Category Archives: Domestics and lower class

The Duke Buys a Wife

Once upon a time in December 1744…


Selling a Wife by Thomas Rowlandson (1812-14)

An ostler named Jefferyes decides to rid himself of his wife. He ties a halter around her neck and hauls her, like he would any poor beast, to an inn in Newbury called The Pelican.  Inside, the second Duke of Chandos and his companion are dining and notice a commotion taking place in the yard outside.

“Wife for sale” somebody shouts. “He’s leading her around by a halter,” shouts another. “Whoopie,” shouts a third.

“What can this be?” thinks the duke. It’s not everyday he gets to witness the sale and purchase of a female, though wife selling is not an uncommon occurrence. In the days pre-dating divorce, how else is a fellow to ameliorate his unsatisfying experiences at home?  He cannot kill her, or at least he ought not.  No, auctioning her to the highest bidder is the right of the common man, and the duke decides he may as well see what’s being offered before he repairs to London.

Together with his companion, he ventures into the yard only to be struck by Cupid’s arrow.  “Damnation,” thinks the duke.  His father died this past August and because of the South Sea Bubble, the duke is left with a miserly inheritance.  He cannot afford a blinding attraction to an ostler’s wife, but it’s not like he’s going to marry her.  Even so… The beautiful creature before him has been humbled.  She is not prideful but submits to her husband’s indictments, peeping not a word.  Some who witness the scene later imagine the ostler has beaten her, and the duke swoops in as her noble rescuer. Others say the duke is so sympathetic to her plight that he believes it better to be sold by a villain than to bed down with one. Either way, he’s so overwhelmed by her charms he cannot help himself.  

He buys her.

Still from The Slipper and the Rose (cinderella story)

And so Ann Jeffreyes, chambermaid, is at one moment the unwanted wife of an ostler and the next the property of a duke. “How unbelievable,” she must think to herself. “How terrifying and exciting.”  And then, “Yes, I’ll marry you!”

It’s true. Henry Brydges, the widower Duke of Chandos, makes his pretty purchase a duchess and a Cinderella story is born.  He and Ann give life to every servant girl’s dream: one doesn’t have to be born a lady to become one.  One only needs to be sold and purchased.  Preferably with a duke attending her auction, but there’s always earls and viscounts to be had…

The Sordid History of Moll King

Mo­­­­ll King was an autem diver, or if you don’t happen to speak flash, a pickpocket who danced her fingers into the purses of the faithful.  By the look of her, she would have appeared interchangeable with the leagues of ordinary misses and their meager origins except she was anything but a copy.  A legend in her day, Moll King was more than an extraordinary pickpocket; she was a wife and an entrepreneur, a whore and a thief.  But what was the true character of this woman of many names and just as many faces?

Robin Wright in Defoe’s Moll Flanders

In the 18th century we hear the same woebegone story over and over–a series of event so common as to seldom warrant a second glance when one happened upon them.   Moll began in such a way.  A short stint selling fruit, a vulgar overture or two later, and her initiation into the blossoming sex trade that had spread its vines throughout the city was complete.

The debauchery must have felt tangential to Moll, for it didn’t take long for her to realize the beast with two backs suffered little attention toward its possessions.  Sobriety was her advantage, as was patience and a persuasive demeanor that would carry her for the rest of her life.  Ascended from market girl to buttock and file—pickpocket and whore—Moll set her heights even higher, fondling gentlemen’s fobs and snuffboxes and eventually ignoring their pegos altogether.

From The Rake’s Progress – The Rose Tavern by William Hogarth

Moll first appeared in official records in 1687 when she was whipped for stealing clothes. During her criminal career, she had at least 12 known aliases, switching out her surnames as it suited.  Between 1697 and 1713 alone, “Mary King” was indicted on 11 separate charges, but this by no means represents the whole of her offenses. The gall that made her a cunning pickpocket also enabled her to stupefy the court by facing a slew of charges in the same sessions under different guises. Making matters more confusing, Mary “Moll” King, was a common name during the 17th and 18th centuries, and she no doubt used this mass anonymity to fool the authorities.

It wasn’t until 1723, when Thomas Purney published The Life of Mr. John Stanley, that she made her debut in the public scandal sheets.  If we are to trust the salacious publication, Moll and John Stanley, the profligate son of an army officer, were short-term lovers and criminals in arms.

When their devious methods collided at St. Anne’s Church, Soho, in 1718, she was already married to Tom King, and he was a handsome young rake with a penchant for preying on wanton lambs of God. According to The Life, Moll stole his gold watch—a mainstay of her employment—and the pair quickly learned of their common calling.

John Stanley met his unfortunate end after thrusting a knife in his mistress Mrs. Maycock and was hanged at Tyburn on December 23, 1723.  Moll had a much longer flirtation with disaster.  In 1718, she received a death sentence for filching watches at St. Anne’s, but she possessed the means to commute her sentence to transportation.  As shown earlier in 1687 in the Old Bailey Proceedings, the cry of the unborn child was a choice influencer of the age:  “The Women that received Sentence of Death pleaded their Bellys, but upon the Enquiry of a Jury of Women Impannel’d for that purpose only Mary King was found quick with Child.”(1)

Cunicularii, or The Wise Men of Godliman in Consultation by William Hogarth (1726)

Newgate wags offered to swell bellies for a price and were in demand among female prisoners facing capital sentences. Whether the child of 1718 was a lover’s token or part of a purchased agreement, Moll remained in Newgate until 1720 when she was transported to Annapolis.

The conditions of her transportation stipulated she remain in the colonies lest she commit an additional capital felony by return, but the London life was the life for Moll. She sailed back to England as fast as the seas would take her and was back to her old tricks, appearing in a widely circulated publication in July of 1720.

Jonathan Wilds, who likely had an acquaintance with Moll prior to her transportation, seized upon a golden opportunity in forcing her hands to perform for him and only him.  Under threat of exposure, she began thieving for the notorious thief-taker the same year as her return. Their game was to recover stolen goods that Wilds’ gang had previously lifted, whereupon he would gain a generous finder’s fee and Moll would receive a small trickle down for her efforts.

The Four Stages of Cruelty – Cruelty in Perfection by William Hogarth

As Gerald Howson points out in Thief-Taker General, “London was an inferno and Jonathan its Prince of Darkness, who had ruthlessly sacrificed hundreds of lives, many of them innocent and brought up to crime from childhood, for mere worldly ambition.” (5) Wilds was not to be trifled with and Moll, despite her ingenuity, was in an untenable situation.

There were benefits, though, to serving Wilds. He had connections that ran through every vein in London’s underbelly.  Once under his protection, he could influence the fate of his gang, from capture to prison transfers to the severity of sentencing. He also had a knack for getting his thieves acquitted.  He hired false witnesses and bribed authorities, rearranged trial schedules, and made so many underhanded deals it’s curious he could keep them straight.

When Moll was caught red-handed in 1721, he went to considerable lengths to prevent another transportation, but his assistance was the devil’s bidding. His particular talent seemed to lie in intimidation. When the occasion suited, he would force his thieves to impeach those who got twitchy. This kept business neatly in order, at least until 1724 when his crimes were exposed and he hanged for a multitude of charges in 1725.

Gallows Ticket

Moll must have breathed a sigh of relief. After an additional transportation in 1723, she disappeared from criminal life for a time. When she reemerged by opening a coffee house in 1732 with her husband Tom King, she had reformed, at least on the surface.  They had previously shared a successful nut stall in Covent Garden and raised enough funds for their next venture, but Moll dealings were never wholly legitimate.

The Life and Character of Moll King (1747) claims she loaned money at exorbitant interest rates to her most fashionable customers.  To her lower class laborers and fellow proprietresses, she helped where she might, and as a result of her good spirits, her coffee house grew in reputation. It was adored by the demimonde and working classes, opening in the earliest morning hours to serve both late night revelers and market workers.

Although the raucous scene drew attention from Sir John Gonson and the Society for the Reformation of Manners, the coffee house was a smashing success.  Business was not without its hardships, however.  Moll was charged in 1739 with keeping a disorderly house where she was fined £200 and three months in prison–the maximum sentence for the charge. (6)

 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Before his death in 1739, Tom King retired to a country house near Hampstead Heath. Moll kept up the business and even extended their ventures to speculation, purchasing a parcel of land in Haverstock and building a few terrace houses, one of which she occupied around 1745. Two years later, Moll retired from earth, and was mentioned in the 1779 publication of Nocturnal Revels, The history of King’s-place, and other modern nunneries: Containing their mysteries, devotions, and sacrifices. Comprising also, the ancient and present state of promiscuous gallantry: with the portraits of the most celebrated demireps and courtezans of this period: as well as sketches of their professional and occasional admirers.

The exceedingly long title begs the question: was Moll a bawd as well as a pickpocket, whore, market seller and proprietress?  Probably.

Tom King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden – Four Times a Day series by William Hogarth (1738)

If ever a woman wore many hats, it was she. Whether or not the once obscure daughter of a shoemaker was the eventual blueprint for Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders as Howson and others have suggested, we do know she led a life worthy of a good retelling.


1.  Copyright: Old Bailey Proceedings: Accounts of Criminal Trials, 31st August, 1687, London Lives, 1690-1800, s16870831-1(, 29 March 2012), Guildhall Library, Corporation of London.

2.  John Stanley Newgate Calendar Selection

3.  Women in Business, 1700-1850 by Nicola Jane Phillips

4.  London’s Sinful Secret: The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions of London’s Georgian Age by Dan Cruikshank (UK The Secret History of Georgian London)

5.  Thief-Taker General: Jonathan Wild and the Emergence of Crime and Corruption in Eighteenth Century England by Gerlad Howson

6.  Covent Garden: Its Romance and Its History by Reginald Jacobs


Moll King nearing the end of her life (1730-1747)

More Images & Information:

A Day in the Life: A Lady’s Maid

The Chamber Maid Brings Tea, Pehr Hillestrom, 1775

A lady’s maid’s day, unlike that of her peers, starts as soon as her mistress wakes.  The hour is variable, depending on the individual mistress and whether the household resides in the city or the country, but generally, a lady’s maid begins her official work later than the rest of the servants.

Attending to her mistress’s person comprises the first task of the morning.  After ablutions are taken care of and her mistress’s hair and body are dressed, a lady’s maid is responsible for tidying her mistress’s rooms.  This may not be the case with experienced ladies’ maids, but in households where there are few servants or a lady’s maid is relatively new, learning the finer details of upkeep are an important part of her position.  Even after a lady’s maid has graduated from general housemaid duty, washing hair combs, removing stains from soiled garments, and starching muslins number among the many exigencies of personal attendance that must be addressed on a regular basis.

Lady Fastening Her Garter (otherwise known as La Toilette), François Boucher, 1742

In households where maids are numerous, it may seem weird for a lady’s maid to act the part of a housemaid.  It’s really not.  The primary reason is to ensure her mistress’s privacy in both everyday situations and in rarer occasions when the mistress falls ill.  Although chambermaids and maids of all work will by necessity enter the mistress’s rooms, it is best to keep these visits limited.  All work in the rooms must be done out of the mistress’s sight.  Timing, therefore, is absolutely essential.

As soon as the mistress departs her rooms in the morning, a lady’s maid tidies and refreshes all belongings and articles under her care.  In a time before central air, a shut-up room would go stale throughout the night.  A good airing, therefore, is the first order of duty.  Windows are thrown open, bed curtains drawn apart.  Any clothes that remain out of closet are put away in the dressing room.  The accessories associated with ablutions must also be put to rights.

As neatness is a lady’s maid’s prerogative, dust and grime are directly under her purview.  Not even a loose thread on the carpet is tolerated by a meticulous lady’s maid.  The general notion here is to return the room to its original state—as if nobody had touched anything.  Wash basins, glasses, and water jugs must be cleaned of soap scum and fingerprints.  To keep up with the steady decline of cleanliness in the room, a strict schedule of supplying fresh water and changing towels is encouraged.


By James Gillray, 1810

After the mistress’s rooms are picked up and dusted, the thread and needle work begins.  Plain work (darning stockings, mending linens) occupies a large deal of this time.  Exactly how much is determined by the amount and state of garments in the laundry.

Before the laundry goes out to the washerwoman, it’s the lady’s maid’s job to sort through the dirty pile to determine what needs mending or what items are beyond repair.  As a sartorial accountant of sorts, it’s important for a lady’s maid to maintain an inventory of her mistress’s wardrobe from the start of her employment.  Any time a garment leaves the room for the purposes of laundering, she is expected to write up a bill of any costs associated with the garment’s upkeep.

Considering the number of times a mistress changes her outfit in a single day, preventing theft and accounting for misplaced or missing items in the wardrobe is necessary if a lady’s maid is inclined to keep her post.  Since she stands to benefit from her mistress’s cast-offs (as she will likely receive them), a wise lady’s maid serves as steward of her mistress’s belongings and keeps a hawk’s eye on anything that leaves the room.

The Jealous Maids

This does not mean a lady’s maid is encouraged to wear anything spangled or luxurious that is handed down to her.  To put on the airs of a mistress by wearing her tarnished finery, even under the mistress’s allowance, is a common offense.  According to anonymous Lady, “A neat and modest girl will wear nothing dirty and nothing fine.”

With these parameters set, a lady’s maid has the discretion to do with her mistress’s unwanted garments as she sees fit.  Charity is always encouraged.  In those days, linen was the only suitable fabric for dressing wounds.  As such, old scraps were in high demand in hospitals.  The poor were also endlessly in need of clothing and a lady’s maid could do much good by donating items to the impoverished.

I touched on this in the last post, but it’s worth noting that a lady’s maid enjoys more freedom than the average domestic.  Once her day’s work is complete, she has leave to improve her mind by reading.  Along with other activities such as sewing, her evening hours are largely devoted to leisure.  This is both a blessing and a curse.   Because ladies’ maids experience privileges denied other domestics and they appear to have the ear of their mistress, they were often subject to jealousy from their peers.

Another downside of the position is that ladies’ maids seem to have more down time than the rest of the household.  In reality, they are at the beck and call of mistresses who keep late hours.  Suffice it to say, a lady’s maid does not sleep until her mistress does.  The life of a lady’s maid, then, revolves around the schedule, temperament, and demands of her mistress.  Her happiness, too, but judging by the quantity of complaints surrounding the position, that would require an altogether separate post by yours truly.

The Last Shift, Carrington Bowles

Additional posts about a lady’s maid and domestic servants:

Wanted for Hire: Lady’s Maid

La Distraite, 1778, Gallerie des Mode

A while back I wrote a series of blog posts about the lives of female and male  domestic servants.  I think being American, and, well, not being an aristocrat in a former century, makes them a point of fascination for me.  They’re highly hierarchical, for one.  As we’ve seen with Daisy, the scullery maid in Downton Abbey, the lowest servant is ordered around by everybody else–seemingly all at once.  Also, this may seem obvious, but servants are  an entire class of people whose primary purpose is to nod and comply.  They live and breath usefulness, and although they are hardly born of a higher class, they are to comport in a manner befitting the dignity of their “family.”

We know this was not always the case—it never is where discretion is required—but given the high turnover rate of domestics, we can imagine that staying mum was not always top priority.  The memoir The Lady’s Maid: My Life in Service by Rosina Harrison, Lady Astor’s lady’s maid, is not a tell-all, but neither is it a wholly flattering account of the position.  The memoir tells it like it is: being a servant is a whole lot more complex than one might presume.

Lady Preparing for Masquerade, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

As the most senior female domestic, a lady’s maid is below only that of nursemaids, and this, I gather, is debatable.  Compared with the household maids who serve the family at large, she is paid well, performs the lightest work, and is usually allowed access to the library.   In addition, she is the primary witness to her lady’s daily well-being, maintaining a uniquely confidential position similar to a gentleman’s valet.

I pored over The Lady’s Maid; Her Duties, and How to Perform Them by Lady to get the definitive low down on the requirements of the position.  Distilled in a short recap, I imagine an advertisement for a lady’s maid might look something like this:

A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen, Henry Robert Morland (between 1765 and 1782)

Although the position was coveted among the servant classes, a competent lady’s maid was hard to find.  They had the same reputations as governesses.  That is to say, terrible.  According to the anonymous Lady,

Sounds like a catch 22, doesn’t it?  As they say, however, silence is golden.  The best lady’s maid stuck to this maxim, avoided idle gossip, and used her relatively high positions in the household to reign over the lower servants with kindess and grace.  To what exten this paragon actually existed, only history can tell.

Coming up: A Day in the Life: A Lady’s Maid

Other posts about a lady’s maid:

Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress, Plate 1

Wherein Moll Hackabout, a country miss, arrives in London and pauses at the Bell Inn off Cheapside, a thoroughfare just east of St. Paul’s Church, which westward past Drury Lane and southward to St. James’s connects the primary area’s of the London sex trade.

As with all five plates, Hogarth uses plenty of rich imagery, leaving much to be dissected.  Moll and Mother Needham stand at center stage but beyond them, the dense figures and bustling scenery dim, giving us the impression of the workings that will bring Moll to her downfall.  What we are seeing here is Moll’s first foray into debauchery except she doesn’t quite know it yet.  Mother Needham is gesturing to her with a kindly posture, presumably offering assistance to the confused girl.  Moll’s trunk, bearing her initials MH, sits to the right in the street beside a dead goose with a tag strung around its neck saying: “my lofing cosen in Tems stret in London”.  Thames street, which runs parallel to the river, is home to Moll’s relations, where she is likely headed for a visit, but instead she has been waylaid by the bawd, promised God-knows-what, with the rakish Colonel Charteris looking appraisingly on.

(click for larger view)

Mother Needham and Colonel Charteris

Both historical figures, Mother Needham was the procuress of the most exclusive bawdy house in 18th century London.  Her clientele numerated among the aristocracy as well as the merchant rich, and she would go to any length to acquire new girls.  Trickery was a means of daily profit.  As in Moll’s case, she preyed on girls fresh from the country who had likely come to London to gain domestic employ.  The wagon to the left of Moll, where two girls nervously sit, brought goods and on occasion passengers into town.  All Mother Needham need do is convince them of their good luck in acquiring a post, thereby negating their journey to the intelligence office.  Similar to the vague explanations given to Fanny in Fanny Hill, these girls would have thought themselves ahead of the game as country misses looking to work in the city were a dime a dozen.  Once the seemingly proper Mother Needham conveyed them back to her establishment–Park Place, St. James–she would have arranged a quick debauchery and indebted the girl to her sordid service by means of outfitting the girl in new gowns paid by the Mother herself.

Colonel Charteris,  known at the “rape-master general”, had a reputation for hiring young female dometics for the sole purpose of luring them into his bed.  Even before his trial for the rape of Anne Bond, he solicited girls to work in his household using an alias for fear that if they recognized the infamous Charteris name, they would avoid him at all costs.  His trial in 1730 resulted in a capital felony and a death sentence.  The then 70 year old rake was carted off to Newgate prison, but two months later, he was pardoned by King George II at the insistence of, among others, his victim, Anne Bond.  Charteris, however, was a very rich man and was known to throw his money at important political figures when his foulness ran him aground.  Anne Bond, disgraced by the trial wherein the defense accused her of immorality and thievery, was rumored to have received an annuity from Charteris which would have secured her a steady income where otherwise she would’ve greatly suffered from lack of tolerable employment.

The Background

A few additional details in plate one are worth noticing.  Clockwise from the left of Moll are two toppling baskets, suggestive of Moll’s imperiled virtue.  Above the baskets are the two country girl’s, witness to what may very well await them at the next wagon stop.   On a horse that’s blithely eating hay we have a clergyman who, instead of rescuing Moll from Mother Needham, is cocking his head in persual of a letter or perhaps a list.  To the right of the clergyman’s hat a woman hangs a pair of stocking–undergarments–out to dry.  Eight pairs of hands are shown throughout the plate, each relaying an emotion.  Charteris is fishing around in his overcoat pocket, his fingers alarmingly near the fall of his breeches, whereas the pimp, John Gourlay, is crossing his hands in a speculative manner.

Back at the plate’s foreground with Moll and Mother Needham, Moll is arresting her wrist, the palm of one hand gesturing toward the bawd and, further on, the men.  Mother Needham lays a gentle hand on Moll’s chin, a slight smile on her patched face as she tilts Moll’s face to full inspection.  To the inexperienced, Mother Needham would have appeared respectable.  She is wearing fine fashionable clothing, the expense apparent in the manner her silken gown falls and catches the light.   The numerous patches on her face, although suggestive of degeneracy in our eyes, were a common indication of pock marks.  When used to a lesser degree (although some ladies did wear seven or eight), they announced a deliberate flirtation or lack thereof (see To Patch or Not to Patch).  Mother Needham’s additional accessories–gloves, a fan, and a pocket watch–were also ordinary.  The taking off of one glove for skin to skin contact, the pointing of a closed fan, and the visible watch to suggest a careful keeping of hours, however, were anything but.