The list of courtesans known for leaving their marks in society delves deep into the pages of history. These great women of pleasure used their sensual charm and razor-sharp wits to accumulate power and wealth. This article is the first in a series that will talk about some of the great femme fatales in the 1800s that pepper the history of the demi-monde.
Born Emma Elizabeth Crouch, Cora was the daughter of cellist and composer Frederick Nicholls Crouch. At the ripe age of approximately twenty, her very first encounter with a man was not one to which she consented. It is believed that this abrupt initiation left her with a certain disdain for men and marked her as one of the most unfeeling of the great courtesans. Cora only loved men for what they could do for her. Living in France, she progressed rapidly through the echelons of European aristocracy and had an affair with Prince Napoleon that lasted for years. With her vast accumulation of wealth, she purchased luxurious apartments that were lavishly decorated and threw decadent parties. But her opulent lifestyle did not last. With the fall of the Second Empire came an end to her power and she died in poverty.
Esther was a courtesan who held incredible influence over the press and politics of her time. She surrounded herself with only the wealthiest of suitors and regularly entertained notable writers and influential politicians. Esther became known for her intellect and sharp wit. Her influence continued into her old age.
A famous French actress of the Second Empire, Leonide became known as Mademoiselle Maximum through her lust for luxury and excess. Her most famous suitor was Duc d’Aumale. She was a rather fickle girl with many generous suitors who never seemed to last for long. Her many charms earned her forgiveness. As much as she loved extravagance, she often made careless decisions and eventually had to downgrade her lifestyle.
BornJulie Justine Pilloy, Alice was a successful French actress but best known as a courtesan. Her gentlemen friends were notables from Paris society. Her affair with Duc d’Aumale established her though she moved on to acquire a series of affluent lovers including Théophile Gautier, Napoleon III Bonaparte and Empereur des Franҫais. Her financial shrewdness led her to retire in wealth but also in loneliness.
Marie was born in Normandy, France as Alphonsine Rose Plessis. At the age of fifteen she moved to Paris and worked in a dress shop. A beautiful young woman, she was approached by prominent men who desired her company in private and social settings. Eventually, she became a popular courtesan, hosting a salon where politicians, writers and artists gathered for socializing. She was the mistress of Alexandre Dumas and the alleged lover of composer Franz Liszt. She was briefly married to at least two of her suitors. Demure and charming, she mixed well into respectable society and lived with abandon. She died at the young age of twenty-three of tuberculosis. Her funeral was said to have been lavish and attended by hundreds of people.