The History of Female Favourites...
London: Printed for C. Parker, 1772.
London: Printed for C. Parker, 1772. First English language edition. Contemporary calf with five raised bands. Measuring 217 x 127mm. Front blank neatly excised, else collating complete: , 324. Front board slightly bowed with small scuff; lacking spine label, and with cracking to joints near spine ends but remaining sound. Armorial bookplate of the Marquess of Headfort to the front pastedown. Minor worming to pastedowns and to preliminary and final leaves not affecting text. Internally fresh and unmarked. A scarce work by a woman documenting the lives of historic courtesans, it has appeared only twice at auction in the past 85 years and ESTC reports only 13 institutionally held copies (3 of these in the U.S.).
Anne de La Roche-Guilhem's history of famed courtesans was published in four languages between its 1675 release in French and its first appearance in English in 1772 (OCLC). That year, both The Critical Review and the London Magazine noted its potential interest to "those who are fond of of what is known by the name of secret history" and claimed somewhat dismissively that "the ladies will find themselves particularly amused." Female Favourites certainly participated in a popular genre aimed at women -- among its contemporaries were Thomas Amories' Lives of Several Ladies of Great Britain (1755), Thomas Gibbons' Memoirs of Eminently Pious Women (1777), and Ann Thicknesse's Sketches of the Lives and Writings of the Ladies of France (1778). Yet it stood out for avoiding the emphasis on women as exemplars, heroes, or artists to instead focus on the histories and lives of courtesans.
Politics, sex, and economics intertwine in La Roche-Guilhem's narratives which are part fact and part fiction. Female Favourites takes up the stories of courtesans a safe historical distance from the author's own lifetime: Mary de Padilla, Livia, Julia Farnessa, Agnes Boreau, and Nantilda each served kings, emperors, and popes. Their roles were notably more than sexual and physical, however. Though Female Favourites gestures to the weakness and hypocrisy of men in leadership, it equally calls out the power and influence these women could wield not only over their lovers but over their lovers' realms. Tyrants could be advised toward more generous social policies and royal gene pools could be reshaped by genealogical lines outside those sanctioned by the crown -- in the case of Mary de Padilla and King Pedro of Castile, for example. "Mary of Padilla was too much bias'd by interest to neglect such a conquest, and her engaging airs, apt to ensnare, did so enslave a man strong in nothing but crimes that soon she saw herself an absolute sovereign." Encouraging readers to see the more complex roles played by courtesans of the past, Female Favourites also connected these ideas to the thriving sex trade of the present. After all, though ministers and politicians decried so-called bawds and prostitutes, the women and queer people of Covent Garden in London were in their heyday running powerful businesses, generating wealth and even, as this book suggests, enjoying political sway.
ESTC T60642. (Item #4951)