A criminal courtesan
A scandalous seductress and forger, 18th-century Hebblewhite furniture and collectible illustrations enliven the salerooms
MARGARET CAROLINE RUDD was a scandalous figure in London during the 1770s and 1780s. The last time I mentioned her here (May 1, 1997), I did scant justice to her career—but then, during it, she managed to evade justice for herself. I noted that she was ‘a notable courtesan who was tried for forgery at the Old Bailey in 1775. Although acquitted, her career is said to have ended soon after, and today she is remembered only for giving her name to a design illustrated by Hepplewhite: the elaborate “Rudd” was “the most complete Dressing Table made, having every conveniience that can be wanted, or mechanism and ingenuity supply”.’ Since then, books have been written about her, including The Perreaus and Mrs Rudd by D. T. Andrew and R. Mcgowen (2001), and there is more still to be said.
Born about 1744, she was a tearaway Irish girl who married Lt Valentine Rudd of the 62nd Regiment in 1762. He was comfortably off, the son of a grocer and landlord in St Albans, but, once they moved to London, her extravagance soon impoverished him, and her many affairs drove him to attempt divorce. He failed and found himself in prison for her debts.
Although it has been said that little more is known of him once he had left her, this is not quite true. In 1798, two years before her death, according to the Gentleman’s Magazine, he ‘thought fit, by the name of V. R. Widower to marry a Lady whom he called Judith Briggs, Widow’. He died in a St Albans almshouse in 1809.
She, meanwhile, had taken up with a financier, Daniel Perreau, with whom she had three children. She also ran him into debt and then persuaded him and his twin Robert to commit forgery. To quote the Gentleman’s Magazine again: ‘She engaged the attention of the Publick by shaking from her own neck onto that of the Perreaus a halter in which she was very near being caught for giving a bond of William Adair, esq.’. She managed to charm judge and jury, but the unfortunate twins were hanged together at Newgate, holding hands as they were turned off. Mrs Rudd went on to have many more affairs, including one with James Boswell.
A newspaper noted that her house with Perreau was ‘exceedingly elegant, though the poor upholsterer is not paid one shilling for it’. At a contents sale shortly before the execution, the ‘commode dressing table of curious construction’ sold for 11 guineas,
Figs 1 and 2: ‘Rudd’ dressing table ‘of curious construction’. It may have belonged to the notorious forger Margaret Caroline Rudd. With W. R. Harvey