Elizabeth E’s story

Elizabeth E lived in London at the tail end of the 17th century, in the period directly following the activities of noted bawdy house keeper Elizabeth Cresswell. She appears in the Old Bailey records of the time, being indicted for keeping a “house of evil repute”, or in modern day parlance a brothel. This was in Flower-de-Luce Court – a name now standardised at Fleur-de-Lys – which was off Fetter Lane in the modern-day City of London. Near-contemporary records give this area as a not particularly desirable locality, with a reputation for lewd behaviour.

The Old Bailey reports say that:

“The Evidence Swore that oftentimes there was Swearing, Roaring and Damning all the Night long, drinking to such a pitch, that they would fall out, and cry out Murder. Her House is in Flower-de-luce Court in Fetter-Lane, where there have been several Lewd Women seen to resort, which did great damage not only to the Youth of this City, but to their Masters also; for the Witness Swore that there was a Mercer’s Apprentice in the Town that used to bring his Master’s Goods to the Prisoners, and give them to her, and other Lewd and Wicked Women; she was found guilty.”

As the owner of the bawdy house, with several women working for her, it is probable that Elizabeth was running a successful business, with a reasonable income – which was one way, albeit immoral in the accepted society of the day, for women to stay afloat. The fact that Elizabeth’s house was well known for corrupting local youth – aka apprentices – and their masters may mean that she and her companions were good at their job.

On being found guilty, Elizabeth was fined twenty pounds – a considerable amount of money in those days – and to find sureties for her good behaviour for a calendar year past the trial. She was also made to remain in prison until she had paid the money.

There is no further entry for Elizabeth in the Old Bailey proceedings. She may have paid her fine, served her time, and kept her house in a more discrete manner. However, a prisoner with a similar surname – variations in 17th century spelling precludes an exact match – was buried at a nearby church about five years later. This may also be her, if she was unable to pay her fine and remained in prison.

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