A crim­i­nal cour­te­san

A scan­dalous se­duc­tress and forger, 18th-cen­tury Heb­ble­white fur­ni­ture and col­lectible il­lus­tra­tions en­liven the sale­rooms

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

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

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