Shameless Facts About Fanny Murray, Queen Of The Courtesans

April 30, 2024 | Brendan Da Costa

Shameless Facts About Fanny Murray, Queen Of The Courtesans

Fanny Murray was the 18th century courtesan who had London’s most powerful men worshiping at her feet. The mere mention of her name was enough to bring the rich and powerful to ruin.

1. She Was The Top Trollop

Fanny Murray, born Fanny Rudman, was 18th century London’s top courtesan. An innocent young girl thrust into the seedy demi-monde against her will, she would go on to become the focal point of several sordid career-ending scandals. Even after she traded in her tawdry life for a married one, she could not outrun her seedy past.

fanny murray

2. Her Family Was Respectable

The details of Fanny Murray’s early childhood are largely lost to history. However, we do know that she was born in 1729 in Bath, England and that her father was a respectable musician called “Rudman”. Her mother, sadly, is virtually unknown but appears to have passed away long before she could teach Murray the ways of womanhood.

Her father’s friends didn’t exactly set a good example.

Portrait of Fanny Murray by Thomas Ross in dress and a hatThomas Ross, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Became An Orphan

Murray’s father was friends with the famous “dandy”, Beau Nash, whose flamboyant lifestyle also made him a notorious womanizer and philanderer. However, their close friendship also indicates that Murray grew up in a somewhat respectable middle class family. That is, until tragedy struck. 

Her father passed on, leaving her orphaned at the age of 12. After that, she would have to take drastic measures to survive.

Beau Nash portrait in epoch clothesMichaelMaggs, Wikimedia Commons

4. She Sold Flowers To Survive

As a lowly orphan, Murray fell into poverty. Her prospects certainly didn’t look good but she had an enterprising spirit. She managed to eke out just enough to survive by selling flowers in the Abbey and outside the Assembly Rooms in Bath. It provided her with an excellent opportunity to people-watch. What she observed shocked her.

Fanny Murray portraitHenry Robert Morland, Wikimedia Commons

5. Her Youthful Beauty Attracted Attention

While selling her flowers, Fanny Murray noticed that wealthy men seemed to have beautiful women on their arms who weren’t their wives. She was, herself, quite fetching for a young girl and wondered how she might become one of these kept ladies. Unfortunately for her, while she was busy watching the ladies, someone else was watching her.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

6. She Lost Her “Blossom”

Murray sold beautiful flowers but, one fateful day, she encountered a customer who was interested in a bloom of a very different kind. The young orphan girl met John Spencer, the grandson of the legendary general, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Spencer, an even more notorious rake than Nash, seduced Murray and took the bloom off her flower.

Sadly, that was just the beginning of her hardship.

John SpencerGeorge Knapton, Wikimedia Commons

7. She Fell In With A Bad Crowd

Spencer had stolen Murray’s innocence and besmirched the young girl. The consequences were brutal. After he discarded her, she fell into an even worse crowd. Her next “customer” was a captain in the army and, allegedly, a few reprobates and seedy characters followed after that. Her life might have ended in the gutter if a certain gentleman hadn’t intervened.

He was the person she would have least expected.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

8. She Had Unlikely Savior

Of all the people to come to Murray’s rescue, she could never have predicted it would have been Beau Nash. Her deceased father’s friend saw the poor girl out on her luck but spotted the potential that she had for making powerful men go weak in her presence. Well into his 60s, he invited Murray to live with him as his “help-mate”.

Her world was about to change dramatically.

Beau Nash in brown clothes and a hatNational Portrait Gallery London, Picryl

9. She Learned The Tricks Of The Trade

It’s likely that Nash took advantage of Murray’s misfortune to satisfy his insatiable appetite for pleasure. However, unlike the other men in her past, Nash paid her for her services. He introduced Murray to the finer things in life and taught her a great deal about high-society men and how to manipulate them. Her new skills were about to rock the nation’s capital.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

10. She Struck Out On Her Own

After a few years serving as Nash’s mistress, Murray was ready to strike out on her own. Even though she was just 14 years old, she left Bath and moved to London, where all of the real big spenders lived. However, she knew that if she wanted to make money, she would have to spend money. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any of that.

Her poverty made her take drastic measures.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

11. She Had A Bath Benefactor

Without two pennies to rub together, Murray became a “dress-lodger”—ie, an indentured courtesan who works to pay off the dresses, makeup, and jewelry needed for her trade. It seems likely that Nash, who still lived in Bath, was her benefactor. However, if she was going to conquer the big city, she would need someone local to help her.

She should have been careful what she wished for.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

12. She Teamed Up With The Procurer

Just like it had with John Spencer back in Bath, Murray’s beauty attracted the attention of another influential older man. This time, however, it was Jack Harris, one of London’s premiere procurers, who noticed the young girl from the countryside with her innocent-looking eyes. However, before he took her on as a client, he had to be certain of one thing.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

13. She Was (Surprisingly) Clean

As the leading “procurer” of women in London, Harris had a reputation to protect—which meant he had to go to disturbing lengths before he “hired” Murray. Before he agreed to work with her, he had her checked for disease. Thankfully, her earlier encounters hadn’t left her with any illnesses (not physical, at least) and Harris included her in his booklet, Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies.

It was just the kind of advertising she needed.

Fanny Murray by Richard BennettRichard Bennet, Wikimedia Commons

14. She Was A “New Face”

With Harris’ help, it would only be a matter of time before Fanny Murray had a lucrative client list of seemingly respectable, powerful men. There were just a few details that they had to fudge first. Despite the fact that Murray had been a “working girl” for years, Harris’ booklet described her as a “new face”. That wasn’t the only lie she and Harris told.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

15. She Lied About Her Age

Respectable courtesans, as Murray aimed to be, had to be of age in order to protect the honor of their clients. However, when Murray teamed up with Harris, she was still under the age of 17. Either knowingly or unknowingly, however, Harris, in his booklet, misrepresented Murray as “rising nineteen next season”. Murray’s little deception paid off—bigly.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

16. She Became The Most-Desired Courtesan

With Harris’ help (and her own fudging of facts), Fanny Murray took to the Covent Gardens scene like a storm. Her unique “skills” and peculiarly fresh beauty quickly made her one of the most sought-after courtesans in all of London, catapulting her to the very top of the demi-monde. She had no idea the kind of mania she was about to set off.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

17. She Was Insanely Famous

Even though Fanny Murray performed her “talents” behind closed doors, she developed a very public reputation. In fact, she became so famous—think 18th century Kardashian famous—that she was on the tips of everyone’s lips (sometimes literally). One famous diarist from the time wrote, “it was a vice not to be acquainted with Fanny; it was [an offense] not to toast her at every meal”.

She even had famous fans.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

18. She Even Seduced Casanova

The hype around Murray and obsession with her beauty can’t be overstated. In fact, she even had other famous beauties fawning over her. When Murray was the guest of honor at the British Ambassador to Venice’s casino, she attracted the attention of the famed Lothario, Giacomo Casanova. But, if he wanted a piece of Fanny’s fanny, he would have to line-up.

Like everyone else.

Giacomo Casanova portrait in fur coatAlessandro Longhi, Wikimedia Commons

19. She Was The First “Pin-Up”

By 1749, Murray-mania was in full swing. Before long, men all over England who couldn’t afford a moment in her presence, far less a whole night, began buying mezzotint prints of her likeness. They then pinned up these prints in their homes, making her the first ever “pin-up” model. There was even more obsessive behavior than that.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

20. She Was In Everyone’s Pocket

Men who couldn’t afford Murray’s services (which was every man except the uber-wealthy) still made sure to get their “time” with her. In addition to the pin-ups on their walls, men in England began to keep cutouts of Murray’s face between the outer and inner layers of their pocket watches. It was all getting to be too much for Murray to handle on her own.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

21. She Had A Mini Me

Fanny Murray was more famous than she could have imagined and her client list was filling up faster than she could handle. But, with the money rolling in, she didn’t want to refuse any business—so she came up with a strange practice. 

Rumor has it that Murray hired a body double to keep up with the growing demand for her services. She may have shared her secrets with more than just one other woman, however.

Fanny Hill italian production  based on Fanny MurrayMultimedia Film Production, Fanny Hill (2010)

22. She Was An Erogenous Educator

Even if Fanny Murray managed to find a whole barracks worth of women who looked just like her, what men really wanted was her…”je ne sais quoi” in the boudoir. Once again, she proved her entrepreneurial spirit when she published a pamphlet called The Careless Maid, that gave her advice on how to become a “complete French lady”.

But there was an even more scandalous publication bearing her name.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

23. She Inspired A Scandalous Novel

Fanny Murray practically became synonymous with the life and adventures of courtesans. As such, she was the likely inspiration for John Cleland’s novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, or Fanny Hill. The scandalous novel told the story of a lowly orphan who rose to prominence as a courtesan, oddly mirroring Murray’s story…complete with pictures.

She inspired one of the harshest book bans of all time..

John ClelandUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

24. She “Corrupted The King’s Subjects”

Even though Murray’s client list included many prominent men in government, they weren’t exactly thrilled to see their escapades fictionalized in Fanny Hill. Mortified at having their dirty deeds publicized like that, they went to extreme lengths to cover their dirty little secrets. 

The government banned the book and charged Cleland with “corrupting the King's subjects”. The scandal only made Murray-mania even worse.

Fanny Hill italian production  based on Fanny MurrayMultimedia Film Production, Fanny Hill (2010)

25. She Was A Fashion Icon

The Fanny Hill crisis drove Murray-mania into hyperdrive. To her gentlemen clients, she was now a dangerous forbidden fruit. And to the women of London, she was a symbol of rebellion and independence that they wanted to emulate. As such, Murray became a singularly unique fashion icon with women wanting to wear everything she did.

Or didn’t.

Renoir Portrait of a GirlPierre-Auguste Renoir, Wikimedia Commons

26. She Had A Hat Named After Her

There was no question that Fanny Murray was beautiful—but not perfect. As one of her contemporaries put it, her face was “handsome though somewhat awry”. As such, Murray always wore a custom, broad-brimmed hat called a “Fanny Murray cap” to hide her gentle imperfections. But the other fashion trends she started didn’t try to hide anything.

Fanny Hill italian productionMultimedia Film Production, Fanny Hill (2010)

27. She Had Copycats

One essayist from the time complained about Murray’s impact on the London fashion scene. He wrote, “If Fanny Murray [chooses] to vary the fashion of her apparel, immediately every Lucretia in town takes notice of the change, and modestly copies the chaste original”. People even followed Murray’s wildly indecent fashions.

Fanny Hill italian production  based on Fanny MurrayMultimedia Film Production, Fanny Hill (2010)

28. She Showed Off Her Assets

The same essayist continued his diatribe against Murray’s takeover of the fashion scene. He made fun of the women following her trends, writing, “If Fanny shews the coral centre of her snowy orbs [gentle speak for nips]—miss, to outstrip her, orders the stays to be cut an inch or two lower; and kindly displays the whole lovely circumference”.

But Fanny Murray never gave anything away for free.

Fanny Hill italian production  based on Fanny MurrayMultimedia Film Production, Fanny Hill (2010)

29. She Had A Sandwich

At the height of her fame and fortune, Fanny Murray decided that it was finally time to cash in. She became the longtime mistress of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Montagu was so obsessed with Murray that he kept a portrait of her unclothed body in his house which he proudly displayed to all of his guests. But he didn’t keep her all to himself.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of SandwichJoseph Highmore, Wikimedia Commons

30. She Was A “Nun”

Montagu introduced Murray to the Hellfire Club; a highly secretive and exclusive club of powerful philanderers who needed a safe place to practice their debauchery. Montagu proudly brought Murray around to the club’s “events” where she participated as a “nun”. Of course, she was not the kind of “nun” that you’re likely thinking of.

John Montagu, 4Th Earl Of SandwichThomas Gainsborough, Wikimedia Commons

31. She Took Part In Satanic Rituals

The Hellfire Club’s activities included “satanic trappings” such as seances and “obscene parodies of religious rites”. The debauched events can barely be put into words but, suffice to say, they included all manner of Dionysinian bacchanal that made even Murray blush. The unprintable events of the Hellfire Club that she witnessed would eventually come back to haunt her.

Hellfire ClubWilliam Hogarth, Wikimedia Commons

32. She Became An Honest Woman

After what she witnessed in the Hellfire Club, Fanny Murray was ready to settle down and step back from the demi-monde. In fact, she wanted to become a respectable woman—or something approximating one. So, she married the minor noble, Sir Richard Atkins, 6th Baronet, believing that he could support her financially. She was mistaken.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

33. Her Husband Slept With The Competition

For Fanny Murray, old habits proved hard to break. Neither she nor Atkins remained faithful to each other during their marriage. In fact, their marriage was downright volatile, as Atkins continued spending lavishly on other courtesans, including some of Murray’s biggest competitors, Kitty Fisher and Sophia Baddeley. Then Atkins insulted Murray in a way she couldn’t forgive.

Kitty Fisher And ParrotJoshua Reynolds, Wikimedia Commons

34. She Had To Beg For Money

Fanny Murray had grown accustomed to making her own money as the demi-monde’s most sought-after courtesan. But, as a married woman, she had to rely on Atkins for money. Unfortunately, he was spending all of his cash on Murray’s old competitors so, when she complained to him that she didn’t have enough spending money, he tossed a £20 note her way.

What she did with it was shocking.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

35. She Ate A Money Sandwich

Even on a discount night, Murray could have commanded much more than a paltry £20. So, when Atkins tried to dismiss her with the pathetic sum, she couldn’t help but feel insulted. Angrily, she fired back at him, “[Darn] your £20, what does it signify?” She then placed the bill between two loaves of bread and proceeded to eat it.

Given what happened next, however, she should have stashed that money away in a piggy bank.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

36. Her Husband Left Her In Debt

After a few years of an unhappy marriage, things between Murray and Atkins came to an abrupt end when Atkins passed away unexpectedly. Even though there was definitely no love lost on Murray’s side, she did lose one thing: financial security. Atkins had squandered away all of his family’s wealth, leaving Murray with a mountain of his debt.

She would need all of her entrepreneurial wiles to get out of this one.

Rebecca Night as Fanny Hill based on Fanny Murray BBC, Fanny Hill (2007)

37. She “Sponged-Up” Gossip

At 27, Fanny Murray was past her prime and she couldn’t rely on her beauty for income like she had before. Unable to pay off the debts that Atkins had left her with, she was carted off to a “sponging-house”, a type of lockup for people with big debts. But the only thing she was “sponging-up” in that house was juicy, profitable gossip.

Debtors Prisonnikoretro, Flickr

38. She Learned Something Very Interesting

Murray had gotten herself out of poverty before with nothing but her resourcefulness. This time would be no different. After just a few weeks or months in the sponging-house, she learned that John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer was getting married. He just so happened to be the son of the elder John Spencer, the man who had defiled her when she was just 12.

She saw an ingenious way to turn that information into cold, hard cash.

John Spencer, 1st Earl SpencerThomas Gainsborough, Wikimedia Commons

39. She Blackmailed Her Attacker’s Son

As she mulled over the compelling news in her tiny cell, Murray was hoping that the younger Spencer was an honorable man. After some consideration, she wrote a “begging letter” to Spencer and his wife-to-be, describing what the elder Spencer had done to her in her youth. Essentially, she blamed Spencer’s father for setting her life on the trajectory it was on.

Her gamble paid off.

Lisa Foster as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBrent Walker Film Productions, Fanny Hill (1983)

40. She Secured A Salary

Fortunately, the younger Spencer was a better man than the elder Spencer had been. Just as Murray had hoped, the younger Spencer read her letter and took pity on her. Wanting to set his father’s past misdeeds right, Spencer agreed to pay Murray an annual stipend of £200. It wasn’t quite the fortune she had wanted but it was a good start.

Her real payment was yet to come.

Lisa Foster as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBrent Walker Film Productions, Fanny Hill (1983)

41. She Got More Than She Bargained For

Spencer knew what Murray needed more than money; she needed a good man. He introduced the retired courtesan to the prominent actor and theater owner, David Ross, one of his close personal friends. The details are scarce but it looks like Spencer twisted Ross’ arm into marrying Murray, using the £200 as something of a dowry. Turns out, he was quite the matchmaker.

Theatre Royal, EdinburghThomas Hosmer Shepherd, Wikimedia Commons

42. She Finally Found Love

With an engagement to David Ross, Fanny Murray got something that she had never truly had before—at least, not since her father had passed away. She was, once again, a member of respectable society. And, by all accounts, Murray and Ross actually enjoyed a happy marriage. However, even with this new start, she could not outrun her past.

Lisa Foster as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBrent Walker Film Productions, Fanny Hill (1983)

43. Her Past Came Back To Haunt Her

In 1763, an old poem by the journalist and radical politician, John Wilkes, surfaced and threatened to ruin Murray’s rehabilitated reputation. The poem, An Essay on Woman, was a lewd and rather explicit parody of Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man. It was also all about Fanny Murray. The contents of the poem shocked even her.

John Wilkes in redAfter Richard Houston, Wikimedia Commons

44. She Was Better Than The Virgin Mary

The first line of the poem—which Wilkes had likely written at the height of Murray’s fame with Thomas Potter—was “Awake, my Fanny”. The line was too lewd for the highly religious society of the time but it only got more sordid from there. The poem ended with Wilkes comparing Murray to the Virgin Mary, concluding that the courtesan was the more virtuous because she was childless.

The scandal was about to spill over into full-blown controversy.

John Wilkes funny portraitAfter William Hogarth, Wikimedia Commons

45. She May Have Witnessed A Real Seance

Murray’s old admirer and lover, Montagu, seized on the opportunity to use the poem to his advantage. He wanted to seek revenge on Wilkes for an event at the Hellfire Club that Murray had likely witnessed. During a seance, Wilkes had managed to frighten Montagu with a cleverly timed prank, embarrassing Montagu in front of his friends and mistress.

Murray’s sordid past was about to become a matter of public record.

Satire on Fanny MurrayBritish Museum, Wikimedia Commons

46. She Hoped To Avoid Further Scandal

Despite the fact that Montagu had once been Murray’s number one client, he wanted revenge more than he wanted moral consistency. To Murray and Wilkes’ horror, Montagu read portions of the scandalous and lewd poem out to the House of Lords. who denounced it as “blasphemous and obscene”. They then expelled Wilkes for having written it.

Murray could only hope to escape blowback herself.

John Wilkes at courtThe Gentleman's Magazine, Wikimedia Commons

47. Her Old Lover Was “Twitchy”

Even though she was the subject of the poem, Fanny Murray managed to escape the scandal largely unscathed. Montagu, however, did not and was hoisted by his own petard. One of the characters in the newly released The Beggar’s Opera

Jemmy Twitcher, pulled off a similarly hypocritical betrayal. The public began calling Montagu “Twitcher” for his deceitful act.

But Murray had personal problems.

Lisa Foster as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBrent Walker Film Productions, Fanny Hill (1983)

48. Her Marriage Took A Hit

Thankfully, most critics spared Murray from the controversy, calling her contribution “little more than a matter of literary convention”. However, she didn’t escape personal consequences. Murray’s marriage suffered from having her past dredged in such a public way. But it’s not like her husband, Ross, was immune from scandals of his own.

Lisa Foster as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBrent Walker Film Productions, Fanny Hill (1983)

49. She Defended Her Husband’s Honor

After her own “problematic poem” incident, Murray’s husband, Ross, became the subject of his own poetic scandal. An anonymous author penned a poem, “besmirching” Ross’ acting talent and bringing dishonor to their household. Murray offered £21 to anyone who could identify the author. It’s unclear if she ever succeeded but she did get her happily ever after.

Lisa Foster as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBrent Walker Film Productions, Fanny Hill (1983)

50. She Was An Exemplary Wife

According to the historical records, Murray and Ross don’t appear to have had any children. However, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t enjoy a largely successful marriage. One of Ross’ biographies was full of praise for Murray, saying, “whatever her former indiscretions had been, [Murray] conducted herself as a wife with exemplary prudence and discretion”.

What a surprising ending to the scandalous story of Fanny Murray.

Lisa Foster as Fanny Hill based on Fanny MurrayBrent Walker Film Productions, Fanny Hill (1983)

More from Factinate

Featured Article

My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.

Dark Family Secrets

Dark Family Secrets Exposed

Nothing stays hidden forever—and these dark family secrets are proof that when the truth comes out, it can range from devastating to utterly chilling.
April 8, 2020 Samantha Henman

Featured Article

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.

Madame de Pompadour Facts

Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
December 7, 2018 Kyle Climans

More from Factinate

Featured Article

I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.

These People Got Genius Revenges

When someone really pushes our buttons, we'd like to think that we'd hold our head high and turn the other cheek, but revenge is so, so sweet.
April 22, 2020 Scott Mazza

Featured Article

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Catherine of Aragon Facts

Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but very few people know her even darker history.
June 7, 2018 Christine Tran

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

Want to learn something new every day?

Join thousands of others and start your morning with our Fact Of The Day newsletter.

Thank you!

Error, please try again.