Theresa Berkley, BDSM escort and madam

For some reason sex seems so much more delicious when thought of in restrained historical contexts; as children we learned about the morals and good deeds of men and women throughout history, and of the progression of civil rights and equality. As adults we can look at those same time periods—Victorian England, Puritanical New England, late 19th-century France—with a grownup eye that exposes the seedy underbelly of what lust and love ran underneath the starched collars and trim boots.

The Victoria era of England began in 1837 and ended in 1901 with the reign of Queen Victoria II. During this time the country grew industrially and saw a relative level of peace and prosperity. The increased creation of railroads and bridges made travel more easily possible, factories brought many teeming to the cities for work and amateur hobbies such as photography and natural studies such as bird-watching entertained the wealthy along with museums, theatre and literature.

But, just as it did during the Gilded Age of the United States and the Belle Epoque of Europe to come, this time also brought extreme poverty and hardship.

Think of what you remember of Charles Dickens novels. They are loaded with orphans and lost parents, with factory workers and prostitutes. Unskilled laborers flocked to cities in hopes for factory work and then were left in debtors’ prisons when they couldn’t make enough to sustain their own lives.

This dichotomy—the prosperity of the so-called nation, which means a handful of people who became insanely rich and powerful vs the extreme depravity of those who couldn’t make ends meet—resulted in “The Great Social Evil”.

Also known as prostitution.

See, along with extreme poverty, child labor, poor health due to unregulated working conditions and strict social views on a women’s place in society, there was the general lack of men. There were 4% more women than men in Britain at the time, so many women would naturally remain unwed and face the financial burden of providing for themselves.

Many, of course, turned to prostitution. Venereal disease was rampant and women suspected of infection could be randomly turned in and checked by medics. Many essays and political philosophies abounded about what was to be done about these women. And, sadly, some of the women affected by this era entered prostitution by no choice of their own, but desperation.

Theresa Berkley was not one such woman.

We know extremely little about her personal life or what brought her to the profession. She was evidently a devout Catholic and had a brother. But no images or records of her family remain as her personal journals and memoirs were destroyed after her death.

What has remained, however, is her legacy at being one of the first and finest dominatrix escorts and madams, and her inventing of the Berkley Chair.

Like current specialty escort sites that focus on fulfilling the fantasies of their clients, Theresa knew that a gap needed to be filled in Victorian society. In contrast to the religious fervor and propriety that was the acceptable social norm was the energy and angst of the aristocratic class. Yes, this is historically thought of as a time of enforced morality and prosperity. Yet that Dickensian undercurrent broke waves into all levels of social order. And, like the religious flagellants who beat themselves to humble before god, sometimes just being whipped felt oh-so-good.

So Theresa opened a fantasy escort service on Hallam Street in north London. While some records call it flat out a brothel—suggesting Theresa and her employees were engaging in prostitution—most stories lean much more heavily on the time she spent with her clients and how she and her ladies satisfied them. Very few records speak of sex particularly. Most speak of pleasure. Which is how, in her 8 years as an escort madam, she made so much money that no one knew what to do with it after her death.

Theresa specialized in what we now know as BDSM—the bondage, dominance and sadomasochism fantasies that make us think of handcuffs, black leather collars and long snappy whips. She was called a “governess”, meaning she focused on discipline and condescension with her clients.

For the most part, Theresa only gave the beatings, unless a client could be trusted to inflict pain on her that stayed within the rules she set up. Sometimes a fellow escort in her employ would contribute, satisfying the client in one way while he or she was being worked on in another.

Yes, there were women among her clients.

The aristocracy at the time and those in political power faced seemingly endless contradictions in their religious and social spheres and great amounts of restrain—tight-fitting suits, corsets, buckles and starch locked them into clothing. Women had few rights and were brought up to be wives, trained in arts and entertainment if wealthy and how to barely sustain a family if poor. The cities were dirty, and could be harsh. Social interaction was restrained.

Sometimes the pain needed to be felt on the outside.

Theresa rose in her profession because of the incredibly variety and quality of her instruments. Along with the Berkley Horse, which let a client expose whichever part of themselves they desired and could be rested at any angle to better serve the fantasy, she had hooks in the ceiling by which she could tie and hand clients by their hands, various soft and scratchy natural tree limbs depending on the season, whips and nettles and restrains of all sorts.

She was known for being beautiful, with a sound business head. She was also known for being discreet—she never exposed any of her clients and after her death her careful records were destroyed so to aid in the anonymity.

Overall, hers was an incredibly lucrative and generally respected BDSM escort service.

Upon her natural death she left a large sum of money to her brother, who had been a missionary in Australia. When he returned home and learned the source of the fortune he had inherited, he denounced it and gave the money back. Without children or other relatives to take it, it went back to the royal purse.

Rulers never frown on the source of their income.


Sources:

  1. http://public.diversity.org.uk/deviant/ssflg1.htm#Berkley
  2. http://revelationawaitsanappointedtime.blogspot.com/2010/03/theresa-berkley.html
  3. http://www.victorianweb.org/history/sochistov.html
  4. http://hestoopstoworship.blogspot.com/2010/08/victorian-dominatrix_3980.html?zx=d43ef3bf1422d032
  5. http://femdommag.com/?p=401
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresa_Berkeley