Nov 222017

I always feel sorry for Dorothea Jordan. I have blogged  about her before (here). She was an actress with a stunning pair of legs, who delighted audiences on the London stage, and who also went by the name of ‘Dora’ and ‘Dorothy’. She was persuaded to become the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, who later became William IV, and she stood by him for years and bore him ten children – all of them bearing the surname ‘Fitzroy’. She was then dumped unceremoniously the moment he saw that he had a chance to become king and needed to marry. She was treated most shabbily, and died impoverished and abandoned in 1816.

What I find intriguing is the viciousness of the attacks on her when she became the Duke’s paramour. Caricaturists such as Gillray must have whooped with delight at being able to have a go at someone with a surname (Jordan) which was an obsolete slang word for a chamber pot.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

From 24 October 1791 we got “The devil to pay : the wife metamorphos’d, or, Neptune reposing after fording the Jordan” with its highly derogatory depiction of a chamber pot under the bed, bearing the words “Public Jordan. Open to all parties.” It shows Dorothea sitting up in bed alongside her sleeping Prince, imagining that the last night has all been a dream.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The day after, print-maker W Dent published “The royal tar and country girl from Oldford, or, An Englishman in all his glory” showing the sailor prince  sweeping Dorothea off her feet. The map behind his head contains the words “directions for steering up the River Jordan”

J3A week later Isaac Cruikshank came out with “The pot calling the kettle black, or, Two of a trade can never agree” drawing attention to the differences – and similarities – between Maria Fitzherbert (mistress of the Prince of Wales) and Dorothea Jordan. The “trade” was of course being a royal whore, although that was a bit hard on Maria who had at least gone through a form of marriage ceremony with her prince.

j4Not all representations of the couple were so derogatory: in December 1791 another Isaac Cruikshank print appeared, entitled “The hambug or An attempt at tragedy”  and showing Dorothea on stage at the Drury Lane Theatre in front of the Royal Box. She is shown sinking back as if fainting, and is supported by the Duke of Clarence who kneels  on one knee, offering her a wine-glass.


j5More crudely, another image entitled “The Tar and the Jordan” shows the prince running past a group of four horrified women as he cries “Why what a rout is here about a damned crack’ed Bum Boat. B”’t the Jordan. I wish it was at the bottom of the deepest Jakes [i.e. lavatory] in England.” He wears a chamber pot on his head as he hurtles towards a flock of startled sheep, while a second pot is dragged behind him along the ground. The print, by Richard Newton, appeared in around 1797.

The ‘cracked jordan’ was a source of regular guffaws, with both lavatorial and sexual connotations. This is nowhere more apparent than in Gillray’s “Lubber’s Hole” (otherwise better known as ‘The Crack’d Jordan’) which appeared in November 1791. The prince has practically disappeared inside the suggestively shaped fissure of the jordan. His coat hangs on a peg while he shouts “yep yee yeo”.

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Poor Dorothea – how she must have dreaded walking past a print-shop window! How she must have winced at the crude portrayal and smarted at the suggestion that she was a common whore! No-one had bothered much about her morals before, but as soon as she bedded the prince she was fair game for all. No matter that it was the prince who had spent most of his naval career becoming an expert on the brothels of Jamaica. No matter that she stood loyally by him for two decades, rearing his children and still appearing on stage. She was totally devastated when she was turfed out by the ungrateful prince in 1811, after a relationship which had lasted some 21 years.

So to endj44 with, a kinder portrayal of a popular comic actress who strutted her stuff on stage for nearly thirty years, and shown courtesy of the Twickenham Museum. 22 November was the old girl’s birthday – so Many Happy Returns of the Day, Dorothea. Or Dora. Or Dorothy. More than 250 years on, and still going strong.

She does of course feature in my book “In bed with the Georgians; Sex, Scandal and Satire” which is published by Pen & Sword and is available from you know where – well, here actually!



Oct 232015

In researching for my next book “In bed with the Georgians – Sex, Scandal and Satire” I came across a book by Richard King  which came out in 1771,  entitled ‘The New London Spy: or, A Twenty-Four Hours Ramble through the Bills of Mortality’. Its full title offered readers:

…a true picture of modern high and low life; from the splendid mansions in St. James’s to the subterraneous habitations of St. Giles’s, wherein are displayed the various scenes of Covent-Garden, and its environs, the theatres, Jelly-houses, Gaming-houses, Night-houses, Cottages, Masquerades, Mock-Masquerades, Public-gardens, and other places of entertainments.

I love the idea of a “Jelly house” and recalled the image of a Jelly-house macaroni on the Lewis Walpole site.

a Jelly houseThe print, by Carington Bowles, came out in 1772 and shows a young rake making amorous advances to a lady of the town. The jelly house was not so much a brothel as a meeting place – somewhere a young blade would go to in order to pick up a prostitute. In order to ‘heighten the coming pleasure in the amorous contest’ the couple might build up their appetites, and strength, by feasting on jellies and other delicacies, before retiring to a nearby room for a spot of how’s-your-father.

It seems that  the idea of jellies having aphrodisiac qualities has never entirely gone out of fashion – I see that there is a website called The Spicy Wench which offers to purvey Aphrodisiac Jelly containing Sugar, Orange Juice, Pineapple Juice, Mojito Mint,and Pectin. Others nowadays may swear by Royal Jelly, but my guess is that the amorous couple in the Jelly house were more likely to slurp a wobbling plate of ribbon jelly (contrasting layers of different coloured jellies  served in a tall glass). It may have worked – though rumour has it that  Casanova swore by the combination of red wine and stilton. Mind you, other reports say that he knocked back fifty oysters before each and every assignation, so I don’t suppose he would have been seen dead in a jelly-house. Nor would Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV of France, who swore by cauliflower soup, made to her own recipe. As an alternative she would offer her royal paramour a cup of hot chocolate …

Of course there has long been a belief that  food can have “potency potential”  if it combines the qualities of being smooth, rich, creamy, exotic and spicy. So at first I thought that my 18th century rake would have chosen a flummery  (like a blancmange) flavoured with either cinnamon or ginger. It would have come out of a mould shaped like a beehive, no doubt made by Wedgwood, and it would have wobbled suggestively as each of the participants endeavoured to take a spoonful. Or maybe they would have opted for a quince jelly or quiddany (similar to the membrillo you get in Spain). Quinces had long been used for their aphrodisiac qualities, made into a sort of marmalade. It is not a fruit we often encounter today, but old recipe books were full of them – so much so that in the 17th Century prostitutes were apparently termed ‘marmalade madams’  because they would entice customers with a spoonful or two of quince marmalade. (The Historic Food site here has some splendid recipes and images of quince moulds and jellies). However, the more I looked for recipes for jellies which were believed to have the right properties to encourage a night of hanky-panky, the more I was drawn back to the idea of it being a (savoury) jellified broth. Many of the recipes were none too subtle (“Take four cocks…”). So perhaps the young lovers had a plateful of those delicious gelatinous juices you get on the bottom of the roasting tray when you roast a chicken – no doubt flavoured with red wine and herbs….

Mind you, looking again at the picture it appears as if he has already got his hands on her jellies, so perhaps they would have dispensed with the preliminaries and just gone upstairs!

Apr 022015

CasanovaGiacomo Girolamo Casanova was born on 2 April 1725 in the Republic of Venice, and later went under the title of the ‘Chevalier de Seingalt.’He  visited Britain in 1763 and had some interesting things to say about the country, its customs, and its women. There was rather more to him than just being a randy old rake – he was a polymath, an intellectual, a man who invented a national lottery system for the French, was a writer of mathematical works, an astrologer and a spy. He also translated The Iliad into his native Venetian dialect and wrote a science fiction novel. And in between all that, he seduced a large number of apparently very willing and happy ladies…

Towards the end of his life, when he was employed as a librarian in a remote castle in Bohemia, he wrote his autobiography covering the first 49 years of his life, entitled ‘The Story of my life by Jacques Casanova de Seingalt’. Of the English he says: ‘the people have a special character, common to the whole nation, which makes them think they are superior to everyone else. It is a belief shared by all nations, each thinking itself the best. And they are all right.’

Arriving in London he quickly found lodgings (‘Thus in less than two hours I was comfortably settled in a town which is sometimes described as a chaos, especially for a stranger. But in London everything is easy to him who has money and is not afraid of spending it’)’

Of English life he wrote ‘there is no playing cards or singing on Sundays. The town abounds in spies, and if they have reason to suppose that there is any gaming or music going on, they watch for their opportunity, slip into the house, and arrest all the bad Christians, who are diverting themselves in a manner which is thought innocent enough in any other country. But to make up for this severity the Englishman may go in perfect liberty to the tavern or the brothel, and sanctify the Sabbath as he pleases.’

When he came to London the problem was that he did not speak English – and the whores did not speak Italian or French. He got a friend to translate a notice which he put up in his window, advertising the availability of rooms to let in the house he had rented, to a young lady. The actual wording was “The landlord of the second and third floors probably occupies the first floor himself. He must be a man of the world and of good taste, for he wants a young and pretty lodger; and as he forbids her to receive visits, he will have to keep her company himself.”

The Press got wind of the notice and guessed the reason behind the proviso against having any visitors – he intended to monopolize the young lady himself, and it was not so much a ‘room to let’ as an offer of employment. Casanova was amazed that the Press should write so freely and so openly: ‘Such matters as these’ [ie gossiping about the notice he had put up offering accommodation and speculating as to his intentions] ‘give their chief interest to the English newspapers. They are allowed to gossip about everything, and the writers have the knack of making the merest trifles seem amusing. Happy is the nation where anything may be written and anything said!’

The advertisement worked – a girl he called ‘Mistress Pauline’ responded, was interviewed, and ‘got the job’. True to form, they became lovers, but never on an exclusive basis.

A Victorian print showing Casanova blowing up condoms

A Victorian print showing Casanova blowing up condoms

Casanova was to write: ’I also visited the bagnios where a rich man can sup, bathe, and sleep with a fashionable courtezan, of which species there are many in London. It makes a magnificent debauch and only costs six guineas. The expense may be reduced to a hundred francs, but economy in pleasure is not to my taste.’

On another occasion he describes an unsatisfying and expensive encounter with a prostitute: “It was one evening when I was at Vauxhall, and I offered her twenty guineas if she would come and take a little walk with me in a dark alley.  She said she would come if I gave her the money in advance, which I was fool enough to do.  She went with me, but as soon as we were alone she ran away, and I could not catch her again, though I looked for her all the evening.”

He does not appear to have been a great admirer of English food and drink, writing: ‘One day I was invited by a younger son of the Duke of Bedford to eat oysters and drink a bottle of champagne. I accepted the invitation, and he ordered the oysters and the champagne, but we drank two bottles, and he made me pay half the price of the second bottle. Such are manners on the other side of the Channel. People laughed in my face when I said that I did not care to dine at a tavern as I could not get any soup. “Are you ill?” they said, “soup is only fit for invalids.”

‘The Englishman is entirely carnivorous. He eats very little bread, and calls himself economical because he spares himself the expense of soup and dessert, which circumstance made me remark that an English dinner is like eternity: it has no beginning and no end. Soup is considered very extravagant, as the very servants refuse to eat the meat from which it has been made. They say it is only fit to give to dogs. The salt beef which they use is certainly excellent. I cannot say the same for their beer, which was so bitter that I could not drink it.’

But time and a dissolute lifestyle was beginning to take its toll on the middle-aged libertine. At the age of 38 he met and fell for the charms of a lovely seventeen-year-old London courtesan named Marie Anne Genevieve Augspurgher, known as La Charpillon. She toyed with him for some weeks and then rejected him. (He later wrote in his Memoirs: ‘It was on that fatal day…that I began to die.’) Other rejections followed. Worse, he caught a dose of the clap and left Britain to resume his European travels, feeling decidedly under the weather and much poorer than when he arrived. His memoirs, entitled ‘The Story of my Life’, remain as one of the great autobiographies of all time. As Casanova put it: “Worthy or not, my life is my subject, and my subject is my life.”

I am delighted to say that the old roué gets a mention in my forthcoming book “Sex Scandal and Satire – in bed with the Georgians” and this blog is an extract from it, just to whet your appetite!


Oct 102014

In researching  interesting characters for my forthcoming book: ‘ Sex Scandal and Satire – In bed with the Georgians’ I came across Augustus FitzRoy, third Duke of Grafton. He was mad about horses, in particular the races on Newmarket Heath, and was also very keen on hunting. Unfortunately for him, these passions were not shared with his wife Anne. She just liked playing cards. And gambling, which she did with a singular lack of success over quite a few years.

Once she had done the obligatory ‘ heir  and a spare’  bit – plus giving him a daughter Georgiana – she realized that she had nothing in common with the Duke, who by then was a Privy Councillor. He in turn took to bringing various hookers home for supper, including the notorious courtesan Nancy Parsons. Indeed he went further, and used Nancy as a piece of arm-candy when he went to the opera. Society may have been shocked, but not half as much as his wife. She told him that she hated him, so he chucked her out and installed Nancy in her place, holding dinner parties and conducting his social life in public without a care in the world. And this from a man who, in 1768, was to become Prime Minister – an office he filled with a total lack of talent. Poor man, he was utterly out of his depth, grappling with problems such as those Revolting Americans, or the even more repellent John Wilkes.

The Press had a field day, and he was shown in the “Histories of the tête-à-tête annexed” in the Town and Country magazine, with Nancy Parsons described as ‘The Female Pilot’. It appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.


The denizens of Grub Street heaped scorn upon the Duke – not least  ‘Junius’ who immortalized the Duke in his poem entitled  ‘Harry and Nan’. The poor chap never recovered from the onslaught, and stood down from the premiership in under two years, gave up politics altogether and became a devout Unitarian.

His wife meanwhile, embarked on a somewhat public affair with the Duke of Portland, who subsequently rather let her down by announcing that he was getting engaged to another lady, but apparently had forgotten to mention it to Anne. She then flounced off with the Earl of Upper Ossary, and immediately got pregnant by him. The Duke of Grafton was not amused, and divorced her via a Private Act of Parliament. To his credit the Earl of Ossary stood by her, and three days after the divorce came through he whisked her off to get a special licence. Having married, she appears to have found a measure of happiness in rural retirement from public life. She had more children, and then entered into a long and fascinating correspondence with Horace Walpole. Some 455 letters from him have survived – although, oddly, only one or two of her replies. They give a wonderful picture of how Walpole viewed the world around him.

2aReturning to the Duke of Grafton: he decided that he wouldn’t make an honest woman of Nancy Parsons – so she went off in a huff and became the wife of Viscount Maynard. Instead the Duke married Elizabeth Wrottesley – a woman much more to his liking. She too was into horses in a Big Way, and was parodied as the ‘Female Turf  Macaroni’ in a 1771 caricature by M Darly (also shown courtesy of the lovely Lewis Walpole Library). She had a dozen children by the Duke, of whom eight reached adulthood.

I rather like the portrait of her done by Thomas Gainsborough. It is apparently in a private collection and, as indicated, cannot be used for commercial purposes – so it won’t be appearing in my book! I like the luminous quality and the details of the lace – and it certainly makes her appear rather more attractive than the Darly caricature suggests!


Besides, from what I can see Elizabeth Wrottesley behaved herself admirably, albeit rather boringly, so she shall have no place in my story of sex and scandal in the 18th Century. Now Nancy, she will probably have a chapter all to herself, she really was a bit of a go-er….