Emma Elizabeth Crouch (1835 - 1886)

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Nicknames: "Cora Pearl"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: City of London, Greater London, UK
Death: Died
Occupation: Courtesan
Managed by: Anne-Marie Healy-Kalishoek (C)
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Immediate Family

About Emma Elizabeth Crouch

About Cora

  • Cora Pearl (1835–8 July 1886) was a famous courtesan of the 19th century French demimonde, born Emma Elizabeth Crouch.
  • Her date and place of birth are disputed, as she was believed to have forged her birth certificate, giving the date as 23 February 1842, and the place as Caroline Place, East Stonehouse, Plymouth, though it is more likely that she was born in London in 1835, and the family moved to Plymouth about 1837.
  • Her father was the cellist and composer Frederick Nicholls Crouch. In 1849 he left his family and emigrated permanently to the United States. Her mother sent Emma to a convent school in Boulogne where she stayed for eight years and learned passable French, among other things. It appears she had inherited enough musical talent from her father to later perform the role of Cupid in an 1867 production of Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld.

Life as a courtesan

  • While she was still trying to find her way in London, she became a prostitute, and happened to meet several reasonably wealthy men who were interested in becoming involved with her for more than just an evening's amusement. These men needed little convincing, as their main concern was an involvement with a woman who was pretty, and who could be socially acceptable, intelligent, witty and discreet. This was her doorway into life as a courtesan.
  • She became the mistress of Robert Bignell, the proprietor of the Argyll Rooms and together they visited Paris, a place she fell in love with so much that she refused to return to London with Bignell. In Paris she adopted the name of Cora Pearl, and embarked on a theatrical career, but was more successful for the sex appeal she exhibited than any other talents. Cora had learned excellent manners at the convent school she had attended in her youth, which helped her appeal to wealthy men. Cora's theatrical reputation quickly began to spread, and it was not long before several rich and powerful men in France were involved with her romantically. Although she had little money, she began wearing dresses by Charles Frederick Worth and Laferrière with the idea that her appearance of wealth would attract wealthy men to her, and she was right.
  • The Duke of Rivoli became her first major benefactor around this time. However, while with him, she developed a serious gambling habit, and after bailing her out financially one too many times, the Duke ended their affair. But she was cultivating new benefactors, including some of the richest, most powerful men in Europe.
  • A skilled craftsman of the time earned between two and four francs a day; she earned 5,000 a night. This relatively huge income allowed her to perform acts such as dancing nude on a carpet of orchids and then bathing before her dinner guests in a silver tub full of champagne. No one seemed bothered by her Cockney French, or her frank self interest. According to the Duke of Grammont-Caderousse, "If the Frères Provençaux served an omlette with diamonds in it, Cora would be there every night."
  • One copy of an early version of Cora's memoirs was discovered in 1982 in the hands of a German collector and re-published by Granada in 1983, under the title The Memoirs of Cora Pearl: The Erotic Reminiscences of a Flamboyant 19th Century Courtesan. She discusses in graphic detail her introduction to sexual pleasure at the Boulogne convent and the prowess and tastes of her later lovers, both famous and humble. Possibly the most titillating (and telling) scene describes her presentation at dinner, naked and decked in cream, as a final dish.
  • Her lovers included Prince Willem of Orange, son of King William III of the Netherlands; Prince Achille Murat, grandson of Joachim Murat; and the Duke of Morny, Napoleon III's half-brother. Morny, described by one historian as "a taller, handsomer edition of the Emperor", has been said to be the most intelligent and distinguished of her lovers, with an insatiable sexual appetite.
  • As mistress of the Emperor's brother, she felt important enough to rent the little Chateau de Beausejour on the banks of the Loiret outside Orléans in 1864, where she spent a small fortune entertaining. A few years after Morny's premature death in 1865, Cora became the mistress to Prince Napoleon, cousin to Emperor Napoleon III. He bought her two homes in Paris and supported her financially until 1874.

References & sources

-------------------- Emma Elizabeth Crouch, better known as Cora Pearl (1835–8 July 1886) was a famous courtesan of the 19th century French demimonde.

Family

Her father was the cellist and composer Frederick Nicholls Crouch. In 1849 he left his family and emigrated permanently to the United States. Her mother sent Emma to a convent school in Boulogne where she stayed for eight years and learned passable French, among other things. It appears she had inherited enough musical talent from her father to later perform the role of Cupid in an 1867 production of Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld.

How she became a courtesan

After her schooling was done, Emma moved in with her grandmother in London, and went to work for a milliner, which she found boring. What happened next sounds like something out of a romantic novel or a bad movie, but Emma claimed that one day she came out of church to find that her maid had disappeared. She was approached by a man who offered to buy her cakes. Not suspecting that he had ulterior motives, young Emma followed him to a gin palace where she got more than cakes. It was a classic case of a man getting a vulnerable young woman drunk and taking advantage of her. In her memoirs she claimed that she was only fifteen, but she was closer to twenty. In the morning he left her with a five pound note. According to Katie Hickman in her book Courtesans, while it sounds improbable, it was very common in the 19th century. However, given Cora’s penchant for strteching the truth and her rabid dislike of the man she called her step-father; it is possible that she was molested by him, and she created the story of her seducer to give an explanation for her career choice.

Having lost her virginity, Emma knew that she couldn’t go back to her grandmother’s house. She felt her only other option was prostitution.

Theatrical career

Paris was the place to be in the middle of the 19th Century during the Second Empire. It had become the center of the civilized world. The beginnings of modern French poetry, music and art began during the Second Empire, although most of the innovations were not recognized until after it was over.

A skilled craftsman of the time earned between two and four francs a day; she earned 5,000 a night. This relatively huge income allowed her to perform acts such as dancing nude on a carpet of orchids and then bathing before her dinner guests in a silver tub full of champagne. No one seemed bothered by her Cockney French, or her frank self interest. According to the Duke of Grammont-Caderousse, "If the Frères Provençaux served an omlette with diamonds in it, Cora would be there every night.

why she was a success

Cora Pearl was a sensation during the Second Empire. Although she wasn’t conventionally beautiful, Cora was sexy, with an enviable figure. People noted her tiny waist and her beautiful bosom. But more important than her looks was her spirit. Cora knew how to have fun; she could be spontaneous and outrageous. ... Cora also genuinely liked sex, which was not necessarily a job requirement for being a courtesan. She also had a way of flattering a man without sounding like she was trying too hard.

Famous lovers

Her lovers included Prince Willem of Orange, son of King William III of the Netherlands; Prince Achille Murat, grandson of Joachim Murat; and the Duke of Morny, Napoleon III's half-brother. Morny, described by one historian as "a taller, handsomer edition of the Emperor", has been said to be the most intelligent and distinguished of her lovers, with an insatiable sexual appetite.

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Cora Pearl's Timeline

1835
1835
City of London, Greater London, UK
1886
July 8, 1886
Age 51
????
Batignolles Cemetery, Ile-De-France, France