Category Archives: Vice

London Prostitution Sex Underworld Vice Women

The Wandering Whore

Today’s snippets come from a very popular early modern text on prostitution, but in order to give it some context, here is a little overview of the history of brothels in London from John Stowe, whose survey of London in 1598 describes the history of Bankside stews:

Next on this bank was sometime the Bordello, or Stewes, a place so called of certain stew-houses privileged there, for the repair of incontinent men to the like women.

Under Henry II parliament ordained certain rules for the maintenance of these brothels:

That no stew-holder or his wife should let or stay any single woman, to go and come freely at all times
No stew-holder to keep any woman to board, but she to board abroad at her pleasure.
To take no more for the woman’s chamber in the week than fourteen pence.
Not to keep open his doors upon the holidays.
No single woman to be kept against her will that would leave.
No stew-holder to receive any woman of religion, or any man’s wife.
No single woman to take money to lie with any man, but she lie with him all night till the morrow.
The constables, bailiff, and others, every week to search each stew-house.

These brothels were subsequently closed down by the authorities under Henry VIII, but were once again legalised under Edward VI. By the reign of James I, Bankside in Southwark was an area known area for its vice and crime. The theatres had been established here since it was outside the jurisdiction of the City Fathers, and brothels and stew-houses flourished alongside the bear-pits and numerous taverns. Whorehouses were also prominent in other areas of London, most notably Westminster, Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Whitefriars.

A popular text which was translated from the Italian in the 1570s, and had been in heavy circulation ever since was Arentino’s The Wandering Whore. Pornographic and entertaining, it takes the form of a dialogue between a pimp and a whore, and sheds light on the practise of prostitution in early modern London:

Betty Lawrence… will serve the Cure [for the ‘standing ague’]; suffering you to whip the skin off her buttocks, onely paying her Crowns apiece for her patience and punishment.

A list of ‘Common Whores’ includes the names:

Green Moll, alias Joan Godfrey, Toothless Betty, Shards wife in Dunning Alley, Long-haired Mrs Spencer in Spittle-fields, Taylor the Prigg, Dutch Whore, Wilkins a weaver’s Wife at Smack Ally End.

Male names feature too, including: Little Taffy, Dick Steckwel, Ned Brooks, Green by Newgate, Frank Ashburn, and the alluringly-named ‘Ralph Asbington, alias Shitten-arse.

The young Gallant in the text discusses this list of names, claiming ‘I’ll visit their Quarters one after another, though I’m clappt three times over with the Pox.’ He enquires about a prostitute in Moorgate, ‘a teasing Girl with Silver-lace upon her Petticoat a Quarters bredth, with Lemmon-colour’d Ribbons a-la-mode-france, with Pendants in her eares, neck-lace of counterfeit pearl, and dres’t with a Caul in her hair.’

There is a description of a prostitute who ‘stood upon her head with naked breech & belly whilst four Cully-rumpers chuckt fifteen Half-crowns into her Commodity.’

Prostitutes are advised to be clean. They need to ‘paint, powder, and perfume their clothes and carkasses’ and have ‘fine clean Holland-smocks’. Descriptions of typical acts between prostitute and client include kissing with their mouths open, putting their tongues into his mouth, and putting their ‘left hand in his Cod-piece, the right hand in his Pocket.’

But perhaps the most moving aspect of Aretino’s tract is the description of the fate of many children born as a result of prostitution:

what children are got in Bastardy amongst us, are educated, if you are but minded to go to a certain stately building, where there is a grate, and one continually there placed to receive it [the baby], the Priests have a place peculiar to themselves, for what Brats they get are carried, where on the outside of the wall hangs a rope with a basket at the end on’t, where they are drawn up in a basket if you ring the bell which hangs close by.

For more on seventeenth century brothels see here or search the tag Prostitution.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Booze Death Vice

A Warning-Piece To All Drunkards

These snippets come from a 1682 publication warning readers of the dangers of excessive boozing. As well as a general admonition against the bewitching nature of drunkenness, the authors provide plenty of examples of the worst kinds of fate met by irresponsible imbibers.

The bewitching, besotting nature of Drunkenness: It doth not turn men into Beasts, as some think, for a Beast scorns it: I do not know that ever I saw a Beast drunk (unless it were a Swine) in my life. But it turns them into Fools and Sots, dehuminates them, turns them out of their own Essences. Drunkenness is the general Rendezvouz of all sin, the common Parent of the greatest Provocations. Even the worst of men when they are drunk, do that which if they were sober they would blush to be found guilty of. Men naturally quiet, good humor’d, moderate in sinning, as one may say, when they are themselves; are by Drunkenness metamorphos’d into such Extravagancies, you would not think them to be the same men.

Two Servants of a Brewer in Ipswich, drinking for a Rump of a Turkey, struggling in their drink for it, fell into a scalding Cauldron backwards; whereof the one died presently, the other lingringly and painfully, since my coming to Ipswich.

A man eighty five years old, or thereabout, in Suffolk, overtaken with Wine, (though never in all his Life before, as he himself said a little before his fall, seeming to bewail his present condition, and others that knew him, so say of him) yet going down a pair of stairs (against the perswasion of a woman sitting by him in his Chamber) fell, and was so dangerously hurt, as he died soon after, not being able to speak from the time of his fall to his death.

At Tenby in Pembrokeshire, a Drunkard being exceeding drunk, broke himself all to pieces off an high and steep Rock, in a most fearful manner; and yet the occasion and circumstances of his fall were so ridiculous, as I think not fit to relate, lest, in so serious a Judgement, I should move Laughter to the Reader.

At Bungey in Norfolk, three coming out of an Ale-house in a very dark Evening, swore they thought it was not darker in Hell it self: One of them fell off the Bridge into the water, and was drowned: the second fell off his Horse, the third sleeping on the Ground by the Rivers-side, was frozen to death: This have I often heard, but have no certain ground for the Truth of it.

One T. A. of Godmanchester, being a common Drunkard, was intreated by a Neighbour to unpitch a Load of Hay: And being at that time drunk, the Pitchfork slipt out of his hand, which he stooping to take up again, fell from the Cart with his head downward; and the Fork standing with the Tines upward, he fell directly upon them, which striking to his heart killed him immediately.

A Vintner that accustomed himself to swearing and drunkenness, as he was upon the Lords day standing in his door with a pot in his hand to invite guests, there came suddenly such a violent Whirlewind as carryed him up into the Air, after which he was never more seen.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Art Florence Renaissance Sex Vice

Sta cheto, soddomitaccio!

The medieval term ‘sodomy’ covered a multitude of activities including incest, sex with nuns, and bestiality.  In fact any sexual activity which deviated from that approved by the Bible. Sodomy came to be a byword for homosexual behaviour in the Renaissance. In 1527, a Florentine noble was fined for the explicit crimes of per buggerone. By 1600, Francis Bacon was promoting masculine love as a specific erotic category (his mother wrote to him complaining of his ‘foul sins’ with various male servants), and specifically homosexual activity was one of many subversive pursuits which flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries.

As this ‘unmentionable vice’ grew, so too did the authorities attempts to persecute its practitioners. A sixteenth century source claims

The mighty impose penalties on those who [commit sodomy] for no other reason than this: since it is their own profession, they don’t want common people to use it.

Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), an Italian sculptor and goldsmith, was convicted of sodomy in 1557; by which point the phrase had become almost synonymous with ‘seducing young boys’. While Cellini may privately have had no regrets, he was furious at his public outing. His sentence included a heavy fine and four years imprisonment, which was reduced to four years house arrest after the intervention of the Medicis. The following is his own account of his outing by rival artist Bandinello:

Bardinello ‘turned to me with that most hideous face of his, screaming aloud: ‘Oh, hold your tongue, sta cheto, soddomitaccio! [you filthy sodomite]’ At these words the Duke frowned, and the others pursed their lips up and looked with knitted grows toward him. The horrible affront half maddened me with fury; but in a moment I recovered presence of mind enough to turn it off with a jest; ‘You madman! you exceed the bounds of decency. Yet would to God that I understood so noble an art as you allude to; they say that Jove used it with Ganymede in paradise, and here upon this earth it is practised by some of the greatest emperors and kings.  I, however, am but a poor humble creature, who neither have the power nor the intelligence to perplex my wits with anything so admirable.’ When I had finished this speech, the Duke and his attendants could control themselves no longer, but broke into such shouts of laughter that one never heard the like. You must know, gentle readers, that though I put on this appearance of pleasantry, my heart was bursting in my body to think that a fellow, the foulest villain who ever breathed, should have dared in the presence of so great a prince to cast an insult of that atrocious nature in my teeth; but you must also know that he insulted the Duke, and not me; for had I not stood in that august presence, I should have felled him dead to earth. When the dirty stupid scoundrel observed that those gentlemen kept on laughing, he tried to change the subject, and divert them from deriding him; so he began as follows: ‘This fellow Benvenuto goes about boasting that I have promised him a piece of marble.’ I took him up at once. ‘What! did you not send to tell me by your journeyman, Francesco, that if I wished to work in marble you would give me a block? I accepted it, and mean to have it.’  He retorted: ‘Be very well assured that you will never get it.’ Still smarting as I was under the calumnious insults he had flung at me, I lost my self-control, forgot I was in the presence of the Duke, and called out in a storm of fury: ‘I swear to you that if you do not send the marble to my house, you had better look out for another world, for if you stay upon this earth I will most certainly rip the wind out of your carcass.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Biography Booze Court Death Poetry Vice

The wildest & most fantastical odd man

This snippet follows on from A Ramble in St James’ Park, and is an overview of the life of the second earl of Rochester.

John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester (1647–1680), poet and courtier, was born on 10 April 1647 the only surviving son of Henry Wilmot, first earl of Rochester, a royalist army officer, and his second wife, Anne.  The family moved to Paris when Henry Wilmot went into exile, settling in the Louvre at the court of Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s queen.

In 1660 Rochester was admitted to Wadham College, Oxford.  He was ‘a very hopefull Youth, very virtuous and good natur’d (as he was always) and willing & ready to follow good Advice’. Oxford was a hard drinking university and Rochester had the misfortune to be patronised by Robert Whitehall, known as that ‘useless member’ of Merton College, who, as a result of ‘following the trade of drinking as he was wont, procured himself a red face.’ Whitehall undertook to instruct the boy, ‘on whom he absolutely doted’, in the art of poetry.

Rochester was created MA filius nobilis on 9 September 1661, and on 21st November 1661 he set out on his travels with a governor, Dr Andrew Balfour, a physician and herbalist presumably chosen by the king, and two servants, with all expenses paid by the crown. The group toured Europe, resting at Venice, Padua, and Paris.

Even before Rochester arrived back at court, the king had chosen a bride for him. He was ‘encouraged by the king to make his [addresses] to Mrs. Mallet, who was the great beauty and fortune of the North.’  Elizabeth’s grandfather had brought her to court in 1664 to find her a husband. On 28th May 1665, Pepys recounted the following story:

of my Lord of Rochester’s running away on Friday night last with Mrs. Mallet … who had supped at White-hall and was going home to her lodgings with her grandfather, my Lord Ha[w]l[e]y, by coach, and was at Charing-cross seized on by both horse and foot-men and forcibly taken from him, and put into a coach with six horses and two women provided to receive her, and carried away. Upon immediate pursuit, my Lord Rochester (for whom the King had spoke to the lady often, but with no success) was taken at Uxbridge; but the lady is not yet heard of, and the King mighty angry and the Lord sent to the Tower.

In June 1665, Rochester addressed a petition to the king from the Tower: ‘Sheweth that noe misfortune on earth could bee so sensible to your Petitioner as the losse of your Majesties favour.’ Charles responded on 19th June by ordering Rochester to be discharged from the Tower. Released from prison, and having spent some time abroad, serving in the Anglo-Dutch wars, Rochester returned to court in 1667, and on 29th January, he and Elizabeth were married. In the same year he took his seat in the House of Lords.

In 1668, pregnant with their daughter, Lady Rochester retired to Adderbury, the Wilmot estate in Oxfordshire, where Anne Wilmot (named for Rochester’s mother), was born on 30th April 1669. For twelve years, from 1667 to 1679, Rochester’s life followed a familiar pattern: London during sessions of parliament and Adderbury during recesses; ‘He was wont to say that when he came to Brentford [on the London road] the devill entred into him and never left him till he came into the country again.’

Rochester’s life at court revolved around wine and women. According to Anthony Hamilton’s Memoirs of the comte de Grammont, Rochester seduced Sarah Cooke, who became ‘the prettiest, but also the worst actress in the realm.’  She was followed by others, including the actress Elizabeth Barry. Later reports stated that Rochester took over Barry’s training as an actress and ‘taught her not only the proper cadence or sounding of the voice, but to seize also the passions, and adapt her whole behaviour to the situations of the character.’ In April 1677, Barry, pregnant with Rochester’s child, left ‘this gaudy, gilded stage’.  His daughter, Elizabeth Clerke, was born in December 1677, but Barry was ‘no more monogamous than Rochester,’ and their relationship was very stormy. According to one of Rochester’s letters, Elizabeth ‘made it … absolutely necessary’ for Rochester to remove his daughter temporarily from her care.  In his will he left the child £40 a year.

‘For five years together’, Rochester himself said, ‘he was continually Drunk … [and] not … perfectly Master of himself … [which] led him to … do many wild and unaccountable things.’ He presented himself to Barry as ‘the wildest and most fantastical odd man alive,’ and in June 1675, he ‘in a frolick after a rant did … beat downe the dyill [glass chronometer] which stood in the middle of the Privie Gardens, which was esteemed the rarest in Europe’.  “What … doest thou stand here to fuck time?” he apparently ranted.

Rochester’s writings were admired and infamous. A Satyr Against Mankind (1675), one of the few poems he published (in a broadside in 1679) is a scathing denunciation of rationalism and optimism, but the majority of his poetry was not published under his name until after his death. Because most of his poems circulated only in manuscript form during his lifetime, it is likely that much of his writing does not survive.  Rochester was also interested in the theatre. In addition to an interest in the actresses, he wrote an adaptation of Fletcher’s Valentinian (published in 1685), a scene for Sir Robert Howard’s The Conquest of China, a prologue to Elkanah Settle’s The Empress of Morocco (1673), and epilogues to Sir Francis Fane’s Love in the Dark (1675), Charles Davenant’s Circe, A Tragedy (1677). The best-known dramatic work attributed to Rochester, Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, has never been successfully proven to be written by him;

In the summer of 1679, Rochester learned that Jane Roberts, a former mistress, had died of syphilis. The year before, she had undergone mercury therapy, a particularly unpleasant therapy to cure the pox; ‘what shee has endured would make a damd soule fall a laughing att his lesser paines’.

Rochester himself succumbed to syphilis in 1679.  He renounced his former life of sin, and ordered ‘all his profane and lewd Writings … and all his obscene and filthy Pictures, to be burned.’ Towards the end, Rochester was ‘delirious’ his friend William Fanshaw observed, ‘for to my knowledge he believed neither in God nor Jesus Christ.’ His mother reported to her sister-in-law that ‘one night … he was disordered in his head’ and talked ‘ribble rabble’ and that on another occasion ‘his head was a little disordered.’ At last there was nothing left but ‘Skin and Bone’. Rochester died at High Lodge about 2 a.m. on 26 July 1680 ‘without … so much as a groan.’ He was buried on 9th August 1680.

Source: Frank H. Ellis, DNB. 
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