Famous Prostitutes and Courtesans in History
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Famous Prostitutes and Courtesans in History

Famous prostitutes and courtesans in different times and places in history

Prostitution is the act of providing sexual services to another person in exchange for money, while a courtesan is either a ruler’s mistress, a skilled entertainer in dance and singing, or a highly educated and independent woman of free morals who serves for social or political benefits.  Well, prostitution is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession.  Let’s take a look at some of the famous prostitutes or courtesans from different times and places in history:

Mata Hari (1876-1917)

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Better known by her stage name Mata Hari, Margaret Gertrude Zelle was an exotic dancer and courtesan, who gained considerable fame for having relationships with numerous military officers, politicians and others in influential positions from France, Russia and Germany.  She was eventually arrested and executed by firing squad under espionage charges during World War I.

Christine Keeler (b. 1942)

Christine Keeler was a British model and showgirl, whose involvement with a government minister in 1963 during Macmillan's administration became known as the "Profumo Affair".  John Profumo, the British Secretary of State for War, entered into the scandalous affair, without suspecting that she was also having an affair with a naval attaché at the Soviet Union embassy.

Divine Brown (b. 1969)

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Born Estella Marie Thompson, Divine Brown was a former American prostitute, who gained considerable public attention in 1995, when she was caught in a compromising situation with Hugh Grant, a British actor, in the latter’s car on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard.


Rahab assisted the spies sent by Joshua to investigate the military strength of Jericho in the promised land by hiding them under bundles of flax in her house and prevented them from being captured.  According to the book of Joshua of the Holy Bible, this biblical prostitute, along with her family, were preserved and incorporated among the Jewish people when the walled city of Jericho fell.

Aileen Wuornos (1956-2002)

Aileen Wuornos was sentenced to death in 1992 and executed by lethal injection in 2002, for her admission of killing seven men in separate incidents, all of whom she claimed to have raped her while she was working as a prostitute.

Her life was portrayed in the 2003 movie "Monster" by the South African actress Charlize Theron, who won

Veronica Franco (1546–1591)

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Veronica Franco was a courtesan in 16th century Venice, who had a brief liaison with King Henri III of France, and whose life and times were portrayed in the 1998 film "Dangerous Beauty".  A well-educated woman, she wrote two volumes of poetry: "Terze rime" (1575) and "Lettere familiari a diversi" (1580).

Aspasia (ca. 470 BC-ca. 400 BC)

Aspasia was a hetaera, that is, a high-class, educated, independent, tax-paying entertainer of ancient Greek society, something like a courtesan, but closer to the Japanese geisha.  She was notable for her involvement with the great Athenian statesman Pericles after he had divorced his first wife, and lived with him as if they were married.

Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005)

In 1971, Andrea Dworkinleft her husband, who began to physically abuse her soon after they were married, but finding herself homeless and penniless, she turned to prostitution temporarily to survive. This American feminist writer is best remembered for her criticism of pornography, which she argued led to rape and other forms of violence against women.

Xaviera Hollander (b. 1943)

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In the 1970s, Xaviera Hollander appeared on an album of celebrity covers of The Beatles' songs where she sang "Michelle". She was a former call girl, who used to write an advice column for Penthouse magazine called "Call Me Madam" and is best known as the author of the best-selling memoir "The Happy Hooker: My Own Story".

Laura Bell (1829–1894)

Laura Bell was most infamous for supposedly making £250,000 for spending a single night with Prince Jung Bahadoor of Nepal.  This famous courtesan of Victorian England subsequently experienced a religious conversion and became a preacher on morality.

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Comments (7)

Interesting article chronicling some famous (or infamous) prostitutes.

Ranked #80 in History

Yikes good list of woman famous at the world's oldest profession.

Ranked #55 in History

Interesting piece of history.

Ranked #104 in History

Nice article

Welcome to Factoidz Eddie. Once again, you wrote another interesting and informative article. I voted this up and I am following you.

Can we consider Mary Magdalene as one?

Ranked #41 in History

A very interesting list, Eddie. Could Marilyn Monroe be a courtesan for JFK?