Updated: Feb 17
Rogues Gallery Uncovered
Rogues Gallery Uncovered …. bad behaviour in period costume
An unapologetic compendium of history’s greatest, liberties Lotharios and complete bastards.
Contains adult themes and the occasional bit of colourful language – Those of a delicate disposition may experience attacks of the vapours.
Everyone’s gone fanny mad
Sex, celebrity and sandwiches
The following tale is written in the present tense of the period in which its set…. and as such, may contain attitudes and opinions of the protagonists and their times which would today be considered unacceptable.
As a relatively respectable twenty first century man, those attitudes and opinions are obviously not mine.
Fanny Murray is a successful courtesan – in return for the pleasure of her company and the use of her body, wealthy men lavish her with expensive gifts.
She’s famous - not just “very well known around town” but proper “Everybody in England knows who I am” famous. She’s beauty, sex and extravagance personified. Women eagerly follow and slavishly copy her tiniest fashion whim -although no respectable one, would ever invite her into their home. Love struck young men gaze adoringly at her picture. Many carry miniature portraits of her face inside the cases of their pocket watches. Today she needs some spending money and all her current “Protector” –Sir Robert Atkins, 6th baronet of Clapham - is prepared to give, is a measly twenty pounds. Insulted, Fanny lets her displeasure be known. “Damn your twenty pound!” She cries snatching the note from his hand. She then stuffs it in between two slices of bread and as the long-suffering Atkins watches helplessly,….. takes a big bite.
You don’t insult the most desirable woman in England with twenty pounds. She’s Fanny Murray. she’s had to work bloody hard to get where she is, satisfying the depraved sexual desires of men rich and poor. She’s THE Fanny Murray and she’s worth more than twenty measly pounds. Her “Apple Faced Beauty” has ensnared some of the wealthiest and most important men in the land – along with her impressive cleavage which one admirer described as ‘those fair hemispheres, those orbs of more than snowy whiteness, which seem to pant for release from irksome robes.’ Atkins dotes upon her and has been more than generous in the past – setting her up in fashionable rooms at St James, furnishing her with an a la mode wardrobe that’s made her the toast of Covent Garden and a jewellery box so plentiful that she could illuminate the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. He’s even bought her, her own coach – how many women of pleasure have one of those? He, like the whole of England, is firmly in the grip of “Fanny - Mania”
Songs and poems are written about her, magazines write of her exploits constantly, she has her own signature hat. The author, Henry Fielding recently enjoyed great success with a salacious puppet show about her and even a racehorse bears her name. It’s funny to think that seven years before she’d been tossing off drunks round the back of the Old Bailey.
Fanny had grown up a poor orphan in the fashionable town of Bath. Bath was popular destination for ladies and gentlemen of quality – both to take the restorative waters and to escape from the hurly burly of London life. The town also had a well-deserved reputation for vice and it was said to be as easy to get the pox in Bath as it was to get the cure. From an early age, Fanny earned a pittance as a flower seller, following the quality from spa to ballroom to theatre offering small posies for them to wear.
While doing this she got to see and hear the most outrageous gossip, observe the “Trulls” looking for trade and notice how lots of ugly old rich men seemed to have pretty young women on their arms. At the age of thirteen she came to the attention of John Spencer – a thirty-four-year-old arch rake and chronic alcoholic who was in Bath trying to shift a nasty case of venereal disease. A charmless prankster, Spencer was once arrested for driving a coach naked down the Strand.
He also thought it was hysterical to invite some of his high-born friends to a dinner party where all the other guests were hunchbacks and people with speech impediments, so he could enjoy their shocked and awkward reactions
When he turned her out, Fanny could easily have become another “ruined” girl had she not fallen under the “Protection” of sixty-seven-year-old “Monarch of Bath” Richard “Beau” Nash.
In his youth, Nash had been a roaring boy about town who once said “wit, flattery, and fine clothes … are enough to debauch a nunnery.’ By 1744 he occupied a position at the very centre of Baths social world – deciding who was accepted into the inner circle and who was not. Captivated by her beauty and innocence Nash installed her in his mansion giving Fanny her first taste of luxury.
He probably also gave her, her first taste of potatoes too.
Nash was especially fond of them and referred to one particular type as “The English Pineapple.” After dinner, it was said, he would eat potatoes as others do fruit. Stopped in the street one day and taken to task for sharing his house with a teenage prostitute Nash replied; “I have a Woman lives in my House, and that may have occasioned the Mistake that I am a whoremonger but, a Man can no more be deemed a Whoremonger, from having one Whore in his House, than a Cheesemonger, for having one Cheese” Which at the very least sent his accuser away confused.
As he got older, Nash became increasingly grumpy and when he went bankrupt through gambling, Fanny – who was by now well aware of her beauty, knew exactly the kind of lifestyle she wanted and just how to get it – took herself off to London.
Arriving in the capital, Fanny’s courtesan career got off to a most inauspicious start. Her first bawd, Mrs Softing introduced her to an old man whose breath was so pungent she had to resort to a bottle of smelling salts in order to complete the assignation. Pleased with how she handled her malodorous client, Mrs Softling kept her on at her brothel …..until Fanny caught the pox. Nearly bankrupting herself with doctors’ bills in order to get cured Fanny was forced into becoming a common streetwalker – a bunter, a bulk-monger. For as little as sixpence, Fanny shared her favours with the dregs of London’s criminal classes, but she had her own plan of escape. By hoarding and stealing, she managed to save up enough to rent a room of her own and as word of her looks and bed skills began to get around, she found herself much in demand. In fact, soon, so many gentleman callers began paying her a visit that she took to renting a second room and hiring a look alike so she could service twice as many.
Her real rise to fame began when she came to the attention of John Montague the 4th earl of sandwich. He was a renowned libertine with a lugubrious corpse-like demeaner that concealed a voracious sexual appetite. He was noted however for only consorting with the most beautiful and accomplished courtesans. With his seal of approval, the quality and wealth of Fanny’s admirers began to grow.
Sandwich was also noted for having a love of all things Eastern. He formed “The Divan Club” so fellow aficionados of the Ottoman way of life could dress up in Turkish costume and talk about harems. Fanny often attended - suitably (un)dressed of course.
He also took her to the notorious Hellfire Club at Medham where his friend Francis Dashwood conducted booze and harlot filled religious services. Dashwood and Sandwiches fellow members attended soirees dressed as monks and in an orgy of delicious blasphemy enjoyed the devotions of selected whores who were dressed as nuns.
Some visitors said that the nuns were often encouraged to ride upon a wooden horse shaped like a huge penis, for both their own pleasure and club member’s amusement. By now, Fanny was being mobbed by admirers in the street. It was said to be “a vice not to be acquainted with her and; a crime not to toast her at every meal” With fellow courtesan Kitty Fisher, she sat for a joint nude portrait that Sandwich proudly displayed in his home. If any of his friends failed to recognise either of the unclothed women Sandwich would loudly berate them for not getting out enough. As her fame became national celebrity, Fanny found herself the subject of bawdy jokes, told in taverns throughout England “Ere. Why is Fanny Murray like the Serjeant at Arms? – Because she takes unruly Members into Custody.” Fanny’s fellow celebrity lovers included the notorious highwayman John MacLaine – she was said to have been found in his bed the night he was arrested. There were also various members of the aristocracy, the relative of a famous novelist and even, its rumoured, a member of the royal family…. The story goes that, Gertrude, Duchess of Bedford held a ball at which the youngest son of George III, Prince William Augustus, was in attendance. He was accompanied by thirty masked ladies; most of whom were said to be fellow members of his ennobled class but there were three who stood apart. These were described as ‘fine but dirty’ a euphemism for a well-dressed strumpet – one of them was Fanny. Did she and the prince engage in “the two handed put?” - most would think he’d have been a fool if he hadn’t.
At the same time she was hobnobbing with the prince, Fanny was also entertaining Robert Tracy, a fellow who styled himself as “The most handsome man in England.” He may have been pleasing to the eye but Tracey was also a raging drunk and so often in his cups that he would have been hard pressed to know whether he was in England or not. The story of how he got so pissed one night that he woke up the next morning to find himself married to a washerwoman’s daughter who’d tried to sell him some eggs never failed to raise a laugh.
During their first meeting, Fanny had offered to spend the night with Tracey as recompense for taking all of his money at cards. A salivating Tracy was beside himself at the prospect of bedding the most desirable woman in England but later, in his rooms, his drunken plug tail tragically let him down, much to Fanny’s amusement.
Throughout most of this time, Fanny was under the protection of the long-suffering twenty five-year-old Atkins who put up with her, imperious ways, multiple suitors, lewd behaviour and business-like avarice with indulgent good grace. Eating two whole pounds in front of him though might just be the last straw. It had been a close thing when they had rowed so furiously that he’d abandoned her at the Shakespeare’s Head and gone off with a one-eyed prostitute called Betsy, “The little squinting Venus”, but this could definitely be it.
Fanny pays little heed; her keen business brain knows that her beauty and fame will only last so long and for a courtesan eight years is long enough.
Flashing Atkins, a dazzling smile and a glimpse of the most engraved bosom in England she knows that the next step is retirement and a respectable marriage. Celebrity is all very well but only a fool thinks it’s going to last forever.
Next week on Rogues Gallery Uncovered – The Mysterious Sex Appeal of Gabrielle D’Annunzio
Late Victorian polymath and Italy’s least self-effacing man, had a remarkable effect on the opposite sex. But what were his sensuous secrets?
If you have enjoyed this podcast visit roguesgalleryuncovered.com – you’ll find lots more roguish content there and you’ll be able to subscribe to the gallery, so you never miss a disreputable episode.
That’s all for Now…See you yesterday.