In pre-20th century culture, to be a courtesan or concubine was a highly coveted honour, usually bestowed upon aristocratic ladies; it could even be formally recognised in a ceremony much like marriage.
In pre-British India, young noblemen were sent to courtesans for social education. These women were considered the authorities on the traditions of music, dance, language and etiquette and some even became the mothers of the children of Mughal monarchs. However, like the geisha tradition in Japan, their main purpose was to entertain their guests and, while sex was often incidental, it was not contractually assured.
So why is it that, over time, our idea of courtesans and concubines has changed to become synonymous with prostitution? Were these women simply high-class prostitutes? Or have their traditions and legacies been warped by a lack of understanding in contemporary culture?
Join event chair, Jodie Matthews, and authors, Lesley Downer and Moni Mohsin, as they deconstruct perceptions of these fascinating women and unpick over 400 years of history to explore how this once prestigious and sought-after role has declined into depravity.