Women living in the British Isles during the 18th century were almost totally devoid of rights. As daughters they were under the control of their fathers; once they married they became the property of their husbands. Any possessions they owned or earnings they accrued automatically belonged to their spouses. The only women who enjoyed even a modicum of independence were widows – and whores.
Although still reliant on men for income, protection and reputation, some of the era’s most successful courtesans and brothel madams lived comfortable and companionable lives freed from the legal and social constraints that hobbled most women. One of the most famous and flamboyant, who enjoyed her independence to the full, was Peg Plunkett.
Far from being apologetic about her profession, Plunkett revelled in her reputation. She flaunted her wealth, hosted extravagant parties and openly paraded her calling in Georgian Dublin for more than thirty years. Her customers included aristocrats, judges, army officers and politicians. Describing herself as the ‘reigning vice queen’, she boasted