As a dyed-in-the-wool history geek, I am always looking to history for inspiration in the belief that using real events and people gives my stories added depth and dimension. This is even the case in my erotic romances. When I set out to write A WILD NIGHT’S BRIDE, I was intrigued by a number of salacious tidbits I had read about the bawdiness of the Georgian era. Often described as a golden age of prostitution, there are several nonfiction books dedicated to this subject (THE COVENT GARDEN LADIES by Hallie Rubenhold and LONDON’S SINFUL SECRET by Dan Cruishanks are two examples that sit on my research shelf.) Both of these volumes dedicate a significant number of pages to a notorious Georgian era bawd named Charlotte Hayes.
Once a famed courtesan in her own right, and ironically known for her genteel demeanor, Mrs. Hayes was also a shrewd business woman who came to own a number of high-end London brothels. The most famous of these was her house at King’s Place, St. James, established in the late 1760′s. Given her great success, by 1779, virtually every house on this street had become a house of pleasure. Competing for the aristocratic patrons were fellow madams Harriet Lewis who specialized in exotics, and Sarah Prendergast, Sarah Dubery, and Catherine Windsor who constantly endeavored to outdo one another by hosting lewd events.
Not to be outdone, Mrs. Hayes conceived of her own subscription-only affair, inspired by the recent voyages of Captain Cook to the Antipodes. Calling it the Otaheitian Feast of Venus, she claimed to reenact the (Tahitian) islanders’ fertility rites as recorded by eye-witnesses from Cook’s HMB Endeavor.
The event was described in Nocturnal Revels (1769):
The decor had been arranged to highlight the lewd ‘Aretinian Postures’ adopted by the participants. A dozen well-endowed athletic youths faced twelve ‘nymphs’ whose beauty could not be doubted although their virginity might be suspect. Each youth presented his nymph with a dildo-shapeed object about a foot long, wreathed in flowers. The couple would then copulate with great passion and considerable dexterity since some of the Aretinian rites demanded a gymnastic suppleness which of a certain could never be achieved by most of the onlookers. All this was accompanied by suitable music until the spectators had lashed themselves into such a state of lasciviousness that they invaded the floor, clutched the nymphs and tried to emulate the examples which had been shown.”
More on Charlotte Hayes:
Hayes’s story is told in detail in Hallie Rubenhold‘s The Covent Garden Ladies (2005), as well as in Nicholas Clee’s Eclipse: the Story of the Rogue, the Madam and the Horse That Changed Racing (2009). It is also discussed in Fergus Linnane’s, London, the Wicked City, as well as in several books by E. J. Burford.