctly masculine, using the “wild grass” style.  Her gender-bending behavior reached its zenith in 1640, when she decided to marry the famous scholar and poet Qian Qianyi.  She travelled to his home in her boat, dressed in men’s clothing, and asked Qian to give her his opinion on one of her poems.  He told her the poem was excellent and asked to see more, but before she left she made sure she let him see the small (bound) feet which left no doubt as to her sex even if he had been fooled at first.  The combination of her writing and her intriguing behavior captured his attention, and they were married in 1641.  Though she was only his concubine, they had a formal ceremony and he treated her as though she were a full wife, despite this being considered improper.  He gave her the nickname Hedong, which she often used in her writing thereafter; it was one of about twenty different names she used at different times and for different purposes.  The name by which she is best known, Liu Rushi, came from her continuing habit of cross-dressing; she would sometimes go on errands as her husband’s representative while dressed in his formal Confucian robes, for which people nicknamed her “rushi” (“gentleman”).

Rushi had finally found the stability she sought, but it was not to last long.  The Ming Dynasty her husband served collapsed in 1645, and she had become so deeply patriotic by that time she actually tried to persuade him to martyr himself by committing suicide; instead, he surrendered, served as an official to the new Qing regime for five months, then quit and joined the resistance.  Liu Rushi joined him and the two were active in the movement for over a decade thereafter; much of Qian’s poetry from the 1650s depicts her as a courageous Ming loyalist.  But in 1663, her life started to spin out of control.  First, the Qing finally crushed the last Ming resistance, burning her husband’s enormous library in the process; she was so aggrieved she took Buddhist vows.  Qian’s spirit was broken, and he died the following year; his creditors and enemies then began to hound Liu Rushi for money.  Alone again for the first time in decades, too old (at 46) to return to her former profession and deeply bereaved by the loss of both beloved husband and beloved cause, she was pushed over the edge by the legal persecution and hanged herself in 1664.  But though her life ended in despair and tragedy, her own poetry and that of her husband had already made her a legend; the historian Chen Yinke’s said she “embodies the independence of spirit and freedom of thought of our people”, and others have called her “the most respectable prostitute in Chinese history”.

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Beauty depends on size as well as symmetry.  –  Aristotle

Maeve resisted the urge to hurl the abacus against the far wall of the library.  It might have given her a little momentary satisfaction, but it would do nothing to remedy the situation and would, in fact, make it slightly worse because she would then have to buy another abacus.  She had carefully checked her figures three times, and found no errors; for the first time since she had become a courtesan, her expenditures for the month had exceeded her income.  And given that she had been cutting back on those expenditures for over a year now, that was a very bad development indeed.

She hastened to her looking-glass and closely examined her face in it.  She was still a very beautiful woman, but the encroaching signs of age were unmistakable and even the expensive cosmetics she purchased from a talented alchemist could only delay the inevitable.  Sooner or later she would begin to display the grey hair and wrinkles she had evaded for decades, and then her income would dry up along with her body.  Maeve sighed deeply; she was not an especially wise woman nor a frugal one, and though she had known for half her life that this day would eventually come, she had failed to make even the most rudimentary investments for her retirement.  And while most women could count on children and grandchildren to support them in their dotage, Maeve had traded away her ability to have them many years ago, in a bargain that seemed sensible at the time.  Her only hope was the Potion of Youth that the alchemist said he could make for her, but its price was so high she dared not spend the money unless she was absolutely certain it would buy her many years of good income again.

No, she was in a fine stew indeed, and thinking her way out of things had never been her strong point.  So she instead retired to her private shrine to Venus and began to pray for either divine inspiration or (preferably) a new and generous patron who would consider her maturity a plus rather than a minus.  When she was finished with her prayers, she found her maid Elise waiting for her in the anteroom with a rather odd look on her face.  “Ma’am, you have a visitor downstairs.”

“How wonderful!  Perhaps the goddess has answered my prayer already!”

Elise’s mien grew even stranger, but Maeve did not notice; she was already halfway down the stairs in less time than it takes to tell, and her maid appeared in no rush to keep up with her.  Reaching the door to her parlor, she took a moment to check her hair and teeth in another glass, then swept gracefully into the room in a way calculated to impress any but the dullest of clients.  It is a testament to her years of experience that she did not gasp out loud when she saw who was waiting for her in the room, but no mortal could have kept at least a momentary reaction from being reflected in her visage.  Because seated on the couch, drinking her tea and eating her cakes, was someone she at first took to be a very small boy until she realized that he had a beard.

He immediately stood up and bowed deeply; even though he was standing on the couch, his head was yet below the level of her bosom when he returned to an upright position.  “Allow me to introduce myself, dear lady; I am Ulwin O’Meglyn.”

The room grew quiet for a moment; Maeve was completely at a loss for words.  And even when she found her tongue at last, what came forth would not have won marks for elocution.  “Unless I very much miss my guess, good sir, you are a leprechaun.”

“I am not!” he said with controlled indignation.  “I am a brownie.  Leprechauns are about six inches taller and generally dress in tasteless green outfits, though I must admit they make some very fine shoes.”

Maeve was beginning to wonder what she could possibly have done to offend her goddess enough to deserve this joke being played upon her.  “Good Sir Brownie…”

“Ulwin, please.”

“Ulwin.  I apologize for my reaction, but, ah, I expected a different kind of visitor.  If you are seeking a position here, I would be happy to have you under the traditional arrangement.”

The little man looked at her with a rather annoyed expression.  “Madam, it is clear that you are rather ill-informed about developments in the relations between our races over the past several generations.  While it is true that in the past most of my people worked as servants in human households and refused to take formal payment, that has long since ceased to be the rule; I am the owner of an agency which places brownies in service in the very best households in the kingdom.  And as you can see, I have done quite well for myself.”

Now that he mentioned it, Maeve noticed that his clothes were impeccably tailored and his hat, boots and walking-stick new and of the finest craftsmanship.  “Pardon my ignorance, Sir Brownie…”

“Ulwin.”

“Ulwin.  I’m not especially interested in hiring additional paid servants at this time, but if I change my mind…”

“Dear lady, at the risk of being indelicate…I am not here to offer the services of those I represent, but to hire your services.”

Maeve could not help but laugh, though she had no desire to offend the polite little gentleman.  “You must forgive me, sir, but…well, it seems the difference in our statures might make that sort of activity rather difficult.”

“You disappoint me, madam.  Surely you do not think me a schoolboy who considers mere coupling to be the be-all and end-all of the time a man spends with a woman?”

For the first time, she realized he was absolutely earnest; exactly three seconds later, she began to consider his proposition.  She cautiously sat down beside him; he was still shorter than her despite the fact that he was standing on the seat.  “You’re serious?”

“Utterly.”

“But, don’t I seem…well, rather huge and grotesque in your eyes?”

“I would not be here if I felt that way.”

“I suppose not.  But why…I mean, how…that is…”

“I hardly thought I would have had to explain the strange mysteries of humanoid desire to an expert in the field.”

teacupMaeve knew he was right; there was no predicting what strange permutations would arouse the ardor of one man or another, and in her many years of experience she had found that no less true of dwarves, elves or other near-human people.  And it was obvious he had a great deal of money; perhaps Venus had heard her prayer after all.  “Your suggestions intrigue me, Ulwin,” she purred in her most charming manner; “Let me pour you some more tea and we’ll discuss it further.”

His smile let her know that she had already dispelled whatever bad feelings her clumsy and unprofessional reactions had engendered, and as they chatted she envisioned a profitable association with him and perhaps other little men who might share his tastes.  Nor was that the limit of the possibilities his visit had opened her mind to; one of her regular gentlemen had told her that only two days’ ride into the mountains, there was a village of friendly giants.

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I do not mind what she does as long as she comes back to me in the end.  –  George Keppel

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII of the United Kingdom, had an interest in women which is notable even by the promiscuous standards of noblemen.  Naturally, among his dalliances were a plethora of professionals, among them Skittles and La Belle Otero.  His first semi-official mistress was Lillie Langtry, whom we discussed in May; today I’ll introduce you to the last (and longest-lasting) lady to hold that position, from three years before his coronation until the day he died.  She had a number of things in common with Lillie: an ability to get along with their royal patron’s wife, Princess (later queen) Alexandra; a gift for discretion so highly-developed that many people to this day don’t realize (or else deny) that they were whores; and most importantly, a similar motive for taking up the profession.

Alice Frederica Edmonstone was born on April 29th, 1868, the daughter of Sir William, 4th Baronet Edmonstone, and his wife Mary.  Sir William was a retired admiral, and Alice (the youngest of nine children, all but one girls) grew up in Duntreath Castle on Loch Lomond, the home of her family since the 14th century.  Her childhood appears to have been wholly unremarkable; none of the short biographies I consulted have anything at all to say about her personal life before June 1st, 1891, when she married George Keppel, son of the 7th Earl of Albemarle.  But while her husband was of a good family with a long history of service to the Crown, he had very little money; had the two of them been content to raise their daughters quietly in the country his income would have sufficed, but both of them loved city life.  It was expensive to keep up with London society in those days, and since Alice was strikingly beautiful (with an hourglass figure, alabaster skin and thick chestnut hair) the two of them soon hit upon a simple plan: she would take on wealthy lovers whose income would finance their lifestyle and provide George with business connections.  He wasn’t her pimp, not exactly; she found her patrons and charmed them with her own abilities.  George’s contribution was to stay out of the way and provide her with the appearance of respectability.

The historian Victoria Glendinning wrote that Alice had the “sexual morals of an alley cat…sexual faithfulness to her husband wasn’t a value to her.”  But this is merely the ignorant attitude of an prudish amateur.  Cheating “alley cats” hide their affairs from their husbands; Alice planned hers with George.  Nor was he a weak cuckold sitting alone at home while his wife wandered; he also had many affairs, with Alice’s full knowledge and approval.  Her daughters later described their parents’ marriage as a “companionship of love and laughter”, and though this certainly could be taken as a biased view, it must be pointed out that the Keppels remained happily married for 56 years and died within two months of one another; though there is some speculation that Violet (born 1894) may have been the daughter of a lover, Sonia (born 1900) strongly resembled George, so there is little doubt that he was her father.  Though their relationship may seem strange to those outside of the demimonde, I’m sure every sex worker reading this will recognize it; they loved and trusted each other, and sex with others had no effect on that.

Alice’s first arrangement, with Ernest Beckett (later the 2nd Baron Grimthorpe), began less than two years of her marriage; it is Beckett who is believed to be the biological father of Violet.  Next was Humphrey Sturt, the 2nd Baron Alington.  There were a few others in the second half of the ‘90s, but on February 27th, 1898 she met “Bertie”, and the rest is literally history; within weeks she had replaced his previous mistress (the indiscreet Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick), and she remained with him until his death in 1910.  The arrangement was extremely lucrative for the Keppels: though Edward was notoriously stingy (by courtesan standards) with direct payments, he enriched them indirectly in several ways.  First, he gave her part ownership of a rubber company, from which she made £50,000 (about £3 million today); he also had his own top-notch financial advisers manage her investments, and got a high-paying job for George.

Even before she met the (then) Prince, Alice had acquired the reputation of being one of the most talented hostesses of her era.  She was intelligent, witty, well-informed and never unkind or intemperate, and she brought these characteristics and others into her role as royal mistress.  She was so discreet she even hated people to mention her relationship with the King a quarter-century after his death, and she was the only person who could bring him out of the black moods he often fell into.  These traits made Queen Alexandra actually fond of her, thus smoothing what could otherwise have been an extremely difficult relationship:  His Majesty insisted on having Alice in his entourage practically everywhere he went.  This was not only for her companionship; she was noted for her wisdom and political judgment, and the King depended on her advice.  Furthermore, so great was her skill at conversation he often employed her to feel people out on delicate topics, or to let his opinion be known without making an official announcement.  The reverse was also true; when ministers or other officials wanted to further explain opinions with which Edward disagreed, Alice could present them to him in such a way that he would at least listen without getting angry.

But despite her influence, she was unable to convince the King to cut back on his smoking and heavy eating, even after his health began to fail.  When he was dying in May of 1910 he asked for her to come to his deathbed, but apparently that was too much for the Queen; as soon as he lost consciousness she ordered the doctors to get rid of Alice, who reacted with uncharacteristic loss of composure.  She became so upset and hysterical, in fact, that she had to be removed by the guards; from that point on she was no longer welcome at court.  Alice had developed genuine feelings for Edward over the past 12 years; furthermore, she was by this time 42 and had become a bit plump, so she was no longer able to function as a courtesan.  She and George decided it would be best to leave London for a while, so they spent two years travelling in the Far East (ostensibly for their daughters’ education).  Upon coming home they bought a new house and returned to society, albeit more quietly; Alice also helped run a hospital in Boulogne during the First World War.  In 1927 they bought the Villa dell’ Ombrellino near Florence and lived there the rest of their lives except for 1940-1946, when the Second World War forced them to return to the UK; they stayed in the country for a time, but then moved into the Grosvenor Hotel in London in spite of the Blitz.  By the time they returned to Italy Alice was terminally ill with cirrhosis; she died at the age of 79 on September 11th, 1947, and George followed her two months later.

Famous harlots do not usually have interesting descendants, but Alice Keppel is an exception.  Her elder daughter, Violet, became involved in a torrid lesbian affair with the poetess Vita Sackville-West; apparently, Alice’s sexual liberality stopped short of That Sort of Thing, so Violet was induced to marry Denys Trefusis and break up with Vita.  Violet became a novelist and her affair appears in fictionalized form in a number of works, notably Virginia Woolf’s Orlando; she subsequently had other lesbian affairs, but because she learned to be discreet about them after Vita her mother had no objection.  The younger daughter, Sonia, married Roland Cubitt and had a daughter, Rosalind, who in turn married Bruce Shand and bore a daughter, Camilla, less than two months before Alice died.  When Camilla grew into a young woman she met and became involved with a great-great grandson of her great-grandmother’s most famous patron, but because he needed to make a political marriage, she instead married a cavalry officer named Andrew Parker Bowles.  The tendency to be a royal mistress, it seems, runs in families, though unlike her famous ancestress the Duchess of Cornwall eventually married her Prince of Wales.

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Feminine virtue is nothing but a convenient masculine invention.
–  Ninon de l’Enclos

The neofeminists would like people to imagine whores and intellectuals as opposites, and they pretend that making one’s living by pleasing men is philosophically incompatible with equality.  Indeed, most modern prohibitionist propaganda is based upon depicting the prostitute as a mentally inferior creature whose statements about her own thoughts and feelings cannot be trusted, and the horrible Swedish model is sold as a means of promoting female equality.  But as regular readers know, these dogmas are the exact opposite of the truth; throughout history many harlots chose the life specifically as a means of ensuring economic and social independence, and up until the 19th century courtesans were nearly the only women who were educated.  In fact, the spiritual ancestresses of modern neofeminists based much of their condemnation of whores on the very qualities the neofeminists pretend we lack, namely our independence, unconventionality and willingness to engage in free commerce with men; rather than whoredom being the opposite of feminism, whores were in fact its originators, both practically and philosophically.

Ninon de l'EnclosOne of the first to write extensively on the subject was Anne de l’Enclos, who is best known by her childhood nickname “Ninon”.  She was born in Paris on November 10th, 1620 (some sources claim slightly earlier or later years)  to a devout Catholic mother and an Epicurean father; not much is known about her parents (not even their names) except that they were comfortably middle-class and that their personalities and philosophies were strikingly different.  Ninon was a tomboy, and it amused her father, a professional musician, to indulge her by educating her like a boy and even allowing her to dress as one while riding (to her mother’s consternation).  By the time her father was exiled from France in 1632 (due to a duel fought over another man’s wife), Ninon had decided that religion was an invention; perhaps due to the disastrous example provided by her parents, she had also resolved never to marry.  In her late teens she allowed herself to be “ruined” by the Comte de Coligny so as to ensure her mother could not marry her off, and though she was consigned to a convent because of it she left as soon as her mother died, less than a year later.

Though it is doubtful her father had planned for her to become a courtesan, his example and the education he had afforded her (including mastery of the lute and clavichord) made her perfect for the profession, especially considering that she had also been well-known in Parisian society since childhood.  She frequented all the fashionable salons, and soon established one herself (generally holding them in rented hotel suites rather than her own drawing room); at first only men attended due to her reputation, but she eventually became so popular that even “respectable” women could be found there.  It is difficult to know which of the notable attendees were clients and which just friends, because she kept most of the transactions strictly business.  Though many courtesans of the time preferred long-term semi-romantic arrangements to one-off dates, so great was Ninon’s aversion to matrimony that she avoided anything which even resembled it; though she did take lovers, they never lasted for more than three months and she still accepted paid dates during the term because she refused to be financially dependent on anyone.  Once she grew tired of a lover she would tell him so honestly, and the majority of her exes remained friends or even clients.  She only ever made one exception to the three-month rule:  She lived with the Marquis de Villarceaux at his country estate for three years, pursuing her studies while he hunted and chased other women; she even bore him a son, whom she loved dearly for the rest of her life.  But eventually Paris beckoned and she answered, and when the Marquis followed her and confronted her in a rage, she cut off her hair and handed it to him as a keepsake:  the bob started a fad, and the Marquis cooled down and went back to being just a friend.

In that sexually-saner time, courtesans were in no danger from the law; but while gossip and jealousy were the worst harms Ninon’s libertinism could bring, her outspoken views on organized religion were another matter.  It was not illegal to hold such views (which were not at all uncommon among the intelligentsia of the time), and even most clergy were inclined to be tolerant of them; Cardinal Richelieu had once even tried to hire her, though she had spurned him.  But certainly some of those in power took a dim view of them: one of these was the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, who as regent for her young son Louis XIV had Ninon imprisoned in the Madelonnettes Convent in 1656.  She passed the time writing a pamphlet entitled “The Coquette Avenged” (in which she argued that it is not necessary to be religious to be moral), but she was not there long; she was visited by Queen Christina of Sweden, an intellectual who had abdicated the Swedish throne to travel about Europe as a patron of arts and letters.  Though without a throne, Christina was still very influential; she wrote to Cardinal Mazarin asking him to release Ninon, and he immediately granted the request.

The above-mentioned pamphlet, released in 1659, is one of the few specimens of the courtesan’s philosophical writing to be published in her lifetime; most of what we know of her thought comes from accounts by friends such as Moliere, and from her extensive correspondence with the Marquis de Sévigné (published half a century after her death).  Like her father, Ninon was an Epicurean; she was a materialist who denied the existence of the soul, and held that ascribing spiritual origins or dimensions to impulses which derived from physical causes was the source of much of the world’s sorrow.  Nowhere was this more true, in her estimation, than in the case of love, which she held to be the greatest of pleasures; by pretending that an amoral, physical passion actually derives from lofty spiritual impulses, people do love a disservice and create conflict where it does not naturally exist.  She also argued that men and women are naturally equal, and more alike than different; she felt that more egalitarian relations between the sexes would result in greater appreciation of each for the other.

Ninon de LenclosAfter she turned forty, she began to invest more time and energy in intellectual and literary activities and less in sex work; she stopped taking new clients entirely about 1667, though she never stopped being sexually active.  By this point in her career, “good” women were no longer as afraid of her as they once were; she even became the close friend of Françoise d’Aubigné, a lady-in-waiting who later become the second (morganatic) wife of Louis XIV (who was himself said to have great respect for the veteran courtesan’s advice).  Her heightened respectability was not due to any softening of her attitude about marriage, however; while it was customary for established, property-owning sex workers to affect the title “Madam” even if they had not entered into marriages of convenience, Ninon defiantly styled herself “Mademoiselle de l’Enclos” in her later years.  After her retirement, she opened a school in which she taught the arts of love, covering such topics as how to woo a woman, how to take care of a wife or mistress and how to properly end an affair.  She also took female students, though she taught them privately rather than in groups; while she charged men tuition, she gave women the benefit of her experience for free.  She was by this time quite wealthy, and often assisted struggling writers; when she died on October 17th, 1705 she bequeathed 2000 livres as a scholarship for the ten-year-old son of her accountant Francois Arouet, a boy who grew up to write under the name Voltaire.

While it’s completely true that Ninon de l’Enclos was an exceptional whore, the difference was mostly one of degree rather than of kind.  For millennia before her and for centuries since her time, intelligent, pragmatic women have chosen to sell sex as a way of supporting ourselves without selling ourselves as so many of our conventional sisters do.  Like Ninon, many of us are freethinkers who are skeptical of society’s sacred cows; like her, many of us are generous with both money and advice in causes we consider important.  And like her, those of us who dare to express our ideas are targeted by prohibitionists who want to lock us away someplace where our voices cannot be heard by the young and open-minded.

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HRH The Prince of Wales:  I’ve spent enough on you to build a battleship!
Lillie Langtry:  And you’ve spent enough in me to float one.

Lillie Langtry (1878)Once the “prostitute” was defined into existence as the lowest of the low in the late 19th century, it became necessary for those who were emotionally invested in the concept to police the dividing line between whores and all other women.  If it was possible for a “fallen woman” to not only raise herself by her own efforts, but to do so without repenting her whoredom, she obviously was not someone any woman could look down upon; since the whole purpose of the definition was to provide such an exemplar, famous harlots became an embarrassment to the prohibitionists.  Such women’s harlotry therefore had to be ignored, rationalized or even denied so as to maintain the fiction that we are all monsters, criminals, victims or whatever other role the individual fanatic’s belief-system requires.  In the past few decades especially, whores who achieve fame and/or accomplishment that transcends their whoredom are routinely co-opted by prohibitionists, and most popular biographies either leave out the fact that they made a living on their backs or else sanitize it with words like “mistress” or “lover” in order to pretend that the arrangement was established for romantic reasons rather than economic ones.  And if a professional achieves greater and more lasting fame in some other career after her hooking days, the general practice nowadays is to omit her earlier means of support entirely.

Emilie Charlotte Le Breton was born on October 13, 1853, the only daughter of Rev. William Corbet Le Breton (Dean of Jersey) and his wife Emilie; though she had six brothers, only two survived childhood.  Emilie was a high-spirited girl who inherited her mother’s looks and her father’s temperament; he had numerous affairs and eventually resigned his post in disgrace several years after his daughter had left the island.  Being the only girl also contributed to her personality: she learned to handle males from a very early age, and was educated by her brothers’ tutor because she was far too rambunctious for a governess.  At the wedding of her brother William in autumn of 1873 she met the Irish landowner Edward Langtry, the 30-year-old widower of the bride’s older sister; Emilie was taken with his charm and apparent affluence and he dazzled her with (chaperoned) cruises on his yacht.  They were married on March 6th, 1874, and he bought her a stately home in Jersey and a flat in London; unfortunately, Langtry was not as wealthy as he appeared to be, and her family’s dislike for him was so intense that when her beloved younger brother Reggie died in the spring of 1877, she hadn’t seen him in years.

After the funeral Emilie fell into a deep depression, and in an effort to cheer her Lord Ranelagh got her an invitation to a salon held by Lady Sebright and attended by a number of famous artists and literary figures.  Because she was still in mourning, she wore a simple black dress without jewelry and isolated herself in a quiet corner of the suite; but because she was both beautiful and charming this had the opposite effect of the one she was looking for.  She attracted the attention of a number of artists at the salon, among them Frank Miles (who had previously seen her at the theater and was very taken with her); Miles made several sketches that evening and raved about her beauty to everyone he knew.  By the end of the week the Langtrys were overwhelmed by invitations, Miles’ sketches had been sold and every photographer and painter in London wanted Emilie to model for him; the most famous of these portraits was A Jersey Lily by Millais, which not only spread her fame but gave her the nickname by which she would be known ever after:  Lillie.

Within weeks, she had come to the attention of the Prince of Wales, who asked to be seated next to her at a dinner party on May 24, 1877 and was soon spending legendary amounts of money on her; since this allowed a far more lavish lifestyle than he would otherwise have had, Langtry was content to go away on fishing trips while his wife entertained her royal patron.  Though His Highness was a noted womanizer, he became totally infatuated with Lillie and even built a house (now Langtry Manor Hotel) for them to tryst in; she became the closest thing to an official mistress as was possible in that time and place, and was even accepted by the Prince’s wife, Princess Alexandra (Queen Victoria, on the other hand, was said to have treated her rather coldly).  The relationship continued for two years, during which Lillie made many important friends; chief among them was Oscar Wilde, who later helped her launch the career for which she is known today.  And though it ended when Sarah Bernhardt captured the Prince’s eye in June of 1879, they parted on good terms and he later helped her on a number of occasions.

Lillie immediately became involved with the Earl of Shrewsbury, but that arrangement broke up the following January once rumors of divorce began to circulate and creditors started to hound her husband.  By April she had attracted another royal patron, Prince Louis of Battenberg, and when she found herself pregnant in June she told him that he was the father; however, she was also carrying on a romantic affair with Arthur Clarence Jones at the same time, so it’s possible that the child was his.  By this point the Langtrys were truly estranged; Edward went off on an extended fishing trip, leaving Lillie to deal with the bill collectors (which she did in October of 1880 by selling off many of the expensive gifts Prince Albert had given her).  She at first tried to hide the pregnancy by renting a cottage in Jersey, but soon realized a small community was the worst place to be; she then appealed to “Bertie” for help and he gave her some money and had her taken to Paris, where she and Jones lived until she gave birth to her daughter Jeanne Marie on March 8, 1881.

By autumn she had deposited the child in her own mother’s care and returned to London, where Wilde suggested she should take up acting.  He connected her to Henrietta Labouchere, a retired actress turned acting coach, and after one amateur production in November she was hired for a part in She Stoops to Conquer; though the critics were divided in their opinions, she had lost none of her charisma and the ever-supportive Prince of Wales made a point of attending several of her performances in order to draw attention to them.  Her popularity attracted enough investment to form her own company only a few months later, and she toured the UK for the rest of the year before landing a deal for an American tour in October – less than a year after she had started acting.  She was an even bigger hit in the US than she had been at home, and her box office receipts broke all previous records.  Nor had she entirely given up her previous career:  she found a new patron in the person of Freddie Gebhard, a multi-millionaire who bought her a townhouse in New York and a private railway carriage built to her specifications.  She eventually became a US citizen and divorced Edward Langtry in 1887, but though she and Gebhard remained together until 1891 they never married. He bought her a whole stable of thoroughbred horses, and she enjoyed modest success racing them; she also bought a vineyard and winery in California in 1888, and though she sold it in 1906 it still bears the name Langtry Farms.  She also sold endorsements for soap and cosmetics, becoming one of the first celebrities to do so.

In 1899, she married Hugo Gerald de Bathe, who became Lord de Bathe in 1907.  Though he was 19 years her junior, the relationship does not appear to have been the typical love match between an aging courtesan and a young lover, but rather a marriage of convenience contracted to get money for him and a title for her; when they retired to Monaco in 1917 he lived half an hour away in Nice, and they only saw each other on social occasions.  She continued acting right up until her retirement, at which time she also sold all of her horses and racing interests.  During her last decade her closest companion was Mathilde Peate, the widow of her butler; she had been estranged from her daughter since 1899, after Jeanne Marie’s fiancé had explained the truth about her parentage (which had been kept from her for eighteen years).  In the winter of 1929 Lillie contracted bronchitis and later influenza, dying on February 12th at the age of 75; she left her entire fortune to her daughter, grandchildren and Mrs. Peate, and nothing at all to her husband.  She was buried in the churchyard of St. Savior’s Parish on Jersey, near the rectory in which she had grown up; though she had left early and wandered far in her eventful life, the Jersey Lily eventually returned to the soil of her beloved home, which her heart had never really left.

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