Category Archives: Prostitution

Booze Prostitution Sex

Winchester Geese or Bankside Whores

Today’s fragments come from Robert Greene’s A Notable Discovery of Cosenage, Conie-catchers and Crossbiters published in 1592, a pamphlet written as a cautionary warning to innocents abroad in London.   Greene’s practical advice details the perils awaiting the unwary in the streets, taverns, brothels, and gaming dens, of London.

The pickpockets are ‘apparelled like honest civil gentlemen or good fellows, with smooth faces, as if butter would not melt in their mouths…[they] walk up and down Paul’s, Fleet Street, Holborn, the Strand, and such common-haunted places, where they attend only to spy out a prey.’  Their most popular location is St Paul’s, and their favoured victim ‘some plain man that stands gazing about, having never seen the church before.’ The preferred time to strike ‘is at divine service, when men devoutly go up to hear either a sermon, or else the harmony of the choir and organs. There the nip and foist [cutpurse and pickpocket], as devoutly as if he were some zealous person, standeth soberly with his eyes elevated to heaven, when his hand is either on the purse or in the pocket.’

Then there are the whores, known on Bankside and Southwark as Winchester Geese. Greene was an expert on whores, having been kept by one for several years. He warns that ‘a shameless hussy has honey in her lips and her mouth is as sweet as honey, her throat as soft as oil; but the end of her is more bitter than aloes and her tongue is more sharp than a two-edged sword.’ ‘End’ here had a double meaning; loose women would no doubt come to a bad end, but there was also the substantial risk that the whore’s ‘end’ was quite liable to give her gentleman companion the clap.

Greene particularly warns against a practise known as ‘cross-biting’: ‘Some unruly mates that place their content in lust, let slip the liberty of their eyes on some painted beauty, let their eyes stray to their unchaste bosoms til their hearts be set on fire.’ Having set his cap at the object of his desire, the young man is quickly embraced by the scheming harlot, who either leads the way to the tavern ‘to seal up the match with a bottle of Hippocras, or straight away she takes him to some bad place.’ But once the couple are in bed and have ‘set to it’, there enters ‘a terrible fellow, with side hair and a fearful beard, as though he were one of Polyphemus cut, and he comes frowning in and says ‘What has thou to do, base knave, to carry my sister, or my wife?’ The accomplice then rounds on the woman and calls her nothing better than a whore and threatens to haul them both before a local justice. ‘The whore that has tears at command, immediately falls a-weeping and cries him mercy’. The hapless victim, terrified that the publicity will get back to his wife and family, or his employer, has no choice but to pay whatever it takes to persuade the ‘husband’ or ‘brother’ to keep quiet.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved


Italy Prostitution Vice

Licentious Wantons

These snippets are taken from Coryat’s Crudities, Thomas Coryate’s observations on Europe gathered during a five-month walking tour in 1608, published in 1611.

The woman that professeth this trade is called in the Italian tongue Cortezana, which word is derived from the Italian word cortesia that signifieth courtesie, because these kinde of women are said to receive courtesies of their favourites. As for the number of these Venetian Cortezans it is very great; it is thought there are of them in the whole City and other adjacent places, as Murano, Malomocco, &c. at the least twenty thousand, whereof many are esteemed so loose, that they are said to open their quivers to every arrow. A most ungodly thing without doubt that there should be a tolleration of such licentious wantons in so glorious, so potent, so renowned a city. For so infinite are the allurements of these amorous Calypsoes, that the fame of them hath drawen many to Venice from some of the remotest parts of Christendome, to contemplate their beauties, and enjoy their pleasing dalliances.

And indeede such is the variety of the delicious objects they minister to their lovers, that they want nothing tending to delight. For when you come into one of their Palaces (as indeed some few of the principallest of them live in very magnificent and portly buildings fit for the entertainement of a great Prince) you seeme to enter into the Paradise of Venus. For their fairest roomes are most glorious and glittering to behold. The walles round about being adorned with most sumptuous tapistry and gilt leather.

As for her selfe shee comes to thee decked like the Queene and Goddesse of love, for her face is adorned with the quintessence of beauty. In her cheekes thou shalt see the Lilly and the Rose strive for the supremacy, and the silver tramels of her haire displayed in that curious manner besides her two frisled peakes standing up like prety Pyramides. Thou maist easily discerne the effects of those famous apothecary drugs heretofore used amongst the Noble Ladies of Rome, a thing so common amongst them, that many of them which have an elegant naturall beauty, doe varnish their faces (the observation whereof made me not a little pitty their vanities) with sordid trumperies. Also the ornaments of her body are so rich, that except thou dost even geld thy affections (a thing hardly to be done) or carry with thee some antidote against those Venereous titillations, shee wil very neare benumme and captivate thy senses.

Thou shalt see her decked with many chaines of gold and orient pearle like a second Cleopatra, divers gold rings beautified with diamonds and other costly stones, jewels in both her eares of great worth. A gowne of damaske (I speake this of the nobler Cortizans) either decked with a deep gold fringe or laced with five or sixe gold laces each two inches broade. Her petticoate of red chamlet edged with rich gold fringe, stockings of carnasion silke, her breath and her whole body, the more to enamour thee, most fragrantly perfumed. Moreover shee will endevour to enchaunt thee partly with her melodious notes that she warbles out upon her lute, which shee fingers with as laudable a stroake as many men that are excellent professors in the noble science of Musicke ; and partly with that heart-tempting harmony of her voice. Also thou wilt finde the Venetian Cortezan (if she be a selected woman indeede) a good Rhetorician, and a most elegant discourser, shee will assay thy constancy with her Rhetoricall tongue.

And to the end shee may minister unto thee the stronger temptations to come to her lure, shee will shew thee her chamber of recreation, where thou shalt see all manner of pleasing objects, as many faire painted coffers wherewith it is garnished round about, a curious milke-white canopy of needle worke, a silke quilt embroidered with gold : and generally all her bedding sweetly perfumed. And amongst other amiable ornaments shee will shew thee the picture of our Lady by her bedde side, with Christ in her armes, placed within a cristall glasse.

Moreover I will tell thee this newes which is most true, that if thou shouldest wantonly converse with her, and not give her that payment which thou hast promised her, but perhaps cunningly escape from her company, shee will either cause thy throate to be cut by her Rurfiano, if he can after catch thee in the City, or procure thee to be arrested (if thou art to be found) and clapped up in the prison, where thou shalt remaine till thou hast paid her all thou didst promise her.

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