SEX AND DEATH
RICH OR POOR A WOMAN’S FATE COULD BE THE SAME
WOMAN PLYING HER TRADE
There were two ways for a girl to get on in the 18th century and they both involved sex and the risk of disease followed by the likelihood of an early death.
The choice for most women was either wife or city prostitute. Prostitution was the riskier option and the option most likely to taken by the poor – women who had been abandoned and those who were widowed.
The 18th century saw the birth of commerce and a huge expansion of trade in the great cities of the world. The goods on offer were not only tea and sugar – there was a thriving trade in sex as well.
Sex was the commodity most often traded in 18th-century cities – sex with women, sex with men, and, sex with children.
Sex and the Age of Marriage
Since the 12th century in Europe, the onset of puberty was the acceptable time for marriage. This was about 12 for girls and around 14 for boys.
The first recorded age-of-consent law appeared in 1275 in England in the Statute of Westminster. It made it a misdemeanor to “ravish” a “maiden within age,” with or without her consent. The phrase “within age” was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage.
The American colonies followed the English tradition, but the law was more of a guide – Mary Hathaway (Virginia, 1689) was only 9 when she was married to William Williams.
In Europe, the situation was much the same.
Sex and the French Revolution
The advent of the French Revolution hardly changed at a thing for women and girls. The age of consent for sexual intercourse was set at 11 years for girls in 1791. How enlightened was that? In the 18th-century there was little understanding of childhood as a concept. Children were seen as “little adults” who were born sinful and subject to the corruptions of the flesh.
Sex and the Job Market
Women and female children were barred by law and convention from all but the most menial jobs in Europe and in the colonies. There was no chance of a woman making a decent living on her own so many were forced to make an indecent living for themselves.
Some women inherited property from their families when there was no male heir, there are plenty of examples of female innkeepers and shop owners but most of them were widows. The problem for a woman with property was that when she got married it became her husband’s. If the marriage was not a success she could be left with nothing.
With odds stacked against women economically, the trade in sex thrived. Thousands of women needed to make a living and the only thing most men would pay for was sex or sex with housework.
The Harlot’s Progress
William Hogarth’s six-part Harlot’s Progress of 1732 makes the lot of the prostitute visible in a straightforward way. The representation of Moll Hackabout’s journey into prostitution, from the innocent country girl we see arriving in London on the first plate through to her subsequent career as a harlot and her decline towards death in plate six, is generally acknowledged to mark a turning point both in British visual culture and in Hogarth’s career but it changed little for women like Moll.
Charlotte Hayes’ Nuns
Of course, taking control of their commercial assets was somewhat more difficult for the women, the commercial world was designed for men. However, some did. One such was a woman called Charlotte Hayes. Hayes ran a brothel or ‘nunnery’ in the parlance of the day. She grew wealthy on her girls, keeping a carriage and liveried servants for her ladies of the night. She taught her girls the manners and graces of elite London society to get a better price for them. One of these so-called ‘nuns’ was Emily Warren, an ‘exquisite beauty’ who became the muse to the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. She was discovered by Hayes leading her blind beggar of a father through the streets of London. The Georgian memoirist William Hickey described sleeping with her as follows;
‘Never did I behold so perfect a beauty. I passed a night that many would have given thousands to do. I, however, that night, experienced the truth – that she was cold as ice, seemingly totally devoid of feeling. I rose convinced that she had no passion for the male sex.’
Little wonder, perhaps. Emily Warren had, like so many other girls, become a prostitute at the age of 12.
Hayes dressed her girls in French silks and lace and promised they would ‘satisfy all fantasies, caprices, and extravagances of the male visitor, carrying out their every wish’.
Masquerade parties were a popular cover for anonymous sexual encounters. Among the most sought-after of these risque gatherings were those held by one Mrs. Cornley, reputedly a lover of Casanova; they were held in a grand house or ‘fairy palace’ in Soho Square. The parties were honeypots for prostitutes and pimps and saw peers of the realm mix with streetwalkers.
Inspired by the explorer-of-the-day James Cook‘s accounts of Tahitian erotic rituals, Charlotte Hayes organised a tableau in which ’12 beautiful nymphs, unsullied and untainted’. These nymphs were to be publicly deflowered by 12 young men as in ‘the celebrated rites of Venus’. Her disreputable business earned Hayes, a teenage prostitute herself, a fortune of £20,000 – a sum a working man would have to work 500 years to earn.
The Harris’ List
The centre of the Georgian sex trade was Covent Garden. There, men could not pass it without being accosted by women silently offering their arm or making lewd suggestions in their direction.
In the Covent Garden coffee shops and jelly houses, where exotic concoctions were eaten from tall glasses, hundreds of lavishly adorned women sat looking for business.
The infamous Harris’ List of Covent Garden Ladies was a directory of London prostitutes, circulating from the late 1740s. It detailed each girl’s charms. A typical entry in 1788, described Miss Lister, of 6 Union Street, Oxford Road. ‘She is painted by the masterly hand of nature, shaded by tresses of the darkest brown, with the neighbouring hills below full ripe for manual pressure, firm and elastic, and heave at every touch.’
A German visitor of the time observed prostitutes in the West End with these words. ‘Usually, a crowd of female creatures stand in front of the theatres, amongst whom may be found children of nine or ten years, the best evidence of moral depravity in London. In general, the English nation oversteps all others in immorality, and the abuses which come to light through addiction to debauchery are unbelievable.’
The dawn of the Victorian age and new attitudes to morality meant that prostitution gradually went underground but it did not go away. Streetwalking was made an imprisonable offence in the 1820s. For the whores, harlots, pimps, and courtesans of Georgian London, the party was over but their abuse was not.
The Secret History Of Georgian London, Dan Cruickshank
Prostitution and Eighteenth-Century Culture: Sex, Commerce, and Morality, edited by Ann Lewis, Markman Ellis
Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in Eighteenth-century British Literature and Culture, Laura J. Rosenthal
Find Books by Julia Herdman myBook.to/TalesofTooleyStreet
The story of the Portland Vase encapsulates so much about the 18th century. It is a story of fascination with the classical world, the acquisition of antiquities and of technological and artistic excellence of British manufacture.
The vase that is known as the Portland Vase is a Roman cameo glass vase, dated to between AD 1 and AD 25. Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador in Naples, purchased it in 1778-1780 from James Byres, a Scottish art dealer, who had acquired it after it was sold by Cornelia Barberini-Colonna, Princess of Palestrina. Hamilton brought it to England and sold it to Margaret Cavendish-Harley, widow of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland.
The vase is a Roman two-handled glass amphora dating to between the second half of the 1st century BCE and the early 1st century CE. It has a cameo-like effect decoration which perhaps depicts the marriage of Peleus and Thetis from Greek Mythology. Standing 24.5 cm in high and 17.7 cm at its maximum width it was made by blowing the dark cobalt blue coloured glass covered with a layer of opaque white cased glass. Large areas of the white glass were then removed to reveal the underlayer of blue. Areas of white were left and carved in relief to depict the scenes. The style of the decoration has led scholars to date the piece to the reign of the first Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE). The fineness of detail of the decorative scenes is comparable to the highest quality Roman cut-gems and so it must be the work of a superbly talented gem-cutter or diatretarius.
The scenes on the vase are divided into two parts by a bearded head (perhaps with horns), one under each handle. The first scene has four figures which include a young man leaving a shrine in the countryside and wearing a cloak. The man holds the arm of a semi-naked woman sitting on the ground preoccupied with stroking an animal resembling a snake. Above the woman is the flying figure of Eros with his customary bow and a torch in his right hand. On the right is a bearded male standing between two trees and depicted in a contemplative mood with his chin resting on his hand.
The second scene on the other side of the vase shows three figures all sitting on rocks with a background of a single tree. On the left is a young male next to a column or pillar, whilst in the centre is a young woman with her arm raised to her head and holding a torch which hangs down to the ground. On the far right is another half-dressed woman who holds a sceptre or staff in her left hand.
The two-handled amphora vase is incomplete as it has lost its pointed base and the mouth of the vessel is curiously uneven in the cut. The base was repaired using a similar coloured disk carved in the same style and depicting Paris. Although it is remarkable that such a delicate object has survived at all from antiquity, the vase is not unique, as a similar type vase has been found at Pompeii which dates to the mid-1st century CE and depicts scenes from a grape harvest. However, these cameo-cut vessels are regarded as something of an experiment in Roman glassware, carried out in a limited period spanning just two generations, so they were almost certainly not commonly produced.
It was sold again in 1786 and passed into the possession of the duchess’s son, William Cavendish-Bentinck, the 3rd Duke of Portland who lent it to Josiah Wedgwood who copied it in his new jasperware.
Wedgwood devoted four years of painstaking trials to achieve the perfection required to replicate the vase. He had problems with cracking and blistering and the sprigged reliefs ‘lifted’ during firing. In 1786 he feared that he would never be able to apply the Jasper relief thinly enough to match the glass original’s subtlety and delicacy. However, his copy of The Portland Vase was placed in a private exhibition in Greek Street, Soho, during April and May 1790. The exhibition was so popular that visitor numbers had to be restricted.
Wedgewood’s success inspired a 19th-century competition to duplicate its cameo-work in the glass, with Benjamin Richardson offering a £1,000 prize to anyone who could achieve that feat. Taking three years, glassmaker Philip Pargeter made a copy and John Northwood engraved it, to win the prize. This copy is in the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.
After a long history of changes in ownership, disaster struck in 1845 when the vase was smashed to pieces in the British Museum. Fortunately, it has since been painstakingly restored so that it can once more take its rightful place amongst the very finest masterpieces of Roman art.
The Wedgwood Museum, in Barlaston, near Stoke-on-Trent, contains a display describing the trials of replicating the vase, and several examples of the early experiments are shown.
The original Roman vase can be seen in the British Museum.
Turquerie was the fashion for all things Turkish. It started in the late sixteenth century and lasted well into the nineteenth. unconcerned with the realities of life in the east it was rather a product of European fantasies about the luxuries of the Orient. Turkey was a supplier of exotic goods such as coffee, perfumes, spices, and tea.
First diplomatic relations with the far east started near the end of the sixteenth century with Sir Robert Shirley going to Persia in 1599 to train the Persian army in the ways of English military warfare.
The West had a growing interest in Turkish-made products and art, including music, visual arts, architecture, and sculptures.
This fashionable phenomenon became more popular through trading routes and increased diplomatic relationships between the Ottomans and the European nations, exemplified by the Franco-Ottoman alliance in 1715 when Louis XIV received the first Persian ambassadors to France.
European portraits of the 18th century were used to portray social position and wealth. Dress, posture, and props were carefully selected in order to communicate the appropriate status. Choosing the exotic turquerie style to express one’s elite position in society involved wearing loose, flowing gowns belted with ornate bands of embroidered cloth. Some sitters donned ermine-trimmed robes while others chose tasselled turbans. Scandalously, most have abandoned their corsets and attached strings of pearls to their hair. (There has always been one law for the rich and one for the lower classes when it comes to letting one’s social hair down.) Many portraits have Turkish carpets displayed on the floor, woven with bright colours and exotic designs. The loose clothing and the unorthodox styles added to the lewd perceptions of the Ottomans.
At the same time portraits of real Turkish people by European artists were a la mode. They were often depicted as exotic, and it was rare that portraits were painted without wearing their traditional cultural clothing.
Perhaps the most influential transformation into the turquerie vogue in Europe was done by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Montagu went to Turkey in 1717 when her husband was posted as ambassador there. Her collected letters while there, describing Turkish fashion were distributed widely in manuscript form. They were then printed after her death in 1762. These letters helped shape how Europeans interpreted the Turkish fashion and how to dress. This phenomenon eventually found its way across the Atlantic and in colonial America, where Montagu’s letters were also published.
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42 Also available on:
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The landscaped park was a British style which would influence gardens throughout Europe from the 18th century onwards.
The style at a glance:
- Informal layout designed as a classical Arcadia
- Lakes created to reflect the landscape as well as for recreation
- Cascades add drama and animation to the scene
- Temples, grottoes and follies doubled up as tea rooms, and viewing towers
- Clumps and shelter belts to provide shelter and privacy to the park
- Shrubberies planted with the newly introduced exotics from abroad
- The Ha-ha, an invisible boundary to keep livestock away from the house
- Circuit walks taking you on a tour around the park
It drew inspiration from paintings of landscapes by Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. The new style that became known as the English garden was invented by landscape designers William Kent and Charles Bridgeman, working for wealthy patrons, including Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, and banker Henry Hoare; men who had large country estates, were members of the anti-royalist Whig Party, had classical educations, were patrons of the arts, and had taken the Grand Tour to Italy, where they had seen the Roman ruins and Italian landscapes they reproduced in their gardens.
William Kent (1685–1748) was an architect, painter and furniture designer who introduced Palladian style architecture to England. Kent’s inspiration came from Palladio’s buildings in the Veneto and the landscapes and ruins around Rome—he lived in Italy from 1709 to 1719, and brought back many drawings of antique architecture and landscapes. His gardens were designed to complement the Palladian architecture of the houses he built. Charles Bridgeman (1690–1738) was the son of a gardener and an experienced horticulturist, who became the Royal Gardener for Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark, responsible for tending and redesigning the royal gardens at Windsor, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, St. James’s Park and Hyde Park. He collaborated with Kent on several major gardens, providing the botanical expertise which allowed Kent to realise his architectural visions.
Kent created one of the first true English landscape gardens at Chiswick House for Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. The first gardens that he laid out between 1724 and 1733 had many formal elements of a Garden à la française, including alleys forming a trident and canals, but they also featured something novel: a picturesque recreation of an Ionic temple set in a theatre of trees. Between 1733 and 1736, he redesigned the garden, adding lawns sloping down to the edge of the river and a small cascade. For the first time the form of a garden was inspired not by architecture, but by an idealised version of nature.
Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, (1730–1738), was an even more radical departure from the formal French garden. In the early 18th century, Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, had commissioned Charles Bridgeman to design a formal garden, with architectural decorations by John Vanbrugh. Bridgeman’s design included an octagonal lake and a Rotunda (1720–21) designed by Vanbrugh Stowe is frequently used as a setting for TV dramas and films. Here are just a few scenes filmed at Stowe Park:
Illustrations: Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon (1975), Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice (2005),
Film director, Amma-Asante and Star Gugu Mbatha-Raw filming Belle (2013).
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29 Also available on:
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Women in Art
Mary Moser (1744-1819) was “one of the most celebrated women in art in 18th-century Britain,” yet today she’s mostly overlooked.
Along with Angelica Kauffmann, Mary Moser was one of only two female founding members of 36 member Royal Academy.
It would be more than 115 years until the next woman, Dame Laura Knight, would be invited to become the next female member.
Mary Moser by George Romney
Moser specialised in flower-painting, which was at the bottom of the hierarchy of academic art, but she was ambitious for professional standing. In this portrait, which shows her at work on an oil painting, she is showing that she wanted to be taken seriously. Moser is placing herself on a par with men who had themselves painted at their easels, dressed in their painter’s robes. She shows that she understands it refers to a tradition of portraits of male artists dating back to the Renaissance.
At the time most male artists asserted their academic status by stressing the intellectual rather than the technical aspects of their work, the oil palette that Moser holds also distinguishes her from the many women amateurs who practised flower-painting using the less taxing medium of watercolour.
The close focus, dramatic colours and sidelong glance also emphasised that her professional status did not need to compromise her femininity.
Moser, Mary; Vase of Flowers; The Fitzwilliam Museum.
Moser’s flower paintings are less a celebration of the wonders of God’s creation as a careful observation of nature. Flowers were a favourite subject as far as consumers were concerned. London printsellers sold countless decorative flower prints, depicting them in baskets, vases, or tied in bouquets. Flower art was also used in pattern books providing templates for ladies to copy for embroidery or for glass painting. Drawings of flowers were also used for Japan work and were copied onto undecorated white china. By the latter part of the eighteenth century, drawing masters specialising in teaching this type of art were much in demand, and many women who had given up flower painting on their marriage found it a useful means of financial support, but it was always uncredited.
Due in part to her father’s connections and patronage by members of the royal family, Moser received several commissions from King George and Queen Charlotte. The most prestigious and famous of those commissions was a floral decorative scheme for the Frogmore House in the 1790s. The “prestigious and lucrative commission” Moser was paid £900, which made Moser “the envy of her male colleagues.” It was also one of her last professional works, as she retired upon her marriage in 1793.
She married remarkably late in life when she was 49 years old. The man she chose was Hugh Lloyd. However, she did not pack up her paint box and retire to the country. But the marriage did not live up to her expectations, and within six months she was on a sketching tour of Europe with miniaturist Richard Cosway.
Cosway left his Anglo-Italian artist wife Maria ho was 20 years Moser’s junior and chose to keep company with Moser. Cosway was a “well known as a libertine and commonly described as resembling a monkey.” The film Jefferson in Paris, which dramatises Maria Cosway’s own romance with the future American President Thomas Jefferson Richard Cosway was portrayed as effeminate, but it seems he was anything but in bed. His diary entries for the time he spent with Mary Moser describe a hot and steamy affair.
Richard Cosway – Self Portrait
Mary Moser’s death in 1819 marked the start of a long stretch of time when, despite no explicit ban, women remained excluded from the Academy.
Lady Elizabeth Butler, renowned at the time for her paintings that reported the realities of the Crimean War, came close to becoming a member in 1871 but according to committee reports, she missed out by a mere one vote.
Lady Elizabeth ButlerIt wasn’t until 1936 that Dame Laura Knight became the next woman to be fully elected as an Academician, and although having previously had her work rejected by the Academy on grounds of embarrassing the art establishment with what a critic described as “vulgar” and “obviously an exercise” for a self-portrait, she helped pave the way for greater recognition of women in the arts and the continuation of female membership at the Academy.
Dame Laura Knight
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle
Amazon. Click here to get your copy.
Sinclair is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Strong female leads include the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street. Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.
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Against the Grain – 18th Century British Art
Maria Cosway the Artist who Captured the Heart of Thomas Jefferson