Harriette Wilson (22 February 1786 – 10 March 1845) was a Regency courtesan. She had many high profile clients including the Prince of Wales; Arthur Wellsley, 1st Duke of Wellington; Lord Melbourne‚Äôs son the honourable Frederick Lamb; and the Duke of Argyll.
While she was a beautiful woman, part of her charm was her intelligence and wit. She played the perfect balance of feigning disinterest while also keeping the interest of the man. The high class men of the day were used to ladies of polite society and enjoyed the wit and interesting conversation she provided. Her three sisters were also courtesans: Amy, Sophia and Fanny. Amy was the closest in age to Harriette and the pair shared an intense rivalry over the same men. Amy ended up having a baby with the Duke of Argyll, Harriette’s third lover. While Fanny was considered the sweet one who everyone loved, sadly she died young. Sophia was the most successful courtesan out of her sisters as she ended up marrying one of her lovers, Lord Berwick.
While Harriette was a successful courtesan in her youth, once she entered her 30s she struggled to keep her protectors, and the Duke of Bedford who had promised her an annuity reneged on his promise and left her penniless. Partly in revenge and partly to earn money she decided to write her memoirs and include all her high profile lovers. When she requested the Duke of Wellington pay her in exchange for being kept out the memoirs he famously said ‚Äòpublish and be damned‚Äô.
While people may have judged her for writing about her famous lovers, that didn‚Äôt stop them reading it. She released her memoirs in instalments, and the publisher John Stockade had to force the people into queues outside his shop. Her memoirs made her a rich woman and are why she is still known today.
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