A secret ledger hidden in the archives of the Parisian police and containing the criminal files of a group of prostitutes labelled ‘the Undominated’ has been revealed.
French officers obsessively tracked and charted the kept women of 19th-century Paris, from the city’s elite sex workers to madames who procured girls for money, with the records stored in The Book of the Courtesans.
The leather-bound volume contains stories of over 700 women in the city, from famous actresses to gold-digging dancers.
Although little-known today, many of the women listed rose to become extremely wealthy and famous in their own right – gaining impressive power in the French capital through the men they bedded.
In 2006 it was transcribed and published in French by historian Gabrielle Houbre, and California-based journalist Summer Brennan has since been translating passages of the text into English online.
Among the shocking stories is the tale of a young woman recruited to work as a prostitute from the sweet shop she worked in, as well as a dancer who tricked men into giving her their fortunes.
MERY LAURENT: HIGH-CLASS PROSTITUTE TO PARISIAN ARTISTS
French officers obsessively tracked and charted the kept women of 19th-century Paris, from the city’s elite sex workers to madames who procured girls for money, with the records stored in The Book of the Courtesans (pictured, Mery Laurent, whose story is among those in the ledger)
Méry Laurent was born Anne Rose Suzanne Louviot in Nancy, France, on April 29, 1849. Her mother worked as a laundress at Marshal Francois Certain De Canrobert’s home while her father was unknown.
In her youth, she was briefly married to Jean-Claude Laurent, a shopkeeper in Nancy, but the marriage didn’t last. She was 15 years old when her mother sold her virginity to Canrobert so that she could become his mistress and receive an annuity for life of 500 francs per month.
Around the age of 16, she changed her name from Anne Rose to Méry and moved to Paris, where she became an actress and played light comedies at The Théâtre des Variétés.
During her time as an actress, she took on the role of Venus in La Belle Hélène and appeared nude on stage, posing naked in a shell. Her portrayal of the Greek goddess was considered the role of her lifetime.
Méry went on to become a high-class prostitute, and in 1847, she met Thomas W. Evans, an extremely wealthy American dental surgeon with high-profile clients, including royal families.
As his mistress, she was taken care of and given an income of 50,000 francs as well as an apartment in the Rue de Rome, where she opened her ‘salon’.
Méry hosted ‘salons’ in her Paris apartmen, where her guests and lovers included Francois Coppée, poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and journalist Antonin Proust
Méry was painter Edouard Manet’s mistress and model. She posed for him a number of times, and Autumn (pictured) is one of his portrait’s of her
The courtesan hosted a number of French artists in her home and served as muse to several of them. She was the mistress to Francois Coppée, poet Stéphane Mallarmé, journalist Antonin Proust, and painter Edouard Manet, whom she modeled for.
Others to visit the salon included painter Henri Gervex, novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans composer Reynaldo Hahn, and Émile Zola, who based his 1880 novel Nana on Méry.
Hahn became Méry’s testamentary executor when she died on November 26, 1900 in Paris. She left everything to novelist Victor Margueritte except Autumn, one of Manet’s paintings of her, which was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy.
In his 1915 memoirs, George Moore wrote: ‘…what is any intellect compared with a gift like Manet’s?… I remember his studio, and the tall fair woman like a tea-rose coming into it: Mary Laurant [sic]!
‘The daughter of a peasant, and the mistress of all the great men of that time – perhaps I should have said of all the distinguished men. I used to call her toute la lyre.
‘Mary was beautiful, but she liked one to love her for her wit, to admire her wit, and when I asked her why she did not leave Evans, the great dentist, she said, “That would be a base thing to do. I content myself by deceiving him.”’
CORA PEARL: CELEBRITY COURTESAN WHO POSED NUDE AT DINNER PARTIES
Cora Pearl was one of the period’s most notable courtesans and frolicked with noble aristocrats, including the Prince of Orange and Charles Duc de Morny, who was the half-brother of the Emperor Napoleon III
Before she became one of the most well-known courtesans in 19th-century Paris, Cora Pearl was born Eliza Emma Crouch in Plymouth, England, in 1836.
She grew up in a musical home: Her father was cellist and composer Frederick Nicholls Crouch while her mother, Lydia Crouch (née Pearson), was a contralto.
THE PRETTY WOMEN OF PARIS WHO RULED THE CAPITAL FROM THEIR BEDS IN THE 19th CENTURY
Prostitutes featured in ‘The Pretty Women of Paris’ – the nineteenth century directory for the French capital’s best courtesans and brothels.
Published in 1883 and limited to 169 copies, the notorious guide listed the names of the city’s most famous scarlet women – along with their addresses, qualities and faults.
The handbook – which was aimed at visiting English gentlemen in Paris – meticulously described the sexual specialties and background of every prostitute.
Under Napoleon, prostitution became legal in France and the booklet arranges the various courtesans in Paris by district for ease for the potential customer.
Pictured in the book is famed Parisian prostitute, Jeanne Granier whose besotted lovers are said to have included Queen Victoria’s eldest son and future king of England, Edward VII.
Prince Edward famously enjoyed a rendezvous with opera star, Jeanne, in the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo in 1889.
However back in Paris, Granier would entertain wealthy male clients and other European princes in her opulent private house in the Avenue de Wagram.
The collection also includes celebrated courtesan, Gabrielle Elluini.
The handbook describes Gabrielle as ‘the richest moll in the world’ with an amassed fortune of ‘one hundred thousand pounds sterling’ – equivalent to £11million in today’s money.
Prostitution was legal and regulated in France throughout the nineteenth century.
When Napoleon become Emperor in 1804, he ordered the registration and fortnightly health inspection of all sex workers in France.
Five years later, Paris alone had 180 officially approved brothels. By law, these brothels had to be run by a woman -typically a former prostitute – and their external appearance had to be discreet.
Sordid brothels known as ‘maisons d’abattage’ were popular among the lower-classes in Paris. However the nineteenth century also saw courtesans become extraordinarily wealthy and famous – and opulent brothels such as le Chabanais were built.
As ‘The Pretty Women of Paris’ directory shows, many of the prostitutes listed were professional stage actresses. Some of these prostitutes would have been working actresses waiting for their big break so they would have taken pains to entertain their male clients well – in case they were important enough to forward their career on the stage.
Meanwhile other Parisian courtesans were famed actresses enjoyed the lifestyle and wealth that came with being kept women or mistresses of men of rank.
Prostitution in France remained legal until April 6, 2016 when the French National Assembly voted to punish customers of sex-workers with a fine.
After nearly a decade of marriage, her father abandoned them and returned to London in 1841.
He went on to marry Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ George and had two more children, but he left both of his families behind when he moved to the United States in 1849.
After Cora’s mother remarried, she was shipped off to a convent boarding school in Boulogne, France. When she returned to England to work as a milliner’s assistant, she moved in with her paternal grandmother.
In her teens, she was approached by an older man on the street while walking unchaperoned. He lured her to a nearby bar with the promise of cake and plied her with alcohol before he raped her, taking her virginity.
When she woke up in a hotel room, she found the man had left her five pounds.
‘On my part, I did not shed a tear. I felt only sovereign disgust,’ she wrote of her rape in her memoir, saying the assault made her horrified of men.
Instead of returning to her grandmother’s home, she rented herself a room in Covent Garden.
While on her own, she met Robert Bignell, the owner of the music hall the Argyle Subscription Room, a notorious haven for prostitutes.
Cora moved into a suite at the Argyle Subscription Room and became his mistress.
The two would travel together, but when he took her to Paris, she became so enamored with the city that she refused to leave.
She adopted the name Cora Pearl and began her new life as a sex worker in the French capital.
Early on, she met a procurer known as ‘Monsieur Roubisse’, who took her under his wing and taught her the ins and outs of prostitution.
Cora had a number of royal clients, starting with Victor Masséna, third Duke du Rivoli.
He funded her gambling and spoiled her with gifts, including servants, a private chef, and her first horse.
She went on to become the mistress to a number of aristocrats, including William, Prince of Orange, heir to the Dutch throne; Charles de Morny, Duke of Morny, the half-brother of Emperor Napoleon III; and Prince Napoléon-Jérôme Bonaparte, the cousin of Emperor Napoleon III.
In 1864, she rented her luxurious country estate, the Château de Beauséjour, where she hosted extravagant parties.
At one soiree, she supposedly served herself on a silver platter carried by four men. She was lying naked aside from the parsley sprinkled on her body.
Prince Napoléon-Jérôme Bonaparte, who was 42 when he met her, was her most loyal lover.
They spent nine years together, and he bought her a number of properties, including ‘Les Petites Tuileries’ – a veritable palace.
Cora became one of the most famous courtesans in Paris, with the highest point of her career being from 1865 to 1870.
As her popularity rose, she started pitting her lovers against each other and raising her prices. She was said to be able to command up to 10,000 francs for just one night and loved excessive displays of wealth.
Cora stood out with her bold outfits, heavy makeup, and brightly colored hair, which she liked to dye to match her surroundings.
She once colored her hair yellow to match a carriage’s satin interior. On another occasion, she had her dog’s fur dyed the same color blue as the gown she was wearing.
Cora’s lavish lifestyle eventually came to an end when the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 brought on a resurgence of conservative values.
Around this time, the then-37-year-old embarked on a relationship with Alexandre Duval, a wealthy suitor who was 10 years her junior, which contributed to her downfall.
Many of the women in the ledger rose to become extremely wealthy and famous in their own right – wielding power in the French capital through the men they bedded
In 1972, he came to her home and shot himself after she ended their relationship. She was unable to survive the scandal and was ordered to leave the country.
‘It is not true that I wanted to get rid of Mr. Duval because he had no money left,’ she was quoted as saying in a New York Times report of the incident. ‘I have enough money for him if he has not enough for me.’
Her noble suitors soon wanted nothing to do with her, including Prince Napoléon-Jérôme Bonaparte, who ended their arrangement in a letter in 1874. She had to sell off her three homes while in exile, and by 1883, she had returned to common prostitution.
In 1886, she published her memoir, Mémoires de Cora Pearl. She died just months later of cancer on July 8, 1886, at the age of 49.
MARTHE AGUILLION: ‘FAMOUS ACTRESS’
Marthe Aguillion, whose real name is Marthe Léocadie Baumann, was a famous actress at the time who was renowned for her ‘sparkle’
Actress Marthe Aguillion, whose real name is Marthe Léocadie Baumann, is featured in the ledger in an entry dated September 14, 1871.
Born around 1830, Marthe became an actress and began working using the stage name Aguillion.
She was featured in the press when she was around the age of 30, quickly gaining fame in the streets of Paris.
The actress was hailed as ‘well traveled’ by critics and performed at theatres across Paris before spending a decade at the Théâtre Beaumarchais near Place de Vosges.
Her performances won rave reviews, with one featured in Le Figaro in October of 1865, calling her a ‘very great lady’ who had ‘saved the play.’
Politician Eugène Janvier de la Motte was among Marthe’s admirers, lending her five hundred francs
Papers said she was ‘dramatic, with sparkle’ while others called her a ‘brilliant artist crowned with success.’
By the time she was in her thirties and forties, she had won a reputation as a ‘very famous’ and artistic actress.
Her fame led her to rich financial success, and she bought lavish and extravagant clothing with her earnings.
It was 1863 when she met Eugène Janvier de la Motte, then 40, who was a French politician who had recently separated from his wife.
His wife died in 1865, and he became a merry widower, frolicking with various actresses across the city.
The police believed Marthe was introduced to Janvier by a person who had loaned her money. According to the ledger, Janvier gave her five hundred francs.
Just two years later, he had wracked up an incredible 700,000 francs of debt before he fled France to escape the Franco-Prussian War and hide out in Switzerland.
It was quickly discovered over 110,000 francs of his prefecture’s funds had gone unaccounted for, and he was accused of embezzlement.
A warrant was issued for his arrest and he was apprehended in Geneva in August 1871. But by 1872, he was acquitted on the testimony of the Minister of Finance.
Little was heard of Marthe again, who was last seen in the press in 1888.
By that stage, the then 60-something Marthe was working as a comedic singer in Brussels. It is unknown how or when she died, or if she ended up marrying.
DIVINE AILLOT: SWEET SHOP WORKER TURNED WORKING GIRL
Working girl Divine Ailliot worked in a prestigious sweet shop called Maison Boissier, made famous for the invention of the candied chestnut, for eighteen months
Divine Ailliot was featured in the ledger in an entry dated November 16, 1871. She worked in a prestigious sweet shop called Maison Boissier for eighteen months.
Divine also worked as a madame and provided prostitutes to esteemed men, including banker Maurice de Hirsch
The sweet shop went dormant in the twentieth century but has since been resurrected and reopened in 2000 and remains hugely popular.
It was in the chocolate shop that pimp Adrien-Hippolyte Odier discovered her and she was enlisted as a working girl.
She was sent abroad to London for months with a wealthy foreigner.
Meanwhile Divine also worked as a madame and provided prostitutes to esteemed men, including banker Maurice de Hirsch.
The German Jewish financier and philanthropist later set up charitable foundations to promote Jewish education and improve the lot of oppressed European Jewry.
He was the founder of the Jewish Colonization Association, which sponsored large-scale Jewish immigration to Argentina.
It was in the chocolate chop that pimp Adrien-Hippolyte Odier discovered her and she was enlisted as a working girl
Among the women supplied by Divine was Anna Cowaleska, the sister-in-law of Madame Ferraris, a famed singing teacher.
From approximately 1871 to 1903, there were 155,000 women officially registered as prostitutes.
Things changed when, in 1873, Divine’s pimp Odier was arrested and accused of inciting people under the age of 21 to debauchery. He was later acquitted.
CAROLINE HASSE: DANCER TURNED GOLD DIGGER
A portrait believed to be dancer Caroline Hasse, who seduced men to pay for her lifestyle with her fun-loving attitude
The ledger’s entry about dance teacher turned gold digger Caroline Hasse was dated as April 24, 1872 and detailed her arrival in Paris in the late 1850s.
After arriving in the city with nothing, she learned to dance at the Cellarius and Laborde school, a hobby which quickly helped her capture the attention of rich gentleman.
THE PRESTIGIOUS CHOCOLATE SHOP WITH THE ROYAL CONNECTION WHERE PIMPS FOUND WORKING GIRLS
One of Paris’s oldest sweets shops, Maison Boissier was founded by Bélissaire Boissier in 1827.
It was made famous for inventing the candied chestnut, which was a popular snack of the period.
It was 50 years before one of Britain’s finest chocolatiers, Charbonnel et Walker was founded in 1875.
Encouraged by Edward VII, Charbonnel et Walker was founded as a partnership between Mrs Walker and Mme Charbonnel, who was from the esteemed Parisian chocolate shop.
Earlier this year, it was confirmed the Queen’s favourite chocolates are the floral creams made by the brand.
She quickly rose up the social ladder and became quite the socialite of her day.
She was spotted relaxing with fashionable women and was often seen visiting spa towns and at the races.
One of her early conquests was future politician Daniel Wilson, who was heir to a huge fortune from his family’s gaslighting business.
He had been given full control of his inherited millions on his twenty-first birthday, and quickly blew a million francs on Caroline.
She began wearing expensive dresses from the House of Worth, sleeping on black silk bed sheets and stocking her home with fine linens.
The couple threw lavish dinner parties for 30 people which lasted for days and regularly dinned at the most expensive restaurants in the city.
She moved on to Adrien Delahante, a financier who was director of Societe Generale and founded The Bank of Paris
According to Brennan, she exploited him ‘as much as possible’, asking him to give her twenty-three thousand francs to buy some diamonds.
When friends later told Delhante the diamonds couldn’t be worth more than ten thousand francs, he was stunned.
She then took up with Captain Pierre Émile Édouard Colbert, from whom she demanded ten thousand francs per month.
His father urged his son to get rid of Caroline, and Pierre was left so distraught he tried to kill himself.
He survived, but the love affair ended and police noted in the ledger that she had ‘only loved him for his money.’
When the Suresnes pimping case went to trial in 1873, Caroline’s name was found in the notebooks of the Widow Rondy, an implicated procuress.
Daniel Wilson was among the men who fell for Caroline’s charm, and quickly blew a million francs on her
In April 1880, then-40-year-old Caroline sold her art collection and jewelry at the famous auction house Hôtel Drouot before selling her grand apartment.
Months later, she became embroiled in a lawsuit over an outstanding lingerie bill.
By 1886, it is believed she was in her mid-forties and retired to the South of France.
PARISIAN PROSTITUTES IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF BROTHELS
Decriminalized during the French Revolution, prostitution was not accepted by French society.
In Paris, in the name of the preservation of public order, the police continue to arrest women who prostitute themselves on public roads.
A Decree of 3 March 1802 legislates mandatory health inspection prostitutes in an attempt to stem the spread of syphilis, which was endemic at the time.
On Napoleon’s order of October 12, 1804, the prefect of police in Paris, Louis Dubois, prescribed the official organisation of the houses of pleasures.
The year 1804 saw the legalisation of tolerance and brothels. The women had to register at the prefecture in order to work in a brothel.
Each woman had to have a twice-weekly medical check-up, which is perceived as the most degrading part of their job and abhorred by the prostitutes.
The women received a registration card, and the brothels a registration number. This regulation lasted until the closing of brothels in 1946 by the Loi Marthe Richard.
Soliciting was prohibited and the women were confined to registered brothels.
It was at this time that Alexandre Parent-Duchâtelet published De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris (Prostitution in the City of Paris) in which he noted the misery of prostitutes, which he estimated to be 10,000 in Paris, and the poor functioning of medical control.
The Third Republic was the golden age of brothels, and they were accepted as part of culture.
The state benefited from this trade by taking 50 to 60 per cent of profits.
In Paris there were about 200 official establishments in the middle of the century, under the control of the police and doctors.
This fell to about sixty at the end of the century as a result of the multiplication of illegal brothels which were then employing 15,000 prostitutes.
From approximately 1871 to 1903, the writer Maxime Du Camp counted 155,000 women officially registered as prostitutes, but during the same period, the police stopped 725,000 others for clandestine prostitution.
The prostitute was reduced to a status of sub-citizen, subject to regulations whose application is left mostly in the hands of corrupt police officials.
A series of scandals lead to the dissolution of the Brigade des mœurs in 1881. It was later reformed in 1901.