(scene from BARRY LYNDON)
Notorious in history for its high stakes gambling, the Georgian age was an era characterized by a rapacious greed that seemingly could only be satisfied at the gaming tables; a time of growing prosperity in which men who were once wont to be satisfied with safe investments and moderate gains were taken of a sudden by a fever to wager. Nowhere was this more evident than amongst the aristocracy, who lacking the industry and virtue inherent to the middle class, chose instead to cultivate such idleness and vice.
While it is no secret that this frenzy of mindless wagering overtook so many men to the point of losing entire fortunes, far less has been said over the years of the many women who were also taken with this malevolent malady. No longer a strictly male vice, the Georgian age saw the corruption of a great number of women as more and more genteel gaming venues opened their doors to the fairer sex, many of whom eagerly joined their male compatriots at Hazard, Piquet, Basset, Faro, EO, Roulette, and Rouge et Noir.
One of many aristocratic women caught up in the rage was Miss Pelham, an unwed daughter of the Prime Minister, who was notoriously addicted to gaming. Horace Walpole gives this pitiful account:
“Poor Miss Pelham sitting up all night at the club without another woman, losing hundreds and her temper, beating her head, and exposing herself before the young men and the waiters.”
While another contemporary says of her:
“I have seen her at that villainous faro table putting the guineas she had perhaps borrowed on a card with the tears running down her face…”
Another less pathetic but equally infamous Georgian gamestress was the actress Kitty Clive who was said to have flown into a rage when an elderly white-haired lady beat her at cards:
“Two black aces!” she cried. “Here, take your money, though I wish instead I could give you two back eyes, you old white cat!”
Surprisingly, rather than being frowned upon by the Crown, play for money by either gender was even encouraged as entertainment at the Royal residences. The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1731 chronicles the winnings of their Majesties George II and Queen Caroline, and even the young royal princesses when they played Hazard.
Yet, Joseph Addison’s essay from The Guardian, (29 July 1713) sheds much more light on the growing addiction:
“Could we look into the mind of a female gamester, we should see it full of nothing but Trumps and Mattadores. Her Slumbers are haunted with King, Queens and Knaves. The Day lies heavy upon her till the Play-Season returns, when for half a dozen Hours each day her Faculties are employed in Shuffling, Cutting, Dealing and Sorting out a Pack of Cards, and no Ideas to be discovered in a Soul which calls itself rational, excepting little square Figures of painted and spotted Paper.”
Addison further warns of the great toll gaming takes on a woman’s body as well as her soul:
“ The Beauties of the Face and Mind are generally destroyed…there is nothing that wears out a fine Face like the Vigils of the Card-Table…hollow eyes, haggard look, and pale Complexions are the natural Inclinations of a female Gamester. Her morning sleeps are not able to repair… in short, I never knew a thorough-paced Female Gamester hold her Beauty two Winters together.”
While the likes of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire might be able to lose thousands in a night without much worry, woe to the woman who wagered and lost above what she could afford. In 1714, Edward Ward writes in his satirical essay Bad Luck to him that has her; Or The Gaming Lady:
“ her jewels are carried privately into Lumbard Street that Fortune may be tempted the next night with another sum borrowed of my Lady’s Goldsmith or at the extortion of a Pawnbroker; and if that fails, then she sells off her wardrobe…”
Addison finishes with this shocking warning:
“there is still another Case in which the Body is more endangered as all Play-Debts must be paid in specie, or by an Equivalent. While the Man that plays beyond his income may pawn his Estate; the Woman must find something else when her pin-money is gone… When the Female body is once Dipp’d, if the Creditor be very importunate, I leave my reader to Consider the Consequences….”
A similar admonition to female gamblers is poetically repeated in the 1770 play The Oxonian by George Coleman the Elder:
“Lo! Next to my prophetic eye there starts,
A beauteous gamestress in the Queen of Hearts…
So tender there if debts crowd fast upon her,
She’ll pawn her “virtue” to preserve her “honour”
FORTUNE’S SON -AUTHOR’S COMMENTARY
Passion, drama and excitement fill the pages my follow-up to THE HIGHEST STAKES. Set deep in the world of 18th century gaming, FORTUNE’S SON immerses the reader in a time and place where nothing is sacred, and virtually anything might be wagered on the turn of a card or roll of the die.
Beginning with their first chance meeting over a Hazard table, and with motives known only to themselves, FORTUNE’S SON chronicles the tumultuous romantic journey between a young but seasoned gamester, and a widowed courtier who refuses to be the next Royal Mistress, regardless of what it might cost.
Experiencing the agonies and ecstasies of the gaming tables, Philip Drake and Lady Susannah Messingham precariously navigate their way in the high-stakes world of card sharps, courtesans, and the intriguers of Georgian England. As their tale of passion and drama plays out, they are led through hardship, heartbreak and loss, before final culmination in redemption and enduring love.
With romance, a bit of adventure, and the excitement of gaming, coupled with a supporting cast of the wits, gamesters, sporting men, and roués of Georgian England, I promise great fun and a riveting read!
**This title is currently $.99 on Amazon**
EXCERPT FROM FORTUNE’S SON by Emery Lee
Having chanced trente-et-le-va, and unable to turn back, Sukey shut her eyes in an attempt to channel her energy into one thought, as if she could actually will the queen to appear. With hands clenched and breath bated, she awaited the next flip of the cards.
“Four wins, seven loses.”
“King wins, six loses.” “The talliere continued in an almost soothing monotone, but with every call of the cards, Sukey pulse rose and abated like an incoming tide.
“Ace wins, five loses.”
Unable to help herself, she peeked through a slit in her lids to fix upon the long, white, manicured, fingers, methodically turning over cards the cards by twos.
“Eight wins, six loses.”
Her heart slammed against her chest, and her nails clawed at the thick baize, as deck continued to dwindle, with the queen yet to appear.
With only three cards remaining, panic pervaded her.
The talliere curled his lips ever so subtly, calling the final cards without even glancing down. “Four wins…Queen loses.”
“Damme, but what a rousing run!” George exclaimed in the drama of the moment. At Philip’s death glare, he mumbled his excuses and disappeared into the crowd.
Susannah stared blindly, but when the scales dropped from her eyes, the agonizing truth was revealed… the banker had controlled the game all along.
With this comprehension, Sukey’s mind whirled like a top. It was gone. All of it. Gone. The words resounded in her brain like a clanging cymbal. Her stomach roiled, and her world came crashing down.
Her widow’s jointure was insufficient even to maintain her home and servants. Her carriage was sold and jewels pawned. Now, nothing remained. She clutched the table’s edge for fear her legs would no longer sustain her. Oh dear Lord, what have I done?
Although Sukey knew the banker could not sue her over a gaming debt, Parliament having long ago taken steps to purge the bowels of jurisprudence with such civil suits, the reigning social order had its own irrefutable laws. Should she fail to make good on a “debt of honor, social ostracism awaited.
Designing to stall, she appealed Weston with wide plaintive eyes. “I shall require a bit of time, you understand.”
“But of course, madame.” Although his manner was solicitous, the banker’s slate eyes, glittered beneath hooded lids, as if she were a piece of ripened fruit he was hungry to devour. “Perhaps we might repair to a more private venue to negotiate some… acceptable terms.”
She swallowed convulsively, knowing exactly what his terms would be. Overcome with shame, she cursed herself a thousand times over her sack of self-restraint. Although standing in the periphery of her vision, just over her shoulder, Sukey dared not even cast her head in Philip’s direction, for fear of the recrimination she would find reflected in his eyes.
By sheer recklessness, she had played right into Weston’s hand, achieving precisely what she had meant to avoid, her complete and utter ruin…and far worse, by the same man who had ruined her once before.
Ashton, John. The History of Gambling in England: By John Ashton .. London: Duckworth & 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, W.C., 1898. Print.
MacCunn, Florence A. Sir Walter Scott’s Friends. New York: John Lane, 1910. Print.
Sala, George A., and Edmund H. Yates. “Women at Cards in the 18th Century.” 3. Temple Bar, A London Magazine For Town and Country Readers 117 (1899): 248-56. Print.
Steinmetz, Andrew. The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims. London, 1870. Print.