Not all prostitutes in Regency London were equal. Not only was there a difference in their background and how much they earned, they also had different lifestyles and priorities in life. As in many aspects of London society, there was a hierarchy in the prostitution profession. There were the streetwalkers who plied their trade on the streets, above those were the sex workers who resided in boardinghouses, and then there were the elite prostitutes, often referred to as the demimonde.
The demimonde was made up of ladies women of society, or women of the upper and middle classes who were deemed unmarriageable. Elite courtesans, mistresses and royal mistresses made up this intriguing class of women who lived on the fringes of respectable society. Thus, the use of the French word demi-monde or “half-world.”
These women often arrived at elite brothels in debt. The brothel madams readily assumed their debts, or they quickly became indebted to them if their room and board cost more than the money they earned. And that is how brothel madams gained complete control over their employees.
If a demimondaine had multiple patrons, she would leave the brothel and set up her own establishment relying on the expensive gifts and money received from satisfied customers. Many were forced to return to elite brothels when they found themselves between patrons. Ultimately, these elite prostitutes’ goal was to become a rich gentleman’s mistress and make a long-lasting arrangement with him. The longer the arrangement the more financially fruitful and the more likely the demimondaine will retire in comfort.
So while many women used prostitution as a short-term solution to financial woes, the demimonde viewed it as a career. A demimondaine’s entire focus was to attract patrons who’d settle her debts and set her up in her own establishment. These kept women would reside in their own apartment or townhome, they would have servants, gowns, jewelry, spending money, and most importantly their own furniture.
The quality and price of the furniture was very important for the ladies of the demimonde. Not only did furniture distinguish them from the lower-class streetwalkers, because it suggested they had a more permanent setup, but they were also a financial asset. Thus, acquiring expensive furniture became a status symbol for elite prostitutes.
In my novels, The Scarlet Salon is a stepping stone for the demimondaines. It’s a place to meet wealthy members of high society in hopes of becoming their mistresses. Being strong, smart women, my demimondaines used the money they earned as kept women to smartly invest in various business ventures. This allowed them to amass a small fortune they could comfortably live off on when their contracts came to an end. A true story for some, but unfortunately not all women of the Regency England’s demimonde.