Online Dictionary of Dutch Women

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THÉRÈSE, also known as Madame Theresa, Trees and Traese (active between 1706 and 1729), owner of an elegant brothel in Amsterdam.

There are few concrete sources of information on Madame Thérèse. Around 1700 a whole host of ‘Thérèses’ were active as prostitutes in . Most of them were from the and could pass for French in the more luxurious brothels. It is possible that one of them later worked her way up to become the brothel-keeper known as Madame Thérèse (Van de Pol, 6).

Madame Thérèse first occurs in the judicial archives in 1708, in which year four of her girls were arrested on 3 March ‘at the house of one Trése on the Singel’. Obviously at this point Thérèse was still unknown to the police. She herself was not arrested, and the girls that were detained were given a warning and then released, since they had been working as prostitutes only for a short time.

A year later Thérèse’s establishment was named in passing in a notarial act, but after that the sources make no mention of her until 1721, when three girls from the whorehouse known as De Glazen Kas[t] (The Glass Closet) were arrested on the Prinsengracht. Another madam was named in the interrogation report, so it is not clear whether this was Thérèse’s brothel. It is certain, however, that around 1720 she was running an exclusive brothel on the Prinsengracht. In this period Cornelis Troost made his rather revealing brush drawing of the interior (see illustration). According to the inscription on the back of the sheet, it portrays Prince Eugene of Savoy, then governor of the Austrian Netherlands, and the British diplomat Louis Renard, looking appraisingly at the women with their raised skirts.

The fact that such distinguished gentlemen visited Madame Thérèse’s brothel shows once again that she was running a first-class establishment. Thérèse herself possibly appears in Troost’s drawing as the little lady at the far left, helping a girl to lift up her skirt. In addition to prompting Troost to make his brothel drawing, Madame Thérèse was mainly a source of inspiration to Jacob Campo Weyerman. This prolific writer mentions her frequently, usually in a negative light. In Den Amsterdamschen Hermes (The Amsterdam Hermes), for example, he describes someone who is as familiar with curses ‘as Mama Thérèse’s prostitutes are with lies and deceit’ (vol. 2, 21 September 1723, 409). Weyerman also sought to satisfy his readers’ curiosity, however, and thus gave detailed – albeit fictional – accounts of the working methods of Madame Thérèse and her girls. Thérèse was said to have in her brothel various hoop-skirted ladies ‘who dreamed so fervently of upcoming bed pleasures that their bedchambers were permeated with the dew of desire’ (Vrolyke Tuchtheer 31 October 1729, 140).

Just as fictitious as his glimpse behind the curtains at Thérèse’s brothel is Weyerman’s colloquy in Den Echo des Weerelds (The Echo of the World) between Madame Thérèse and three other notorious madams, including the ‘Grootje des Verderfs’ (‘Granny of Ruin’). Here the author refers to ‘drunken Thérèse’, who claimed to take good care of her ‘flock’. She had always provided her girls with board and lodging, but business was now less flourishing than before. Indeed, when Weyerman wrote this in 1726, a stricter prosecution policy had been implemented in , forcing prostitution to go underground for a time. But according to Weyerman, Thérèse had nevertheless opened up a new establishment the year before (Echo des Weerelds 3 December 1725).

After 1726 Madame Thérèse continues to appear in Weyerman’s writings. In 1729 he calls her brothel ‘Thérèse’s fencing school’ and ‘Thérèse’s wolf trap’, although these are probably names of his own invention (Vrolyke Tuchtheer 14 November 1729). It is not known how long Thérèse worked as a madam, nor when and where she died. However, thanks to Weyerman and Troost, whose drawing is still frequently used as an illustration, her reputation has been recorded for posterity.

last updated: 13/01/2014