Henry Mayhew.

London labour and the London poor; a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work online

. (page 43 of 98)
Online LibraryHenry MayhewLondon labour and the London poor; a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work → online text (page 43 of 98)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Towards the end of the sixteenth century
it had risen to extraordinary power and
was full of abuses. It practised all kinds
of exaction and violence, every species of
partiality and injustice, and even pre-
sumed to publish edicts of its own. The
judges flung into prison numbers of young

Digitized by Microsoft®



girls, whom they compelled to buy their
liberty with money, and sometimes dared
to seize women who, though of lax con-
duct, could not be included in the pro-
fessional class. This was discovered, and
led in 1589 to a reform of the court. Its
powers were strictly defined, and its form
of procedure placed under' regulation,
while the avenues to corruption were nar-
rowed. The institution itself existed for
nearly a hundred years after that period —
until 1768, when a royal edict declared
the ruler's resolution to abolish the in-
famous calling altogether. Vice, however,
when widely spread in a nation, does not
vanish at the breath of authority. De-
nounced by the law, prostitution continued
to flourish and society to feel its influence.

Passing from the south to regions with
a less voluptuous climate, we find Stras-
burgh as overflowing with vice as per-
haps any other city in the world. Prosti-
tutes were in the fifteenth century so nu-
merous there that, though a distinct quarter
was assigned for their residences, they in-
vaded every locality, and swarmed in the
finest streets. Speculators were accustomed
to travel abroad and bring home unfortunate
girls, whom, they kidnapped and reduced to
a state of slavery. Officers were appointed
to visit the brothels and collect the tax
imposed on them. More than fifty-seven
of these places existed in six streets only.
One contained nineteen, while other neigh-
bourhoods were infested in an equal de-
gree. 'At the commencement of the six-
teenth century, so far were public manners
demoralized that prostitutes horded in the
clock towers and aisles of the great cathe-
dral as well as in several smaller churches.
In 1521 an ordinance appeared directing
the "cathedral girls," who were called
" swallows," to quit the sacred places of
their retreat within fifteen days. To those
who persevered in their libertine mode of
life, various residences were assigned — ^in
the suburbs. Strasburgh was now in the
depth of demoralization ; but the Reforma-
tion soon visited the city, awakened its
people from sensual pleasures to an in-
tellectual battle, and a speedy change was
apparent. In 1536 there were only two
brothels there. In 1540 public prostitution
was efiectually suppressed. Ten years after
it was proposed to establish a house of
legal debauch ; but the attempt was re-
sisted, though renewed in the third and
fourth year after this.

It was little matter to the prostitutes to
inhabit houses especially dedicated to their
vile traffic. They cared not to wait passively
at home for visitors. Where

gated for pleasure or for the business of
life, wherever there was any chance ot pro-
voking their desires, they thronged, some-
times impelled by the love of excitement,
sometimes by the pains of hunger. They
thus transformed into so many brothels
wine houses, barber's shops, and students'
rooms, and the perseverance of government
against them was by no means equalled by
their own tenacity. An edict of 1420
forbade prostitutes to enter the cabarets ;
another of 1558 prohibited tavern-keepers
from entertaining them. Another de-
nounced gambling, and prostitutes were
only allowed when desirous of refreshment
to stand without and drink what was handed
to them from within. In England similar
regulations was established, and barbers
especially were made the object of very
severe restrictions. Sempstresses and
butchers were forbidden to employ any
females of bad character, and others were
restrained by similar laws.

All these efforts, however, to render the
sisterhood of prostitutes a homeless, deso-
late, hopeless class — to deprive them of
shelter, of comforts, and the honest means of
life — failed in purifying the manners of the
age. The baths became a regular resort of
women belonging to this order — in Paris,
in Geneva, in Venice, in Rome, in Naples,
in Milan, in Perrara, in Bologna, in Lucca,
and in every other city of the Peninsula —
so that there was scarcely the keeper of a
bath who was not at the same time a
brothel keeper, employing numbers of
Ruffiani to procure attendance at his house.
There were other cities in which baths
were publicly tolerated and recognised as
places of prostitution. Among these were
Avignon and London. A statute of the
Church of Avignon, dated 1441, interdicted
the use of certain baths, known to be
brothels, to the priests and clergy. An
offence committed by day was not punished
half so severely as one committed by night.
There is only one other instance of a
punishment inflicted during that age on
men who violated the public law of
morals. It was that of certain citizens of
Anvers in Flanders, who were condemned
to make a pilgrimage to expiate an offence
of this kind. On one occasion, indeed, of
which the date is lost, the magistrates of
Bourdeaux caused a man to be hanged for
forcibly violating a prostitute.

In Avignon, however, the licence of pros-
titution was shortly taken away. The resi-
dence of the popes in that city had attracted
a concourse of strangers from all parts of
the globe, and brothels sprung up in profu-
neighbourhood of churches, at



the door of the Papal palace, and side by
side with prelatical residences — a display
of libertinism so gross that the public actrf
of encouragement at once oeaaed, and an
edict drove all the prostitutes out of the

In London, as we have said, as at Avi-
gnon, prostitution took refuge in the public
baths — a practice of very ancient date.
These places were situated in the borough
of Southwark, which was not included in
the city until 1550. It was a miserable
quarter, full of inhabited, ruins, to which
some public gardens, dedicated to dog and
bear baiting, alone attracted the people of
the neighbourhood. In this general pre-
liminary sketch it is not necessary to say
more of London.

In various parts of Europe a continual
stream of edicts was poured out against
the system of prostitution ; but it was only
persecuting the victims, instead of eradi-
cating the causes. In some States, as in
Lombardy, men were forbidden to give
them an asylum; they were prohibited
from appearing among honest citizens ;
they were prevented from purchasing food
or clothes, or borrowing money by the hire
of their persons ; in fact, fines, prisons,
whips, still continued to attempt the re-
form of morals.

Hitherto, however, we have seen prosti-
tution in some places protected, but in all
restrained, though everywhere freely exer-
cised by those persons who would brave its
perils and its disgrace. It was now sought,
by the direct and continuous intervention
of the law, to transform it into a public
institution, organized, watched, disciplined,
by particular officers, and subjected to
special authority. In France, and espe-
cially in LanguedoG, these principles were,
during the middle ages, firmly established.
Louis XL proclaimed, that from the re-
motest antiquity it was the custom in
Languedoc to have a house and asylum for
public women. The most celebrated of
these were at Toulouse and Montpellier.
That at Toulouse was known to exist during
the twelfth century, and by an abuse
of terms, not uncommon at that period,
was called the Great Abbey. The Com-
mune and the University divided the ex-
pense, and were proprietors of the build-
ing, and a good revenue was derived from
it for municipal purposes. But in 1424
the receipts diminished considerably, to
the great regret of the governors. The
turbulent youth of Toulouse behaved to
the poor girls, whom they sacrificed to their
lust, with the utmost violence and bru-
tality — beatiog them and their ch,ildren.

breaking up the furniture, and wrenching-
off even the doors of the house. Many
attempts were made to repress these out-
breaks, but the prostitutes were at length
compelled to take refuge in the interior of
the city. Severe regulations were imposed
upon them. All who were diseased were
compelled to live in solitude until cured,
and some were whipped for disobedience.
On one occasion, when a famine prevented
the inhabitants from indulging in th^ir or-
dinary pleasures, the prostitutes emigrated,
but returned to their post in 1560. The
magistrates, shamed by public outcry,
which accused them of purchasing their
robes from the tax on debauched women,
abandoned the money, at this time, to the
hospitals ; but the administrators of these
afterwards made them some compensation.
In 1566 a council was called to deliberate
on the best means of ridding the city from
the profligacy and wifikedness which had
grown up through the immense licensed
brothels it contained. To increase the
scandal, four prostitutes were discovered in
a monastery of Augustine friars. Three
of these \inhappy girls were hung. Shortly
afterwards three others were found in a
convent, and they also were sent to the

It appears that in 1587 prostitution was
almost eradicated from Toulouse, though
it flourished in the rural districts around.
Many of the girls were forced to labour at
cleansing the streets as a punishment.
Two decrees of Louis XI. and Charles VIII.
indicate the history of prostitution at
Montpellier in the fifteenth century. A
man named Panais possessed and governed
the place devoted to this purpose, and
dying, left a dynasty of brothel keepers-
two sons,, who associated with a banker.
They embellished the edifice, furnished it
luxuriously, constructed beautiful baths,
and obtained a legal monopoly in their in-
famous traffic, by engaging to pay a cer-
tain tax. However, in 1458, another indi-
vidual was permitted to establish himself,
which he did with ^clat, and the women
deserted their old quarters for the new
" hotel." A public cause was made of the
quarrel, and it was decided that the original
promoters should continue to enjoy their pri-
vilege. The two brothel keepers, who gained
the titles of '' Friends and faithful Council-
lors of the King of France," grew wealthy,
and their trade of prostitution became one
of the most important branches of enter-
prise in the city.

The city of Khodes appears to have been
another city of Europe where a chartered
brothel existed, for the bishop, in 1307,

Digitized by Microsoft®



forbade the inhabitants to receive any of
the public prostitutes into their houses,
■which supposes that some particular re-
treat was open to them. There was one
also at Lisbon ; but it was not until; 1394
that the magistrates deliberivted on the
propriety of erecting a bailding at the
public expense, expressly as a brothel.
Ten years later we find the inhabitjuuts
lamenting that their wives and daughters
were endangered by the want of such a
place, and in 1424 it was established. A
tax was levied on the women to assist in
defraying the cost,, and fines were imposed
for misconduct.

In Italy licensed brothels were very
numerous. There was one at Mantua, and
Venice was the very sink of -prostitution.
In 1421 the government eniisted women to
this service to guard the virtue of the other
classes. A matron was placed over them,
who governed them, received their gains,
and made a monthly division of profits.
The names of several women, the most
notorious and beautiful of the Venetian
courtezans, are preserved by Nicolo Dag-
lioni. A very small sum was paid to them
by their patrons.

In Valencia a public brothel, on a colos-
sal scale, existed towards the end of the
fifteenth century. It resembled a little
town surrounded with walls, and had a
single gate ; in front of this stood a gibbet
for criminals. Near this was an office,
where a man stood; who addressed all
who entered, and said, that if they would
deposit what valuables they had with him,
he would return them safely as they came
out ; but if they refused and were robbed
within, he was not responsible. The wall
inclosed four or five streets of little houses,
inhabited by girls dressed in brilliant habili-
ments of velvet and silk. Three or four
hundred of them were usually in attend-
ance. They received Only a small sum for
their favours. Whether this system was
then general in Spain we know not, but
it is certain that common prostitutes
abounded. Servants appear to have been
hired for this purpose, for Philippe II., in
1575, in order to clieck the ravages of im-
morality, ordered that no female domestics
under forty years of age should be hired
by men. A decree of 1623 required that
in all cities throughout the kingdom pub-
lie brothels should be abolished.

In Geneva there was a " Queen of the
Prostitutes," elected by the civic magis-
trates, who took an oath of office, and
undertook to govern all the women en-
gaged in her occupation. At Schelstadt a
man was commissioned to ^jQjf^M-

and very strict rules were imposed on the

We have seen that in many places pro-
stitution became a source of revenue, and
might enlarge our details and multiply
our examples ; but it would be tedious
to cite the laws of France, Spain, Italy,
and Germany on the subject. They varied
much in different times, but offer little

The legislator, however, l>as not con-
tented himself at all times with dividing
the prostitute class from other classes of
females,, with shutting them up in separate
quarters, or even confining them in houses
of which he kept the key. In some cases
he obliged them to assume a peculiar cos-
tume, or at least a conspicuous badge of
infamy. They always endeavoured to re-
sist or elude the restrictions laid upon
them, andj feeling deeply the humiliation
of such compulsion^ sought by all means
to evade it. The first regulation of this
kind for the city of Paris is mentioned by
the chronicler Geoffrey. He. says, that the
Queen of Louis VII. going one day to
church, met a woman gorgeously attired,
and, deceived by her appearance, gave her,
"according to custom," the kiss of peace.
She was a court prostitute ; and when the
royal lady heard this, she complained to
her husband, who ordered that no mantles
should, in future be worn by prostitutes.
■From time to time new edicts on this sub-
ject appeared. One of 1360 forbade them
to wear any embroidery, any gold or silver
buttons, any pearls, or any trimmings of
gray fur. In 1415 and 1419 golden and
gilded zones were prohibited to them, as
well as silver buckles to their shoes. The
very fashion of their dress was afterwards
regulated. These devices to distinguish
prostitutes from respectable females were
speedily imitated. An aiguillette of a cer-
tain colour, hung from the shoulder, was
most generally adopted in France. In
some towns silk was prohibited to them.

The Bishop of Ehodes, in 1307, forbade
them to wear mantles, veils, amber neck-
laces, or rings of gold, while the popes of
Rome followed the example. The laws of
Mantua obliged prostitutes when they
appeared in the streets to cover the rest of
their clothes with a short white cloak, and
wear a badge on their breasts. At Bergamo
the cloak was yellow ; in Parma, white ; in
Milan, at first, black woollen, and then
Mack silk. If disobedient, they might be
fined, and, in case of a second offence, pub-
licly exposed, and whipped. Any one might
strip the garments off any girl he met in
'M^hfd^&^W'^^'^^^^^^ atLired. In London a



eimilar distinction was imposed on them,
and at Strasburgh a sugar-loaf bonnet was
invented for their use. In Spain, besides
prohibitions concerning dress, they were
forbidden the use of coaches and litters,
as well as prayer-carpets or cushions in the
churches ; even a hackney-carriage was
not allowed to be hired by them.

The acts of legislation in France were
almost exclusively police regulations.
Forced to tolerate the prostitute class, the
law endeavoured, by watching, restraining,
shaming, and insulting it, to render its
occupation so infamous as to terrify per-
sons from seeking it as a means of liveli-
hood. It does not seem that in France,
during the middle ages, legislation ever
passed this limit or went beyond the action
of police. In Italy, however, and in Spain,
this was not the case. The Roman law
had left many vestiges, which have never,
in reality, disappeared ; the ecclesiastical
prerogative was powerful, and disposed to
be active, local statutes existed in great
abundance, and the combination of these
authorities gave rise to a jurisdiction full
of details : profuse, sometimes strange,
always subtle, in parts inconsistent, and
laboriously commented upon by a nume-
rous school of jurists — a jurisprudence
which elevated itself above simple measures
of security and municipal rules, and insti-
tuted for prostitutes a civil and social
statute of their own.

Ulpian says that a woman is a prostitute
not only when she frequents regular bro-
thels, but when she visits cabarets, or any
other places, where she is careless of her
honour. She is a prostitute who yields
herself for base purposes to all men ; but
she who has connection only with one or
two is not. Octavenus, however, thinks,
more justly, that she is a prostitute who
gives up her person in common, whether
she receive money or not.

The lawgivers of the middle ages were
not accustomed to insist on perfect or pre-
cise definitions. They liked to subtilize
over terms. Some held Ulpian's limited
view to be correct ; others, with Octavenus,
declared that any woman yielding to the
solicitations of several men, even without
being paid, was a prostitute. The Roman
law defined prostitution to be the recep-
tion of numerous libertines. But how
many ? inquired St. Jerome. This threw
divisions among the theorists. Some de-
clared 40 men to be enough, some insisted
on 60, others on 70 ; while a few, carrying
extravagance to its utmost limits, asserted
that no woman was a prostitute who had
not delivered up her person to at least

Digitized hy. Microsoft® .

3000 persons. While these ridiculous dis-
putes engaged attention, the corruption of
manners went on.

It is just to the wisdom of that age,
however, to remark, that these discussions
of the casuists appeared no less ridiculous to
contemporary statesmen than to us ; while
the general public idea of prostitution was
habitual debauch for vile purposes, whether
mercenary or otherwise.

Some theorists, nevertheless, insisted that
the nature of a hireling was inseparable
from that of a prostitute. On this account
the name meretrix had by the Latins been
given to a woman of this class ; but this
view led to consequences which the wise
legislator would not accept. If any female
accepting a reward for her dishonour was
to be publicly enumerated among profes-
sional harlots, many, from a single offence,
must, under compiilsion, follow a life of
systematic vice. Others argued that two
or three repetitions of this infamous sale
would justify the title being applied ; but
this is a point on which writers have never
agreed. Consequently, a long controversy
arose upon the three conditions in dispute :
what amount of publicity — ^what number
of vicious connections — what kind of ve-
nality — was sufficient to stamp a woman
with the name and character of a common

Rabuteaux describes her as one who,
under constraint, or by her own will, aban-
dons herself, without choice, without pas-
sion, without even the impulse of the
grossest lust, to an unchaste course of life.
By want of choice he means the absence
of a preference for the individual, by which,
he adds, a forbearing judgment extenuates
the offence of immorality. If, he insists,
there be any choice of persons, there may
be libertinism, there may be debauch, there
may be scandal, there may be vice, but
there is not prostitution in the true sense
of the word. It applies to "sacred pros-
titution," whether gratuitous or venal,
which was an unblushing and indiscrimi-
nate sacrifice of chastity ; to that which
the barbarous hospitality of savages, whe-
ther on the rivers of Lapland or in the
deserts of Africa, gave up a woman to
every guest ; and to that legal kind in
civilized countries which sold itself pro-
miscuously for hire.

Such is M. Babuteaux's idea. We differ
from him. Prostitution appears to us the
application to a vile purpose of that which
was designed for honouraWe uses ; and the
mere satisfaction of animal lust is in itself
the vilest object. There may exist in a
woman's mind, even when most debauched,



a preference for some, an aversion to
others ; but she is no less a prostitute, if
she abandon herself viciously, whether to
one or many.

While these theories divided the opinions
of lawgivers, legislation on the subject was
extremely difficult. They were forced to
be contented with what they thought im-
perfect proof ; and, to fix the infamy of a
woman, accepted evidence from witnesses,
even those accomplices in sin who, of all
others, have lost the right to accuse. A
female who chose the night for the period
of her orgies ; who, as a wanderer, without
a companion to protect her, entered house
after house ; who waited on revellers in a
place of entertainment ; might be registered
among common prostitutes. A legitimate
suspicion, also, attached to her who re-
ceived the visits of many young men; and,
above all, who, in light or darkness, fre-
quented a public school.

These women, when once consigned le-
gally to the prostitute class, gained, in the
middle ages, a right which they could not
otherwise assert. The Roman laws adopted
by the jurisprudence of that period allowed
her to have a legal claim to payment when
she prostituted her body, and the reason
assigned was foimded on a strange and
subtle distinction of terms. " The courte-
san's vocation," said Ulpian, " is infamous,
but the wages of it are not ; the act is
shameful, but not the reward which is in
prospect when the act is committed."

The Spanish law was still more favour-
able to her. When a man paid in advance,
and she refused to submit according to her
promise, he could not demand his money
back. On one side she received a legiti-
mate emolument ; on the other, he was
guilty of immoral turpitude which the
law would not recognise. The code of
Alphonso also permitted this interpreta-
tion ; some commentators, however, allow-
ing that the woman had a right to revoke
the ijromise of yielding her person, but was
bound to restore the amount of hire she
had received, long and vigorous contro-
versies arose among the theologians when
this was referred to them. It was also
disputed in France, whether the prostituta
could enforce payment when she had sold
herself and an avaricious person refused to
reward her. An imposing list of authorities
is arrayed on either side.

Another question long debated was the
use to which such gains could lawfully be
applied. Alphonso the Wise, on the autho-
rity of Isaiah, forbade priests to receive
oii^erings from such a source. Baldaeus and

accept taxes from public women ; but this
by many was repudiated, as contrary to the
principle that the wages of prostitution
were lawfully acquired. The Spanish law
allowed money of this kind to be given in
alms, and the public opinion recognised the
right to dispose of it by testament, though
several popes attempted to decree a con-
trary usage. If, then, they could dispose
of their gains as they pleased, could they
inherit property? They could, but under
limitations. In Savoy it appears that
legacies to prostitutes made by soldiers who
had not quitted service more than a year
were null and void. In Spain no woman of
this class could inherit to the disadvantage
of the testator's relatives in a direct or col-
lateral line. Many authorities only admitted
the brother of the deceased to this right ;
but an exception was made when it was a
daughter who succeeded to such property,
or when the woman was herself married.
A mother, however, could disinherit her
daughter for leading a vicious life, but
lost this privilege if she had been the
accomplice of her immorality. The father
had equal authority, but with one curious

Online LibraryHenry MayhewLondon labour and the London poor; a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work → online text (page 43 of 98)