They are the world’s best-known reality TV family with a global influence that has fashion and beauty products flying off the shelves, but Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian would have had some tough competition from harlots and courtesans had they been around 200 years ago.
According to British author Mike Rendell, high-profile mistresses and harlots were the Kardashians of the Georgian Era, influencing what women wore and seldom out of the newspapers.
He is quick to point out he doesn’t doubt the morals of the Kardashian family but says: ‘There are similarities. The Kardashians are fashion icons, their products and beauty ranges are loved, and bought, by millions. They are influencers on a grand scale, with millions of followers on Twitter and on Instagram.
‘In the 18th century, as now, the celebrity status of the most successful strumpet owed nothing to the amount of good these people did for their fellow human beings. They were catapulted into stardom because of their prowess in the bedroom, because of their promiscuity, because of the company they kept… The press, reported their every appearance in public, invented rivalries and indiscretions and ensured that their antics were never out of the news.’
Sounds very familiar so far I think you’d agree?
Rendell, whose book Georgian Harlots and Whores: Fame, Fashion & Fortune in the late Eighteenth Century, will be released at the end of March adds: ‘Like the Kardashians, or other celebrities with spin-off careers, prostitutes and harlots launched fashion trends and, on occasion, even tried to sell their own products so that punters could copy their styles’.
Take Fanny Murray who went on to bed some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Britain and had poetry and songs written about her breasts. She became a celebrity and even inspired her own trend, the Fanny Murray cap, which described a hat with an asymmetric brim, worn at an angle to conceal part of the face.
Or Nancy Parsons, living in London’s Soho could meet 100 clients a week and by 1760, when she was in her early twenties, they included Home Secretary and Prime Minister William Petty.
She later became the mistress of future Prime Minister, the Third Duke of Grafton, who moved her into his townhouse.
By the time the relationship with FitzRoy had come to an end, Nancy was in her 30s. She eventually married an aristocrat 10 years her junior.
Mary Robinson always had aspirations to be an actress and her life changed completely when in December 1779 she performed The Winter’s Tale for an audience that included King George III, and his wife and son, The Prince of Wales who was 17.
The teenage royal fell under her spell and sent an envoy to deliver passionate messages to her. But an affair would have ruined her career and her reputation. She denied him for weeks until he agreed to a contract that gave her a lump sum of £20,000 (about £2 million today) when he turned 21.
She was installed in a house in Soho and he paid for a maid, footman and cook.
When the prince’s head was turned by another woman, Mary was forced to blackmail the royal family to help pay her £7,000 bills. In the end, George III paid her £5,000 and she was given £500 annually once the prince turned 21.
Aristocrats including the Duc de Chartres and the Duc de Lauzun pursued ‘La Belle Anglaise’, as she was known, and she was honoured with fêtes and balls and nights at the opera house. She was even invited to meet Marie Antoinette at Versailles.
On her return to London, Mary was established as a fully-fledged fashion icon, whose choice of clothing garnered column inches and prompted discussion wherever she went.
Georgian Harlots and Whores by Mike Rendell published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd will be available at the end of March RRP £20