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Unmasking the Duke's Mistress


Behind the Scenes

Prostitution in Regency England
'The world's oldest profession'

They say that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and indeed, according to police magistrate Patrick Colquhoun, there were an estimated 50 000 prostitutes working in London in the year 1795. Why were there so many?

Trickery, bullying or abduction?
One widely held belief of the time was that innocent women coming up from the country to look for work were tricked, bullied or even abducted into the profession and kept there against their will by unscrupulous bawds who ran the ‘houses of ill-repute’. Hogarth’s series of eighteenth century paintings, The Harlot’s Progress, deals with this subject and shows the downfall of country-girl Moll Hackabout.

Or seduced and abandoned?
Another belief was that prostitution was due to wicked men who seduced and abandoned innocent women. Once their virtue was lost the women were left to, in the words of the early Georgian playwright and essayist Richard Steele, ‘shame, infamy, poverty and disease.’

Ultimately the chief cause underlying women becoming prostitutes was poverty.

Women and piecework
Prior to the industrial revolution working class women were largely dependent on ‘needle trades’ such as seamstress and dressmaker, which were subject to seasonal and other peaks and troughs of demand. Pieceworkers, like Arabella in my story, were casual and cheap labour employed by people such as seamstresses and dressmakers, to do the less skilled, more voluminous work. They often worked from home, and did not receive a wage but were paid by the piece. They were under pressure to work at a fast rate for long hours, producing small and precise stitches, this in a time when they were more than often working by candlelight.

The infamous Regency courtesan Harriette Wilson

Candles were expensive and pieceworkers were poor - it was little wonder that many women suffered damage to their eyesight. The pieceworkers were the first to be laid off when work was slack, as Arabella discovers.

'Unprotected women'
The choices available to ‘unprotected’ women with no work at the time were limited. There could be assistance for paupers from the Parish, but begging letters soliciting help took time to process and the workhouse for all its good intent, often split families apart and could be a ‘dehumanising’ experience. With no work to be had, a child and infirm parent dependent on her, perhaps the decisions that Arabella makes are understandable.

A hierarchy of prostitutes - hackneyed doxys to pampered courtesans
There were different strata of prostitutes in London at the time: From the lowest ‘hackneyed prostitutes’ who slept rough and undertook their business on the streets, to prostitutes who solicited on the streets but who had the use of rented rooms from a bawd, and those who were under the protection of madams in higher class brothels. It is into the upper end of this class that the exclusive and expensive Mrs Silver’s House of Rainbow Pleasures falls. Finally there were also courtesans - those women who were given their own house and, often extravagant, allowances in return for being the kept mistresses of a rich man such as the infamous Regency courtesan, Harriette Wilson, who went on to write her memoirs. And Arabella gets to find out about this too.

Although I was very cruel to make Arabella suffer such hardship, rest assured she does eventually come to find her happy ever after!

Berkeley Square in Georgian Times

Berkeley Square

An exclusive address

In Unmasking the Duke's Mistress, my hero Dominic has a townhouse in Berkley Square and I thought you might be interested to know a little more about this setting. It was a fashionable and expensive address both in Regency times and today as it is located in the exclusive Mayfair district. Within the story I chose to use the same spelling of Berkley (as opposed to Berkeley) as Richard Horwood in his 1799-1819 map of London.

Berkeley Square was laid in the 1730s by the developers Edward Cock and Francis Hillyard. It takes its name from Berkeley House, a great house with extensive gardens, built in the mid seventeenth century for Lord John Berkeley of Stratton, a famous Royalist commander in the civil war. Berkeley House was sold at the end of the seventeenth century to the 1st Duke of Devonshire with the stipulation that the land to the north of the house remained unspoilt by building development. This proviso was respected for over 200 years, thus, Berkeley Square originally had large houses built only on the east and west sides of the square’s central garden.

None of the Georgian houses remain on the east side but there are still very nice examples to be seen on the west side.

The Square's Garden
The square has for many years been famous for its fine collection of plane trees, planted in the late seventeen hundreds. In the centre of its garden was a little pump house with a Chinese style roof, which was said to date from around 1800.

Gunter's Tea Shop
The famous Gunter’s Tea Shop, which sold ices and sweets to the Regency ton, was located on the east side of Berkeley Square.

Amersham and Shardeloes
Within the story both Dominic and Arabella come from Amersham in the country of Buckinghamshire just north of London. It is a beautiful and ancient town on the old coaching road from London to Aylesbury. The diagram on the right-hand-side is taken from John Cary's 1790 Survey of the High Roads and shows this coaching road (highlighted in pink) and Dominic and Hunter's route from London to Amersham.

I borrowed Shardeloes, a fine mansion house set in the rolling countryside bordering Amersham, from the local squires - the Tyrwhitt Drakes. Today Shardeloes has been developed into luxury flats.

The Old London to Amersham Coaching Road

A quintessential English village
Amersham Old Town has many buildings dating from the seventeenth century, including the Market Hall and the Crown Hotel. It has such a quintessentially English village feel that it has been used as the location to film the television series Midsomer Murders.

Married in St Mary's
St Mary’s Parish Church in Amersham is a lovely old English church, built largely of local flint and stone and originating in the thirteenth century. When I saw it I thought it was the perfect place for a wedding, although I do confess to using artistic licence for the layout and decoration.

Amersham website
If you would like to learn more about the Amersham Old Town in which Arabella and Dominic lived and loved, information on and photographs of the town can be found at

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