Carol Cleveland: The Female Python

Carol Cleveland is a face you’ll recognise if you’re a British comedy fan. She’s been in SO many comedy shows and sketches throughout her career including Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

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Carol!!! We are not worthy!

Born in 1945, Carol caught the performance bug at a very young age. After all both her parents were actors and so from the age of just 2, Carol was out booking modelling gigs (because hey, 2 is a totally normal age to be earning living)

Carol’s parents divorced when she was 4 and her Mum got together a dashing US serviceman  named Cleve, which led to the family upping sticks and moving to the USA, where Carol grew up around various Military bases.

Acting! Emotion!

In 1960 Carol and her family moved back to London and Carol immediately signed up to prestigious drama school RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts).

Now guys, Carol was at RADA at an AMAZING time!

Her first boyfriend was fellow student Ian McShane, who’s best mate just happened to be John Hurt. She was best mates with Lynda La Plante (Who created the EXCEPTIONAL TV series Prime suspect) and shared a stage with Antony Hopkins and the mighty beardy bellowing Brian Blessed.

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We imagine this was most of RADA…

After graduating Carol started treading the boards and appearing in some well-loved cult TV series like The Avengers (no not those ones, the Brit TV series ), The Saint, The Persuaders and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).

During her actors ‘resting period’ (AKA when she was  out of work) Carol auditioned to be a Playboy Bunny for the new club in London. She landed the  job and worked under the name Didi in the club based in London during its grand opening in 1966.

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BUNNY CAROL!

By 1967 Carol was getting movie gigs. She snagged a bit part in the last film ever directed by Charlie Chaplin, The Countess from Hong Kong which also starred Marlon Brando and Sofia Loren.

After that brush with stardom, Carol landed yet another  bit part as a glamour girl in Salt & Pepper, a Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr film about two lads who open a Playboy Bunny style club (in it she gets to be a called a ‘Pepperette’ which is possibly the saddest faux sexy name ever created)

The Glamour Stooge

By the late 60’s Carol’s career started to veer towards comedy. She’d been wasted as a disposal glamour-puss, but now her skills as a seriously funny lady had a chance to shine, thanks to roles in stupidly popular British programmes The Two Ronnie’s and With Morecambe & Wise.

Carol then  worked with comedy legend Spike Milligan on his TV sketch show, Spike referred to Carol as a ‘funny dolly bird’ *rolls eyes* ;after that Carol coined her own name, referring to herself as a ‘Glamour Stooge’

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We do too.

As a result of her growing comedy chops she was hired by director John Howard Davies to appear in 4 episodes of this new sketch show he was directing called Monty Python’s Flying Circus (you might have heard of it…)

Carol turned up for her first day shooting without much thought about what she was walking into. She was totally bewildered by the script, especially as most of the sketches tended to have 0 punchlines or even proper endings!

After her first read through Carol called her Mum and told her;

“You know… I’m not sure this will last more than 5 episodes”

Yeah….Carol got that one wrong. Monty Python would become one of the most popular and beloved comedy shows EVER.

One of her first sketches is a fave of mine; the Marriage Guidance Counsellor sketch. The set up is simple, Carol and her hubby (played by Michael Palin) go to see Eric Idle’s marriage guidance counsellor, and by the end of it Carol’s getting off with Eric Idle behind a screen and they tell Mike to piss off.

The cast LOVED her giggle, and the fact that she was up for doing anything. Carol’s contract for the show wasn’t renewed, but the Python boys demanded she be kept on.

They started writing more parts for her. Though they all admitted they weren’t great at writing roles for women, and they played most of the women’s roles themselves.

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No one does eye candy like Carol!

She appeared in most of the episodes throughout the 4 series (30 out of 45 to be exact) and she appears in EVERY Monty Python film. She plays a 19 year old virgin in Monty Python & The Holy Grail with Terry Jones teasing her that this must be her most ‘difficult role to date’

She was also brought in for various Monty Python Live shows too. Starting with Monty Python’s First Farewell Tour in 1973.

After some more touring Carol was invited back again to do Monty Python at The Hollywood Bowl in 1980. She was getting ready to go for a swim when she got the call, and she was so excited that she forgot to put on her bathing costume and walked out to the public pool stark naked.

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We’ve all been there!

Recently Carol’s been on cult comedy smash Toast of London, playing a US talent agent, AND in 2014 she reunited with all the living Pythons for a live show of some of their mot well loved sketches. We saw it twice, she was THE BEST.

Carol is still working today and says regularly that the only way she’ll stop being in showbiz is if she dies.

I’m so grateful for Carol, she was such an inspiration when I was growing up. She showed the world you can be both pretty AND funny. She held her own in a sea of strong personalities and made her mark on comedy in a fun and sexy way.

WE LOVE YOU CAROL!

That was interesting, where can I find out more? Well Carol has her own hilarious autobiography out PomPoms Up!: From Puberty to Pythons and Beyond. It is hilarious, and she’s had an amazing career so there’s some wonderful anecdotes in it!

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

Quickie: The insane ways women through history had to manage their periods

Ah, the unexpected visit from Aunt Flo and the mad dash to find anything to hold that flow, until you can run to the shops and grab some sanitary towels/tampons/cups. We’ve all been there and it’s the worst.

But imagine if there was no sanitary aisle in the corner shop; no clean and set way to manage your period. Well that was pretty much the case for all of history!

But as those of us with a monthly visit from ‘the decorators’ today have had to MacGyver a loo roll towel when in a pinch, our ancestors  across the centuries have also had to invent new ways to manage their periods.

So lets immerse ourselves in the ingenuous and only slightly traumatic past of period management: 

1. Rags

Yep- the term ‘on the rag’ actually does refer to using rags for sanitary management.

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Yeah, it’s not one we should bring back.

This one dates all the way back to the medieval period (sorry, I’ll use ‘era’ for the rest of this article) and lasted for centuries.

Essentially, women would ball up rags of whatever they had to hand and place them between their legs to manage their flow.

Now obviously, the richer you were, the better quality rags! So if you’re a well to do girl about town, then you get some lovely linen.

BUT if you’re a peasant, I’m afraid you’re getting some itchy offcuts that you have to rewash every use – nice.

2. Suspension management 

I bet you we’re thinking that those rags were stuffed in a set of knickers, right? NOPE!

Broadly speaking, from the Medieval era, right up to the Victorian era, women didn’t wear knickers (or similar) because, underwear was very much a male thing (click here for the full history of womens underwear)

So if you don’t have underpants holding those rags in place, you best think of a plan B fast; without them, things are gonna get real bloody real quick, after all:

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Basically!

There’s  a lot of evidence that women wore girdle like contraptions to keep their rags in place.

Queen Elizabeth I actually owned a snazzy set of black silk girdles, specifically for use during her periods; girl was not getting any period stains.

BUT much like with the quality of rags, how rich a woman was, massively effected the quality of her rag holding device.

So a woman might have to make her own belted girdle type thing at home, or if she was in a really tight budget, go full Blue Peter and make something from twine, scraps of fabric and whatever else was lying around.

3. Bog Moss

Yeah. You read that right. BOG. MOSS eeeeew gif.gif

Now, this is more of widespread theory, than one with concrete evidence, but there’s a lot to back it up, plus, you know, it’s fully horrifying, so I’m totally including it!

Sphagnum is a type of moss, that grows in cold damp places (so most of the UK) and for the last 1000 years, this little beauty has saved countless lives, thanks to it’s ability to absorb liquid more than 20 times its size!

Commonly used on battlefields, Sphagnum packed up wounds and stop people bleeding to death.

So it would make a lot of sense that women would have also utilised this –incredibly easy to get your hands on– plant that was renowned for soaking up blood… even if it mainly did come from bogs, hey, needs must right?

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So, if you’re ever in the countryside and in a pinch..               you know what to do.

4. Wool sanitary towels 

By the 1880s sanitary towels had started to appear.

As always, they were only something for the well off, but it was a huge step in women actually being able to comfortably manage their periods!

An advert for Southalls Sanitary Towels from 1887
This advert for an early towel, appeared in Harpers Bazaar in 1887

 There was one big down side: many of these early towels were stuffed with wool:

An 1880s advert for Southalls Wool Sanitary Towels
Another early sanitary advert from the 1880s

Ok, here’s  the thing. Cotton is absorbent. Wool is not. It doesn’t matter how many times an advert labels wool as absorbent, its still not good at actually absorbing liquid.

Imagine your most wooly jumper when its sopping wet. Now imagine that between your legs. Yeah. No. All the no’s to that!

Luckily, change was coming:

5. Bandages 

During the First World War, nurses did not have time to faff about with their periods; quickly working out that the new disposable bandages they were using on wounds, were also a fantastic tool to help manage their flow.

This combined with the new invention of, Cellucotten (a sort of cotton made from wood pulp) caught on, with materials now more widely available, the nurses invention went mainstream.

In the 1920s Kotex launched its disposable sanitary towels, citing the battlefield nurses as their inspiration.

And so launched a boom in period inventions! 

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Truly one of the best invention revolutions in history!

This was interesting where can I find out more? Well you can check out our full history of periods HERE

MORE IMPORTANTLY, you can help make sure nobody ever needs to go back to the medieval days of rags ever again! Period poverty is a very real thing, with some girls not attending school when they’re on their period.

You can help stop this by:

  • Donating sanitary products to your local food bank (list of Trussel Trust banks near you HERE) seriously even one spare pack makes all the difference! 
  • Donating to period poverty charity, Bloody Good Period 

The Lore of Murderous Mermaids

Society has been obsessed with these fancy fish ladies for thousands of years, and we’re going to look at some of the legends that gave birth to these aquatic marvels.

Just incase you haven’t come across The Little Mermaid and its ilk; what is a mermaid? Well, a mermaid is a creature with the top half of a lady and the bottom half of a big ole fish. The modern name for mermaid comes from the old English Mer, meaning sea and Maid, meaning a young lady; thus mermaid (which way sounds better than ‘sea-young lady’)

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Lookin’ Good! Via Giphy

Nowadays one thinks of mermaids as pretty, nice sea folk, with amazing hair, a talent for singing and an adorable habit for falling in love with random Princes. Well… that is not the case, Disney lied to you.

Historically mermaids were associated with bad omens, shipwrecks and of course:

DEATH BY MUCH BLOODY VIOLENCE.

So, let’s start things off by looking at the concept of merfolk as deities.

The Ancient Babylonians had a mergod called Era who was depicted as half man, half fish. He was the god of the sea (handy that being part fish and all) the Syrians decided to copy the Babylonians and created their own merged, Derketo. 

Derketo was depicted in the more traditional way of top half of a lady and bottom half of a fish. This idea was in turn nicked by the Ancient Greeks, who came up with the idea of Sirens. 

Siren’s in Greek mythology often get cited as a starting point for the more recognisable mermaid mythology.

Half female, half bird creatures, they morphed into sexy fish fancies, luring sailors to their death on the rocks by singing sweet songs and flashing their knockers.

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The Fisherman and the Syren, by Frederic Leighton, c. 1856–1858. Via Wikipedia

Now for the scary bleak stuff!!! Mermaids ain’t all cuddly folks, for example; they appear in One Thousand and One Nights (a collection of Middle Eastern fairy tales) and are described as having;

‘moon faces and hair like a woman’s, but their hands and feet were in their bellies and they had tails like fishes’

Nice!

Some of these tales included whole underwater societies;  in Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman, the protagonist, Abdullah, gains the ability to breathe underwater; in doing so he comes across a mermaid society that basically functions as a proto communist society…so obvs he decides to hang out with a load of half fish commie chicks.

The Japanese also got in on the mermaid fun (just in a fully nightmarish way!); creating Kappa; who had human like faces….with the rest of their body a mix of monkey, fish and turtle.

The Kappa liked tricking humans into becoming their own fish food by pretending to be nice and friendly, maybe invite you to play some Sudoku, followed by ALL OF THE DEATH. They were particularly partial to a nice, crunchy, small child.

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OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT! Via Giphy

But it wasn’t just Japan coming up with half fish nightmare fuel.

Mami Wata is an African water spirit who appears as a sexy lady or the more traditional part lady part fish. It’s said that Mami Wata steals men from their homes forcing them to become her lovers, she can also be responsible for killing those who don’t give her offerings that please her. She likes mirrors and combs FYI if you ever run into her.

The Russians also joined in the ‘what the fuck, why; party…but being Russia they kept their mermaid lore nice and miserable.

Rusalka are the spirits of young women who had violent deaths, usually by drowning. They appear as shimmery spirits in the water and lure men and young children to their deaths dragging them underwater with their long treacherous ghost hair.

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Witold Pruszkowski “Rusałki” 1877 Via Wikipedia

But mermaid lore wasn’t just for the ladies! Scotland has a cracking legend about Mermen. The Blue Men of the Minch (AKA storm kelpies) who live off the coast of the Outer Hebrides. They had blue skin and really bad tempers. For a laugh (and general sea boredom) they enjoyed fucking about with humans; they’d stop you In your little fishing boat, ask a bunch of riddles and if you got them wrong, they’d tear you to pieces….literally…because they’re fun like that.


In Medieval times it was just accepted as fact that mermaids were real, there’s even an account from the 1400’s of a mermaid being rescued in Holland after getting stuck in a dike.

They moved her to a local lake to recover, teaching her how to speak Dutch and do basic household chores to pass the time, the residents later converted her to Catholicism (yay?)

Now most of us Westerners know mermaids because of Disney.

The Little mermaid has a special place in the hearts of many a girl, but on a recent re-watch (for research) I found myself screaming:

‘SHE’S ONLY 16 TRITON, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING LETTING HER MARRY SOME FUCKBOI PRINCE!

So for me it’s an allegory of really bad parenting.

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You’re gunna fuck it all up Ariel. Via Giphy

This was based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Little Mermaid published in 1837.

Hans’ tale is a bit bleaker, because at the end our mermaid doesn’t get her Prince and so, after having her tongue cut out, she dies and becomes foam on the waves. A pretty wanky death. Ah the good old days where everybody was dead or at least maimed by the end of a fairy tale.


So….with all that historic mermaid lore, the question is: are mermaids real?

Well – No. Historians and anyone with half a brain deciphered that in all likelihood mermaid sightings were just your average curvaceous manatee, being viewed from a distance. Honestly being stuck at sea for months and MONTHS on end would make a manatee look pretty fucking appealing to me to.

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Sexy manateeeeeeeeee. Via Giphy

Mermaids have had a bit of a resurgence in the last few years (sadly not manatees though).

They are on your Starbucks mugs, on the big screen (like that live action remake of The Little Mermaid NOBODY asked for), all over glittery stationery, T-Shirts and in story books.

Plus there’s still the odd ‘sighting’ of a mermaid. In Israel in 2009 dozens reported seeing a mermaid leaping out of Haifa Bay and playing around in the waves. The local town offered $1million for proof of the mermaid, but they got bugger all.

There was a more recent one in 2012 Zimbabwe where workers were scared off by mermaids while carrying out maintenance work on reservoirs. The government decided to carry out religious rites on the site and brewed a batch of traditional beer for them. It worked and the boozy mermaids left them to it.

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Up for boozin’. Via Giphy

So there you have it, we’ve only lightly touched the tip of the mythos behind mermaids. It’s a pretty complicated backstory, DRENCHED IN THE BLOOD OF MEN, which always makes for a fun family friendly read. Have you got any mermaid lore to tell us? Drop us your mermaid tails (geddit?) in the comments or on the socials!

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

How brothels built America

Fact: Sex workers helped build America. These women came to the Wild West/The Old West (whatever you want to go with) and smashed every expectation of womanhood.

They became business oligarchs, they built entire communities and forged their own independence.

It’s a one hell of a tale! But before we dive it it, let’s quickly knock out the basics:

How did the West come to be?

Around the mid 1800s there was a huge boom in the amount of land being built in the South West of America. Most of this land was built for mining. As new sources for coal and metal mining were discovered, towns sprung up overnight to house the influx of workers that appeared to mine it.

Suddenly you had entire towns with 1000’s of men and maybe a dozen or so women. Now you don’t have to be good at maths to see that the ratio here is a little off.

Having spotted the er…supply and demand issue, business minded women start arriving in these towns and setting up shop as sex workers.

Soon these women were earning in one day what they might otherwise earn in a week as a factory worker or clerk.

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GOOD buisness

There were of course risks….a lot of risks. But in the Old West it was these women were effectively working at the same risk level as a working men had. Communities, rules and laws were still being worked out, which meant that murder, beating and work caused incidents/deaths we’re sadly not rare hazards for any gender or line of work!

Yes the risks were high, BUT the clients were many, the going was good and soon the cash was flowing!

So, women started opening their own brothels. This in turn led to women buying land, companies and eventually building business empires of their own.

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The original boss bitches  

Soon entire towns revolved around one damn good brothel.

This wasn’t luck. The ladies running these brothels had business smarts for days. Seriously they could have smashed The Apprentice (and probably Donald Trump too…)

One of the best examples of this is Mattie Silks: 

Mattie Silks, who became America's youngest brothel owner at just 19 and ran a successful brothel in Denver
Mattie Silks: admittedly looking v awkward here

A small town girl, Mattie opened her first brothel at just 19. This made her the youngest madam in America.

She invested her profits back into the business, as well as growing her income and holdings by buying real estate and land.

These buisness smarts meant that in just a few years Mattie was running one of Denvers most popular brothels. Patrons were greeted with luxury surroundings and a full orchestra – because this wasn’t just sex…it was Silk sex, and it was classy AF.

But Mattie didn’t stop at having a leading chain of high end brothels. She paid her staff a salary that made them some of the highest paid women in the country.

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Yes Mattie pay it back!! 

OK, so, by now you might be thinking – sure these women created businesses that made them some of the richest women in the country and bought tons of new income to the growing West. But is that really building America? Don’t you need stuff like, schools, hospitals and churches, as well as places to have sexy time?

Why yes.

And they did that too.

These women had made themselves pillars in their communities. They weren’t just there for the money, they wanted to make a difference.

Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Diamond Jessie Hayman, opened her brothel doors to feed, clothe and shelter anyone that needed help. And Diamond Jessie was far from alone!

Here are just a few examples of how America’s sex workers made a difference:

Lou Graham, donated money to build up Seattle’s schools and also saved countless businesses and banks during a period of depression.

Anna Wilson’s will requested that her huge mansion be turned into Omaha’s first emergency hospital.

And former slave turned influential brothel owner, Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant, campaigned tirelessly for the de-segregation of streetcars in San Francisco.

These women were doing way more for their communities than just providing cash and a good time. They were building them up, and turning them for shit holes to sustainable home steads!

Mary Ellen Pleasent
Mary Ellen Pleasant

And you best believe these communities didn’t forget the women that helped make them!

In 1890, Wyoming refused to become a US state, if it’s women were not allowed to keep the vote (which they had been granted in 1869) saying:

‘We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women’ 

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Yes Wyoming!!! 

This was really interesting where can I find out more? I’d suggest checking out A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell (great name!), it has an amazing section on this.

The Batshit and Fantastical Life of Hortense Mancini

From bedding Kings to fleeing countries dressed as a pistol wielding man. Duelling her lovers, drinking, dancing and above all fighting for her independence; the life on Hortense Mancini was to be blunt, fucking insane…so lets get to it:

Born into nobility on the 6th June 1646 in Rome, Hortense Mancini was the fourth of five sisters.

Their Mother a great beauty, their Father an aristocrat who practiced black magic (specialising in necromancy) and their Uncle was Cardinal Mazarin; both Cardinal and Chief Minister to Louis XIV (the real power behind the French throne) – it’s safe to say the sisters had a somewhat eclectic background.

But things didn’t stay nattily rosey for long; in 1650 tragedy struck when Hortense’s Father died suddenly.

Fortunately the situation was far from as black as it could have been and Hortense’s Mother made the canny choice of leaning on Uncle Cardinal Mazarin in the families hour of need.

Uncle Cardinal had a soft spot for his nieces; in particular the wild and witty Hortense and he soon invited them to stay at French Court, where he would see what he could do for the girls.

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Cardinal Mazarin

The Mancini sisters took the streets of Paris by storm; very much the 17th century Kardashians; they were olive skinned, beautiful and very scandalous. They even had their own name ‘The Mazarinettes’ (that’s some top 17th century branding there, Kris Jenner would be proud)

With the attention of French society gossip mills focused on The Mazarinettes, it’s hardly surprising that when Uncle Cardinal announced his plans to arrange fabulously powerful and rich marriages for his nieces; the Mazarinettes became hot property.

Now the most eligable prospects in the European marriage market, everyone wanted a piece of Laure, Olympe, Marie, Hortense and Marie Anne.

Marie, Olympe, Hortense
Marie, Olympe and Hortense

The Mazarinettes had their pick of European nobility; Marie even became the lover of Louis XIV! Then Charles ll, party lover extraordinaire and future King of England, rocked up at French court.

Currently in exile from England, Charles quickly fell for fun loving Hortense. The pair seemed like two halves of one hedonistic whole; Charles proposed and promised to make the teenage Hortense England’s Queen (should his exile end…)

But Uncle Cardinal was having none of it. He was not about to set up his favourite niece with a galavanting eccentric Englishman with no fortune and only a title to his name (a title, btw, that was both now worthless and liable to one day get him killed) so Charles was sent packing

Charles ll
When Charles did become King, Uncle Cardinal offered 5 million for Hortense’s hand. Charles declined

Soon the Mancini sisters started to be married off to Princes, Generals and Dukes but Uncle Cardinal wanted something extra special for his favourite niece.

In fact this would be his dying wish and on his deathbed Cardinal Mazarin left Hortense his fortune and finalised her marriage to the richest man in Europe.

At the age of 15 Hortense was now one of Europes wealthiest women.

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-maybe not a totally historically accurate gif interpretation… –

This all sounds great. Until you realise that the richest man in Europe was the literal worst.

Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye
Presenting the incredibly sexy Armand-Charles de la Prote

Hortense’s husband to be, Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye (say that three times fast) was a religious nut, which is bad, but this guy took zealous dickery to a whole new level.

He worried that the sight of milkmaids milking cows would be so lustful and sinful to passing men that he ordered that any milkmaids in his service have thier teeth knocked out, so their smiles would no longer pose the threat of starting some kind of dairy based sexual riot.

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Yup, don’t look for the logic here

Upon marrying Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye –from now on just Armand, because I’m not typing that all out again- 15 year old Hortense quickly realised that he was a monumental bell end.

Aside from his zealous nature, he was jealous and prone to angry and violent outbursts. He covered any nude paintings of men in the house so Hortense wouldn’t be tempted by lustful thoughts, burst into her room at night to check for hidden lovers and forced her to spend days praying away her sins.

This wasn’t Hortenses’ style.

If her husband wouldn’t let her be around men then that was fine; she could be flexible.

And so, soon into her marriage Hortense starting seeing another young woman; Sidonie de Courcelles.

Unsurprisingly Armand wasn’t happy when he discovered the affair. And so he packed the two girls off to a Convent.

Yup…That’s right. He sent them away. Far away. Together. This man is a genius.

OBVIOUSLY the girls continued their affair and weren’t overly fussed about their punishment.

They spent their days at the Convent playing pranks on the nuns, pouring ink in the holy water and attempting escape by fleeing up the chimney.

It was basically St Trinians but with more sex and pissed off nuns (actually, how has this not been made into a film?) Soon the nuns had enough and sent the pair back to Armand and the affair fizzled out.

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Fucking fun wrecking Armand

Somehow in their seven years of tumultuous marriage Hortense and Armand had 4 children (no I don’t know either) But the children weren’t enough to keep Hortense tied to Armand.

She decided to leave her husband, which in the 17th century meant that she would lose her children. The price of Hortenses freedom was high, but one she would be willing to pay if it meant escaping Armand for good.

After several foiled attempts (which led to Armand imprisoning her in the family home) Hortense left her husband on 13 June 1668. She rode out the gates on horseback, dressed as a man and quickly fled France for the safety of her sister Marie’s home in Rome.

Sadly Marie’s place wasn’t the safe house Hortense was hoping her; as Marie was deathly afraid her husband was trying to poison her (I’m not saying that Uncle Cardinal was shit at picking spouses but…) so the sisters fled to France where Marie’s former lover Louis XIV announced that both women were now under his protection.

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Marie and Hortense

Things were looking up. Louis XIV gave Hortense a hefty pension, which allowed her the unusual freedom of becoming an independent woman. She set up house in France and transformed her new home into a haven for artists, philosophers and great minds of the time.

Hortense also picked up a lover, The Duke of Savoy , who helped Hortense fight of her husbands many demands for her return.

Sadly all good things must come to an end; the Duke died and Armand finally managed to get his hands on her assets; freezing all her finances (including her pension from Louis XIV) until she agreed to come back to him.

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Fucking Armand! 

But Hortense wasn’t going to back down that easily.

She headed to England; agreeing to work with England’s ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu on his plan to de-seat one of the English Kings mistresses, Louise de Kerouaille.

Thats right, after turning down his proposal, Hortense was now travelling to England to become Charles ll’s new mistress. You can’t deny Hortense had moxy.

Hortense battled treacherous roads, icy weather and a near shipwreck on her journey from France to England. But she refused to give in and return to her husband, set on forging her own path and getting back the independence she had lost in France.

Hortense arrived at English Court in 1675 dressed as a pistol wielding man (naturally) and Charles ll fell for his old love once more; Hortense became a royal mistress.

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You can tell because her boobs out

Her partying, drinking and general debauchery rivalled Charles. Luckily Hortense’s love of sword fighting and horse riding helped ensure this her lifestyle didn’t have too much of an effect on her appearances.

Naturally the other women in Charles life started to grow concerned about Hortense; she could be a real threat to their positions.

But Hortense didn’t want to be like his other mistresses, she wasn’t a Nell Gwynn; she couldn’t dedicate her whole life to Charles. She escaped one man that wanted to rule over her and she sure as shit wasn’t go back there.

Hortense wanted to live as she choose; to drink, dance and take as many lovers as she could!

And so she did.

She lived independently yet remained a mistress. Charles loved Hortense for who she was and so he turned a blind eye to her refusal to call him ‘your majesty’ and made an exception for her long list of lovers; that is until Hortense pushed things too far by sleeping with both Charles and his daughter…

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Not at the same time. But still. 

Anne, Countess of Sussex was Charles daughter with one of his first mistresses, Barbara Castlemaine.

Anne was 15 and unhappily married when she met Hortense (now in her early 30’s) the two became firm friends, which quickly progressed to much more (wink).

The women attempted to keep the affair relatively quiet, but the court rumour mills intrest peaked.

Then things really hit the front page when Hortense and Anne publicly duelled in St James Park, in their nightgowns, with a group of men looking on.

Anne’s husband was furious and she was sent away from court where desperate and lovelorn she took to her bed for days, a miniature of Hortense pressed close to her chest.

Charles ll wasn’t best pleased with Hortense, but with the affair over he cooled down.

…..Until Hortense took on another lover, this one the Prince de Monaco.

Sleeping with his daughter was one thing, but sleeping with another royal was a step too far for Charles. He put a stop to their affair and stripped Hortense of her royal pension for several days.

Thats right, days, I know, I don’t know how she coped either.

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Charles and Hortense remained friends. And with her pension back in place Hortense lived more than comfortably in Chelsea, her home once more a salon for artist, poets and great minds.

Then in 1685 Charles ll died suddenly.

Hortense maintained her place at court, remaining good friends with England’s new King, James ll, but with her protector now gone there was nothing stopping Armand from forcing his errant wife home.

And so in 1689 Armand took his case to court. The law was on his side and demanded that Hortense return to Italy and Armand. But she refused.

This time though Hortense’s fighting spirit failed her. With the stress of Armand’s continued efforts to force her back, as well as her years of drinking and gambling starting to take effect, Hortense found herself in spiralling debt.

She maintained her refusal though, retiring to the English countryside, where she died in 1699.

But thats not the end of the Hortense’s story…

Because Armand was still alive. 

That’s right, Armand had plans for Hortense, even in death.

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Yeah, Armand be crazy. 

Armand traveled to England, where he bought Hortense’s body from her creditors.

He then proceeded to take Hortense with him wherever he went, with her body propped up in his carriage.

Because Armand was (and will always be) the literal worst.

Contagious Diseases Act – The most vital chapter in women’s history you’ve never heard of

 

The Contagious Diseases Act (here by shortened to the CD Acts because as important as it is…it’s one hell of a mouthful) came about in part due to the rapid rise of prostitution in Victorian England. Prostitution was the fourth largest occupation for working women* and it grew along with the boom of the British Empire.

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This bombastic empire expansion led to thriving new trading routes and soon British sailors were bringing home ships chock full of tea, textiles and Venereal Disease. Yup you have to take the bad with the good and one of the prices for this exciting new empire? An exciting new STI! Sailors picked up VD from their travels and then spread it back in Britain when they arrived home after a long time at sea and in need of some company…

The disease spread quickly and became an epidemic. Parliament needed to do something to control the situation and fast! So in 1864 they covertly passed The Contagious Disease Bill.

The bill allowed for any person suspected of being a ‘common prostitute’ to be forced into submitting to an internal genital exam by a male doctor.

The law only pertained to women.

The examination was humiliating and painful. It would later be described as ‘surgical rape’. Countless female sex workers found themselves subject to this ordeal.

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The situation was further worsened as there didn’t need to be any evidence for a woman to be accused and therefore internally examined. This resulted in many women who were not sex workers having to undergo the examination- with both the accusation and their examination now public knowledge these women found their reputations destroyed – they became ‘ruined women’ and their chances for a hopeful future were vastly diminished.

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Parliament renewed the CD Acts in 1866 and again in 1869. Increasing the penalty for not submitting to a genital exam to 3-6 months in prison with the possibility of hard labour. This was later raised to 6-9 months to help the women ‘become clean’.

Throughout the acts frequent revisions hardly any of the public knew about it – though it effected 50% of the population, it remained a secret. That was all about to change.

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Elizabeth Wolstenholme

In 1869 a meeting about the bill was held Bristol’s Royal Hotel. At this meeting was Woman’s Suffrage Campaigner, Elizabeth Wolstenholme. She was shocked to hear about the CD acts, which had now been in effect for almost 5 years.

Elizabeth saw the CD acts as a violation of woman’s rights and made it her mission to raise public awareness. After leaving the meeting Elizabeth contacted her friend Josephine Butler and asked for her help. Butler was a social reformer and women’s rights campaigner who had previous experience working with and campaigning for the rights of women working as prostitutes.

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Josephine Butler

Butler and Wolstenholme toured the country giving speeches about the act- to say this is shocking would be a huge understatement, a woman talking openly in public about sex in the Victorian era was shocking and seen as deeply concerning. Yet the speeches worked. The women sparked something and people started talking and when people started talking they became outraged.

Soon Butler and Wolstenholme formed the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (LNA for short) and in doing so arguably became two of the first publically known feminists. Though women before them had previously fought against slavery and war, this was the first time in British history that women were fighting for all women’s rights and women’s sexual rights at that.

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In 1869 the fledgling LNA published a petition with 124 signatures calling for a repeal of the CD acts. Two years later in 1871 they produced another petition calling for the repeal – when it was handed in to The House of Commons it had to be laid on the floor as there was not a table that was large enough to hold it. Groundbreaking doesn’t even cover it.

The LNA worked tirelessly over many years to end the CD acts, but that wasn’t all Butler and Wolstenholme did – in fact from the start of The Contagious Diseases Act to its end both women did an extraordinary amount:

  • 1865 – Elizabeth Wolstenholme along with 11 other women formed the Kensington Society, a discussion group which would lead to the birth of the suffrage movement in Britain.
  • 1867 – Josephine Butler becomes chair of The North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women. A council both women work on.
  • 1868 – Both Butler and Wolstenholme join the Married Women’s Property Committee which sought to allow wives the right to buy, own and sell property.
  • 1875 – Butler tours Europe, giving speeches about sexual rights for women. This creates the International Abolitionist Movement, a group whose aim was to prevent international trafficking and stop state regulation of the sex trade.
  • 1882 – Married Women’s Property Act allows married women to retain property following campaigning by both Butler and Wolstenholme.
  • 1885 – Josephine Butler succeeded in campaigning for the age of consent to be raised from 13-16, helping to lower the rate of child prostitution.
  • 1886 – Wolstenholme’s campaign to improve women’s right to custody following divorce succeeds with the Guardianship of Infants Act

In 1886 The Contagious Diseases Act is finally repealed.

 

*Though a reliable estimate of the actual amount of women working in this field does not exist, we can see that throughout the 1840’s and 50’s the number of women working in prostitution was rapidly growing.

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