Harriette Wilson and Blackmail

Here’s a fun courtesan story, with a valuable life lesson. All quotations are from Katie Hickman’s Courtesans.

Harriette Wilson, the Duke of Wellington’s one-time courtesan, was a total free spirit and one of the most famous courtesans of the 19th century. While she certainly got paid for her services, she never chose men on the basis of money alone, but rather by how much she liked them. She valued her own choice and freedom above anything else.

After having climbed the ladder, she was sitting on top of the lady-of-the-night pyramid and suddenly found herself without a protector. She could have chosen any man she wanted, but the baby-faced Marquis of Worcester, son and heir of the Duke of Beaufort, came up and won her away. He wasn’t really her style, but she stayed with him for a couple of years because he was like a puppy she couldn’t shake off. He actually suffocated her with his attention and devotion, but he treated her well and she didn’t have anything else going on, so she stayed with him despite the fact that he didn’t have much money.

he considered her as his wife . . . and was offended by anyone who dared to treat her with anything less than the respect they would have shown the Marchioness of Worcester”. Harriette wrote, “He would send fur shoes and fur cloaks after me, in hot dry weather . . .  [he] always used to lace my stays himself, and get out of bed to make my toast for breakfast, with his own hands, believing I should fancy it nicer and cleaner, if the footman had not touched it” (202).

When she had a tooth pulled, he worried himself sick with fright. Afterwards, when she recovered perfectly well, he took the extracted tooth and wore it on a chain around his neck.

Brother was a bit much, but what do you expect from a teenager under the spell of a celebrity?

Then the problems started.

Worcester: Harriette, will you marry me?

Harriette: No way. I’m never getting married.

Worcester: Please? I’ll be a duke and I’ll have so much money! I’ll get that tooth of yours gold-plated! I’ll let you have socks carved out of diamonds and baths filled with unicorn tears.

Harriette: Kid, you’re sweet, but you can’t buy my love. If you won’t listen to me, at least listen to J.Lo.

Worcester: Dad, Harriette and I are going to get married.

Duke: WHAT? My son? Make a duchess of a prostitute? Never!

Harriette: I really have no intention of ever marrying your son.

Duke: You straight-up skank! I will never let you sink your claws into him!

Harriette: Seriously, am I invisible? Why is no one listening to me?

Duke: Son, you are not an adult yet, so I’m packing you up into the army. In Spain.

Worcester: I hate you!

Duke: Uh-uh–in Spanish, son. You’re going to be there a while.

Worcester: Te odio!

Duke: That’s better.

Worcester: Harriette, omg, Harriette, I love you, don’t forget me, I’ll write to you every day, don’t sleep with other men, I love you, I love you, be mine forever, mi corazon es en fuego, mi paloma pequena.

Harriette: I am totally indifferent.

Duke: You can never have my son.

Harriette: Okay, now you’re just pissing me off. Don’t tell me who I can or can’t have.

Duke: Do as I command!

Harriette: That’s it. That’s just it. Worcester, I love you and I will be true.

Worcester: Thanks, dad! Nothing gets girls hotter than parental disapproval! Hasta la vista!

Duke: I’ll pay you £500 a year for the rest of your life if you stop writing to him.

Harriette: So ‘listening’ isn’t your strong suit, I guess? Leave me alone.

Duke: Hey, I just heard from Worcester. He’s got another woman down in Spain. You might as well get while the getting’s good, since he’s about to dump your ass.

Harriette: Fine, I’ll take the £500 a year.

Duke: £500? I never suggested that much. I’ll give you £300 a year.

Harriette: I’ll go talk to my lawyer and we’ll get this set up. Okay, let’s make £300 a year happen.

Duke: £300? I never suggested that much. I’ll give you £200 a year.

Harriette: Oh, you son of a– FINE. I’ll sign the papers today.

Duke: Okay, but this means you can never, EVER contact him, ever.

Worcester: Honey, I’m hoooome! I brought presents! I hope you like chorizo!

Duke: Oh, she’s gone. She took the money and split as soon as you left because I told her you had another floozy when you totally didn’t she’s heartless.

Worcester: WHAT? How could she? Harriette, I hate you! I renounce the wearing of your tooth!

Duke: Want to get revenge on a woman who is now leaving us totally alone and has done nothing to provoke this most recent douche-baggery from me?

Worcester: Do I ever!

Duke: Keep writing her really sad letters. Vow to murder a puppy, or her, or yourself. I don’t care what you have to say, get her to write back to you. Prod the sleeping bear. Make daddy love you!

Worcester: *dons a monocle, picks up feather pen* “Dearest, dearest succubus, who has ripped my heart into confetti, why so heartless?

Harriette: *doesn’t respond*

Worcester: “Cruelest mistress of Britannia, why did you jump on my soul and crush it into a fine powder?

Harriette: *doesn’t respond*

Worcester: “Goddess of Misery, can’t you offer me one word of condolence after you consigned our love to the dustbin of history?

Harriette: OH MY GOD, I’M SORRY, OKAY? ALL BETTER NOW?

Worcester: Daaaaaad, Harriette wrote to me!

Duke’s Lawyer: *shows up on Harriette’s doorstep* I’ll be taking back that £200 now. And since you broke the contract, you won’t be getting any more. The Duke says to tell you that so long as you live, you’ll never get even £20 out of him.

Then they had an honest-to-god Gone with the Wind moment. This is a direct quotation:

Harriette: What, then, is to become of me?

Duke’s Lawyer: Frankly, my dear That is a matter of perfect indifference to His Grace, and also to me.

So, instead of just pensioning her off and leaving her alone, the Duke has antagonized the woman with tons of blackmail material and backed her into a corner. So Harriette writes her famous book, The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, in which she names names and tells details of all her clients. What was brilliant, though, was that she published it in installments, and at the end of every installment, she listed the names of the men who she would talk about next. If they wanted, they had the option of buying their way out of her memoir before it went to print. Worcester does not appear in her text. His name was purchased out of it by his father, and for considerably more than the £20 he said Harriette would never get out of him.

The best part, though, is that the Duke of Wellington, her one-time lover long before Worcester, opted not to buy his way out. He famously said “Publish and be damned!” The thing I love about Wellington is that he did not just give a shit about anything.

There are several morals of the story:

1.) Don’t date teenage boys.
2.) Don’t piss off courtesans.
3.) Take care of your teeth, or an obsessive boyfriend will make jewelry out of them.

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