Madette, badette, and dangerous to know

Are bad girls as appealing as bad boys? Bad boys as in Byron – so described by Lady Caroline Lamb, with whom she had a affair that was ended by the poet – and most of Johnny Depp’s movie characters.The 21st century does seem to be the era of the ladette (those women who can outdrink, outswear, and generally out-bad-behave their male counterparts) and in recent months I’ve read two high-action thrillers in which there is at least one female character who is clearly a bad girl in many ways but who is equally clearly meant to be alluring, sexy and charismatic. (I won’t be giving any plots away if I say those two novels were No Men of God by Dwight Mathieu and I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.)

Anyway, after musing on the question I posed at the beginning of this blog – are bad girls as appealing as bad boys? – I thought it was a good time to revisit some of the bad girls and historical ladettes with strong London associations.

We have Phoebe Hessel, who gave her name to Amazon Street in London’s Whitechapel area. She served overseas as a man, having disguised her gender to follow her lover into battle, and was later a local character in Brighton, becoming a favourite of George IV, Price Regent and living to the ripe old age of 108.

Then there was Moll Cutpurse, one of London’s colourful (and shady) characters. Born Mary Frith, she lived and died in Fleet Street and was described by the Newgate Calendar as “A famous Master-Thief and an Ugly, who dressed like a Man, and died in 1663”. She is considered to have been, at least in part, inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s book Moll Flanders.

The adventuress Lola Montez was arrested for bigamy in Half Moon Street; she was allegedly the inspiration for the song ‘What Lola Wants, Lola Gets’ and had many rich and powerful lovers throughout Europe. She cost a king his throne and Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers author said of her, “She is fatal to any man who dares to love her.”

Holland Street in Southwark was named for a notorious procuress – the self-proclaimed Donna Britannia Hollandia. She rented the moated manor house of Paris Gardens, once owned by the Knights Templar, ran a brothel frequented by James I and his court, and inspired a play called Holland’s Leaguer.

Last, for now, and certainly by no means least, there is Lady Elizabeth Hatton, the toast of 17th-century London, who inspired one of the stories behind Bleeding Heart Yard. She supposedly sold her soul to the devil and was carried off by him after a party, dropping her shoe in Shoe Lane and her cloak in Cloak Lane. Elizabeth’s suitors were many and varied, including Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Edward Coke.

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