Day 19 of Outlander Starz’s offerings is a sneak peek of Jamie and Murtagh in a Paris brothel.
The picture above of Jamie and Murtagh, intriguing and socializing in a Paris brothel, piqued my curiosity. So, I did a little research on the history of prostitution in the magical city of Paris.
Paris in the early 1800s was the second largest city in Europe (after London) and provided its citizens with common goods and luxury items from around the world, as well as access to approximately 200 legalized, high-class brothel establishments, plus an unknown number of illegal, lower-class bordellos. At the time the Frasers visit Paris in 1774, prostitution would have been classified as a mostly tolerated profession.
Once legalized, brothel establishments were not allowed to hire virgins as sex workers, but we all know how strictly that law was not enforced. The condition of having one’s virginity taken meant the woman was unsuitable for marriage, thus she was only useful for prostitution. However, street prostitution and tavern solicitation were not legalized at the time. The women arrested from unauthorized establishments and those off the street were tried (I’m sure very fairly), had their heads shaved, then were thrown into Paris’ infamous La Salpêtrière.
The old gunpowder factory was a special penetentiary for prostitutes. The unfortunate women were housed with the other unwanted dregs of society – the mentally ill, criminally insane, epileptics, and of course, the poorest of the poor.
On a related note, King Louis XIV was the first western ruler to institute an organized police force in 1667. Included among the departments in the late 18th century was a vice squad which focused solely on the dames entretenues – the kept women – of Paris. Their activities were logged, but the women rarely received harassment because of their high-class clients. The fille du mode – the lower class street prostitutes – received less gentle treatment by other police personnel and often ended up in La Salpêtrière.
Jamie and Murtagh visit what is known as an “elite” establishment because it’s where the elite of Paris society hang their hats and other articles of clothing. Of course, the king never visited the lowly brothel houses himself – not when he could have the women brought to him, which is exactly what King Louis XV did.
King Louis XV had several mistresses over the course of his reign. His maîtresse-en-titre – official mistress – resided within the walls of Versailles in her own apartment and appeared beside him at court. Madame de Pompadour would have been present at court during the Frasers time in Paris, but she didn’t rise to the title of maîtresse-en-titre until March of 1745, after Jamie and Claire’s return to Scotland. Madam de Pompadour suffered two miscarriages but remained close friends with the king even after they ceased to be lovers sometime after 1750.
The king’s second tier mistresses, les petites maîtresses – the lesser mistresses – were housed near the palace but were not presented at court. One such petite maîtresse, Marie-Louise O’Murphy, was made famous by a François Boucher painting, circa 1752. Only 15-years-old at the time of the sitting, this would be considered child pornography by today’s laws.
It’s believed the young Irish beauty came to the attention of the king through the painting above – whether she intended to catch his eye intentionally is uncertain. Regardless, King Louis XV requested a private meeting to find out for himself if she looked as beautiful in person as she did in the painting. Apparently, Marie-Louise O’Murphy enraptured the king. After having her virginity confirmed – a job for the king’s first valet – she became an official mistress.
Marie-Louise served as one of Louis XV’s mistresses for nearly two years, became his favorite of the petites maîtresses and provided him with an illegitimate daughter, Agathe-Louise de Saint-Antoine de Saint-André, in 1754. Misfortune struck when she made a play for the title of maîtresse-en-titre. The king dismissed her, and she was shipped off to a marriage arranged by the powerful friends of Madame de Pompadour.
As fascinating as the stories are of Louis XV and his mistresses (the elitist of the prostitutes), let’s get back to the less palatial Paris brothels.
In the interest of keeping the clients happy, the most exclusive establishments employed masters of writing, dance and music to educate the women. This higher breeding better served the political, noble, and other socially-elevated clients.
The Frasers arrive near the height of the Rococo movement which affected many aspects of art and interior design. Rococo relied on ornate, yet elegant, furniture to decorate the rooms of the wealthy. Interior architecture was complimented by smaller sculptures, ornamental mirrors and tapestries, some of which can be seen in this painting of a French bourgeois family by François Boucher.
As you can see from the picture of Jamie and Murtagh, they are also surrounded by finely-crafted furniture, opulent lighting and luxurious rugs. Add to that a bit of high quality liquor, and the two men are set for the evening.
In keeping with the popular style of the time, the madam would have hired artists and designers to create a suitable environment for her clients by providing lavish paintings, fashionable sculptures and elegant décor – because scantily-clad women who could read, dance and play the piano weren’t enough.
Brothel houses were legal in Paris from the early 1800s until finally being shut down shortly after World War II. Two of the most luxurious and famous establishments of the 1930s and 40s were known simply as One Two Two, located at 122, rue de Provence, and Le Chabenais, located at 12, rue de Chabenais. Take a look at two of the theme rooms available at the Chabenais. Not too shabby.
Production Designer Jon Gary Steel offers some insight into creating the beautiful new sets for Season 2 in this Below the Line article: Production Designer Jon Gary Steele Designs for Two Different Eras In Outlander
Finally, on a fun note . . . through my research, I found three websites which might interest anyone who’d like to visit the old red light districts of Paris. One is a tour guide service and the other two are listings of “stimulating” places to visit on your own.
Paris Unique Experiences – Maud (no last name) provides private tours to iconic brothel locations and shares the history and stories of the most notorious Parisian brothels.
Ooh Là Là! The 10 Most Risqué Spots In Paris – Includes a museum, swingers club, naked chef service and a rather erotic bakery.
Inside the Paris Brothels of the Belle Époque – Provides history and an inside look at the Chabenais, as well as links to two former-brothel-turned-hotels. [Warning: Some pictures contain nudity.]
I’m not endorsing any of the websites above because I’ve never visited or used any of the services provided. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Have fun exploring on your own!