Teresia Constantia Phillips, courtesan, bigamist and author of her autobiography, first appeared on the radar whilst researching the duchesses of Bolton, for our upcoming book, The History of the Dukes of Bolton which is due to be published very shortly by Pen and Sword Books.
Teresia, better known as Con, claimed that the Duchess of Bolton was her godmother, in her ‘Apology for the Conduct of Mrs T C Phillips’, written in three parts, the first of which was published in 1748, from her home at Craig’s court, Charing Cross, near Whitehall.
This appeared to be quite a claim with little to substantiate it. Of course, it became necessary to know more about Con and to establish how much of her story was true, especially the connection with the Duchess of Bolton.
Certain sources claim that the reference was to the 4th Duke of Bolton’s wife, Catherine Parry, this could not be feasible – the dates simply didn’t work, Catherine didn’t become the Duchess until 1754, long after Con published her Apology, so it had to be have been Henrietta, the 2nd Duchess of Bolton, wife of Charles Powlett.
In order to establish whether the snippet of information Con provided about the Duchess of Bolton had any truth to it, it’s necessary to take a brief look at Henrietta, Duchess of Bolton’s ancestry, which will make sense later in the story.
Born Henrietta Crofts, she was the illegitimate daughter of Eleanor Needham or Nedham (the spelling seems to vary becoming Nedham when part of the family moved to Jamaica) and James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685). Henrietta was given the surname Crofts as it was the name adopted by her father when he was in the care of the Crofts baronets.
Her maternal grandfather being Sir Robert Needham of Lambeth, one of the sons of Thomas Needham of Pool Park, Denbighshire and his wife Eleanor Bagenal and her aunt was Jane Myddleton nee Needham, one of the Petworth Beauties’.
Sir Robert married twice, Eleanor being his daughter by his first wife, Jane Cockayne. She had several siblings, but after the death of Jane, Sir Robert married a second time, his new wife being a Mary Hartopp, with whom he had at least a further two sons, Robert and George.
Of these two sons Colonel George, is the significant one in this story. Colonel George Nedham left England for the Caribbean in 1680 and married Mary Byam, the daughter of William Byam, Governor of Antigua and his wife Dorothy Knollys, from an extremely distinguished family.
George and Mary had several children, but it’s the eldest child, Robert (1672-1738) that we’re interested in right now.
Robert married Elizabeth Shirley and again had several children, but the one who is important in this story is Henry. Remember that name as it will crop up in Con’s story, but in the meantime, here is the family tree to help.
So, let’s return to the beginning of Teresia Constantia’s complicated life; a life which she recounted in her ‘Apology’ which we know ran to three volumes, although she claimed there was a fourth, which, if it existed, hasn’t been discovered.
According to her ‘Apology’ she was born January 2, 1708/9 at somewhere she referred to as West Chester, now this could have meant west of the city of Chester, or somewhere completely different, whichever it was there is no sign of her baptism, assuming she was ever baptised.
Con claimed that she was the daughter of Thomas Phillips, the younger brother of the Phillips of Picton Castle in Wales. Her paternal grandfather, she claimed, married an heiress of the Powlett family, if that were the case, evidence is sadly lacking.
Her maternal grandfather was said to have been the younger brother of Sir Henry Goodrick of Yorkshire and her maternal grandmother was of the Deans of Wiltshire. Her parents married 1707/8 when her father was Captain of Grenadiers in Lord Slane’s regiment, afterwards Lord Longford. Colonel Thomas Phillips possibly married Frances, niece of Sir Henry Goodricke, but that too remains speculation, so all very well connected.
It was around 1717 that her father, Thomas left the army and was in poor circumstances so took his wife and children to London. The family at this point was split up with the eldest son being sent to Barbados and Con’s godmother, the one she claimed was the Duchess of Bolton arranging for Con to attend Mrs Filler’s (Filer’s) prestigious boarding school in Prince’s Court Westminster. There she learnt the skills which she would later rely on as one of the most well-known courtesans of the day.
This arrangement didn’t last very long as about 1720 her mother died, and Con was promptly withdrawn from the school. According to Con, her father quickly remarried, his choice of bride being the family’s servant, someone that Con didn’t get along with very well.
It was when she was just thirteen, according to her Apology, that she was seduced and raped by someone she only ever referred to as Thomas Grimes, possibly because she never knew his name, although it has often been thought this to be Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, but this has now been revised and it is now believed to have been Thomas Lumley-Saunderson, 3rd Earl of Scarborough.
Irrespective of which one of them it was, Con found herself in desperate straits and by 1721 aged under thirteen, she was in need of money as she was facing arrest for debt. Desperate to rid herself of her debts and thus avoid prison, Con paid ten guineas to a Mr William Morrell of Durham Yard to procure a potential husband for her. The idea of this being that the man would marry her and that way her debts became his, allowing her to avoid debtors prison. At that time the legal age for marriage was 14 for the groom, but just 12 for the bride, this remained to situation until the Marriage Act 1753, which is part came about as a result of Con’s marriages.
With that thought in mind, a willing participant was found, to become husband number one, in the shape of a Francis Devall. Apparently, William Morrell got him drunk, presumably so that he couldn’t identify her later, and once somewhat inebriated, the sham marriage took place at Saint Benet Paul’s Wharf, to a Francis Devall (or Delafield), a man she had never seen before and with whom she had never exchanged a word. Clandestine marriages were often performed by needy chaplains without banns or a licence and on the day that Con married Francis Devall, a further three marriages took place which must have kept the chaplain busy.
After the ceremony Con suddenly became a respectable married woman, Mrs Devall and with it, came the freedom from debt, at which point, she rapidly packed her bags and left for Rouen, France, where she remained for a few months before returning to England. She offered no explanation for this sudden sojourn, but presumably it was somewhere to lay low until the dust settled with her debts all cleared, and to allow enough time so that Devall couldn’t identify her.
What of course Con perhaps didn’t know at that time, was that her new husband was already married and his wife, still very much alive. He had married Magdalen Youn of St Andrews, Holborn on 17 September 1718, using the name Francis Delafield, so as to which was his real name we will never know.
Very soon after this escapade Con found herself being courted by a wealthy Dutch merchant named Henry Muilman (c1700-1772), who quickly succumbed to her charms and whilst her expectations being that she would be his mistress, he wanted to make her his wife, so it appears that without divorcing her first husband, she married husband number two, Henry on 9 February, 1723.
But this marriage was a big mistake as they did not get along with each other and his family utterly disapproved of her. According to Con he was violent and abusive toward her and that having married her he was able to use her as he pleased – she was after all his wife, and behaviour like that was often regarded as acceptable at the time.
From her Apology, Volume 1, Con wrote of Henry
What! (he would say) not sleep with you? Are not you my wife! my dearest wife? Have I not made you so, at the price of my ruin? Yes, I will have you, and not all the powers in Heaven or in Earth shall keep you from me; and would sit sometimes on a chair whole nights by her bedside: at others, he would come to her, and half a dozen of these strange fellows with him, and beat, and abuse her in the most barbarous manner; and, if he found her in bed, strip the cloaths from off her, and expose her, to them, naked, as she lay; or drag her, by the hair of her head, out of bed.
Eventually, in order to escape from this marriage and to rid himself of her, according to the Daily Post, 3 March 1725, Henry obtained a ‘nullity of marriage with the daughter of Captain Thomas Phillips, on account of her prior marriage with an attorney’s clerk’. This annulment however, cost him a generous annuity of £200, but Muilman refused to pay up and a lengthy dispute between them began.
In 1728 Henry married for a second time, his new wife and mother to his two children being Ann Darnell, the daughter of Sir John Darnell, Sergeant at Law and Judge of the Palace Court.
Con had relationships with numerous men including the mysterious Mr B., whom she said she had known from childhood, but his identify still appears to be well hidden. Although never named, she said he was the son of a General, who would ultimately inherit a substantial fortune. The pair travelled around Europe, proclaiming to be married, living the high life and spending money like water. However, in 1728 they had a major argument and Con took herself off to a convent in Ghent where she remained for around 18 months, the couple eventually agreeing to go their separate ways.
When this relationship ended, she became moved on to have a relationship with to Sir Herbert Pakington, a wealthy baronet, who was married to Elizabeth Conyers at the time. This was to be yet another relationship which ended badly as he proved to be a jealous lover and became so jealous that he attempted to take his own life on at least two occasions, once by use of his sword at the dinner-table. On the second occasion, enough was enough for Con and she ended that relationship and disappeared to her convent in France.
However, Pakington didn’t give up easily and regularly wrote to her pleading for her to return, despite the newspapers apparently having accused her of attempted murder. The London Evening Post, 25 February 1731, however, noted that he was ‘in a fair way of recovery’. So clearly there not too much harm done.
Pakington travelled over to France to meet her but appeared to be jealous of anyone she spoke to and attempted to take his life again. That was the final straw and Con left him once back in England and placed herself under the care of Lord Falkland at his home in Hertfordshire.
However, on 16 Apr 1734, Lucius Charles Cary, 7th Viscount Falkland married the widow Jane Butler and made Con a payment for agreeing to release him from their arrangement, thereby making him free to marry some more suitable, an heiress.
Quite what became of Con for the next few years appears somewhat vague. During the time she spent with B she accumulated quite a bit of money, plus the money from Lord Falkland, so began spending it on litigation over her marriage to Muilman.
Whilst these relationships had be going on, she involved herself with someone simply named as ‘Tartuffe’ the French word for imposter or hypocrite. It has been widely acknowledged now that it was Philip Southcote, son of Sir Edward Southcote. With Tartuffe she had a child, which lived until it was aged just eleven, so until the early 1740’s, and which Tartuffe failed to support. She did not confirm the gender of this child, so it seems we will never know more about it apart from that Tartuffe only saw the child on less than a dozen occasions. There was a curious entry on 15 Jul 1740 in the General Evening Post:
By Letters from Jamaica we hear that the celebrated Con Phillips died there in April last, after a short illness
Given that we know Con hadn’t died, could this have misinterpreted and that it was her child who died, speculation of course.
The only other piece of information we know about Tartuffe being that he was married at the time. It was clearly a volatile relationship as Con spent most of the second volume of her ‘Apology’ telling readers how dreadfully he had behaved toward her.
Part 2 can be found by clicking the highlighted link here.