Who are the Knowne World Courtesans (KWC)?
The Knowne World Courtesans are a free confederation of SCAdians who have sex worker personas from all areas and time periods. It’s important to state right up front that we do not have sex for money. Like the SCA tradition of glorifying the warrior, and their skills and exploits without actually killing anybody, we in the Knowne World Courtesans celebrate the lives of sex workers without breaking real world laws. We dance, sing, write poetry, play instruments, hold philosophical discussions, host gatherings, teach classes, escort our patrons to social events, and act as ambassadors for new people to our Kingdoms. We are not currently a guild; at the moment we are similar to a household. In the KWC you are what you do. We support each other in our research. We play together at events. We collaborate, plan parties, do A&S projects, teach together – and get up to shenanigans whenever we get the chance. We emphasize the togetherness and support for each other because we do not stand alone, no matter where in the world we are.
What is an SCA courtesan/sex worker persona and why would I want to have one?
A person with a sex worker persona in the SCA could be many things. Some examples would be: a 1st century Roman prostitute, a mistress working in the London Bathhouses of the 12th century, a 14th century brothel worker or “abbess” (the people who managed brothels), a Japanese oiran, an Indian tawaif, an Ottoman Turkish courtesan of male or female persuasion, or a Venetian courtesan of the 15th and 16th century. The list is long. Prostitution was an integral part of daily life during the time period and places covered by the SCA. It is one of the few areas in the history of women specifically where they were not required to be married or in any way attached to a man for support. Many of these people could have a certain amount of autonomy and wealth not available others of their class. Some of us are drawn to portray these aspects of medieval and Renaissance life because we find it fascinating and we admire the people who were willing to live outside of conventional society. Having a sex worker persona is not for the faint of heart.
However, just as our SCA armored fighters are not actually killing people, SCA courtesans do not have sex for money. We are playing historical figures in a game in which some, but not all, aspects of medieval and Renaissance life are recreated. We still try to embody the spirit of, and emulate the various talents cultivated by, historical sex workers, but like our warriors in combat, we avoid breaking any real world laws.
In the SCA, those of us who portray sex workers from before 1600 attempt to recreate their clothing, arts, and charms. We perform, host parties, teach classes on historical sexuality topics, and assist with service during events. The Knowne World Courtesans, for example, have hosted parties at events such as Pennsic and War of the Wings, taught classes on a wide range of topics from aphrodisiacs to historical pornography, and served as greeters for a local event. Also as with some mercenary SCA fighting groups, these services can be plied with trade, which is one way that we recreate the period portrayal.
Who can join the KWC?
Anyone who has or wants a persona that is a current or retired sex worker of any SCA time period, nationality, gender, or sexual preference.
Do I have to pay dues or meet other requirements?
There are no dues. Members should participate in the Facebook discussion group in some fashion at least every 3 months, as small a contribution as chiming in on a post or as large as adding to our ever growing file section. Members should also be developing a sex worker persona that they portray at events.
What are the goals of the KWC?
- To promote and support sex worker personas in the SCA.
- To encourage the study of the history of sex work and historical sexuality.
- To create a community that is a safe space for everyone.
- To promote sex education; to promote healthy perspectives on sexuality and consent; and to combat sex negative and whorephobic views.
- To create an atmosphere of luxury and opulence at events.
- To sponsor gatherings that are both fun and informative.
- To help make the SCA more pleasurable for everyone by providing hospitality and a welcoming place to relax and enjoy events.
What types of activities do the KWC do?
We teach classes, host parties, host salons, volunteer at our local events, act as ambassadors and tour guides for visiting dignitaries within the SCA, step in as consorts for fighters, act as companions to patrons at SCA functions, and share our fabulousness with the Knowne World!
What is a salon?
A salon is a reception, historically hosted by women where, in addition to socializing, eating, and drinking, attendees share their knowledge and stories with the other guests. This could involve lectures, poetry readings, or enlightening, knowledgeable conversation. The salons that Known World Courtesans host are very much in the style of the past. We create a relaxing atmosphere, provide delicious hors d’oeuvres and drinks, and guide the discussion and entertainment surrounding the topics of the day. This is a popular gathering point for courtesans, patrons, and those who just enjoy our company.
What does the KWC NOT do as a group at events?
We do not have sex for money. The KWC also does not sponsor fundraisers that involve obligatory physical contact such as kissing, massages, or “Rent-A-Wench” activities.
What is the significance of the Hart of Gold and the red veil?
Hart of Gold: Our badge, the “Hart of Gold,” is a pun, based on the expression “hooker with a heart of gold.” “Hart” is a medieval word for stag. Thus, we chose a golden stag for our symbol.
Red veil: Throughout history, sumptuary laws were created that designated symbols to be worn by sex workers, to visually distinguish them from the rest of the populace. One of the more common symbols was a veil or similar headwear of a particular color or pattern. We chose red for the KWC official veil color because red is a color commonly associated with sumptuary laws for many sex workers throughout the SCA time period and locations. Red cloaks, hats, cords, or belts are some examples.
As a KWC member you are not required to wear either the Hart of Gold or the red veil – but it can help us identify each other at events, as well as making it easier for prospective patrons.
Where are KWC members located?
We have members located throughout the Knowne World. Some kingdoms have elected to start kingdom-specific groups in order to facilitate organization for local events, but the “Knowne World Courtesans – Study and Support” Facebook group includes members from all over. You can see maps of those members who have elected to share their general location here:
How do I find other courtesans in my area?
The best place to start looking is in the “Knowne World Courtesans – Study and Support” Facebook group. First, do a quick search for your mundane and SCA location names. If you don’t find any results, ask in a post. At events, look for our Hart banners, Hart pins, and our red veils!
How do I start a local group?
First: Be you! You are the best advertisement for the KWC. Download our FAQ, mission statement, and Patron’s Guide. Host a salon. Teach a class about the history of sex workers and use it as an opportunity to point out that there are all kinds of us in the SCA having a great time. Recruit your friends and introduce them to the list and our resources. We are committed to helping spread the fun and education of the KWC. We are here to help. Many of us travel between kingdoms, so if you need more in-person assistance it is very likely that there is someone available.
Do you have to have patrons/teach classes/host parties/be a companion to portray a courtesan?
Nope! Every courtesan has their own specialties and preferences as to how they participate in the SCA. Some are really into researching and teaching classes to share knowledge about historical sexuality. Some are party planners that thrive on organizing events and functions. Others enjoy providing companionship to people who wish to attend parties but who are a bit on the shy side, to facilitate fun and socialization. No one activity is obligatory for a courtesan to participate in.
Do you have to be single to portray a courtesan?
Not at all! While many courtesans are single, many of us are married or in closed relationships. Some partnered courtesans take patrons (because no romantic or sexual contact is involved in a patron arrangement), others call their partners their patrons, and some simply do not take patrons at all – they participate in other courtesan-related activities instead, such as teaching classes or party hosting.
Do you get harassed? Do people get angry and/or make you uncomfortable?
Having a sex-worker persona is not for the faint of heart. There is still a lot of whorephobia and sexual oppression out there in the 21st century – in some ways more than there was in the period the SCA recreates. One of our goals is to help eradicate it wherever we find it. We do this by educating ourselves, and sharing that knowledge with others. But this might not always be possible in the heat of the moment. We practice how to handle different situations as they come up and we have developed methods for protecting ourselves and each other in uncomfortable surroundings. As we grow and become more accepted in the SCA this will become less of a problem.
What is a patron?
A patron is someone who supports a courtesan, through companionship, gifts, or by supporting their projects, parties, etc. For instance a patron might donate the money or supplies for libations at a party, share space for a salon or gathering, ask for a courtesan to come with them to a party, or exchange mandolin lessons for acting as consort to a fighter that needs one for tournaments. The relationship between a patron and a courtesan has endless variety and is unique to each arrangement.
Patrons are NOT arranging for sexual services nor are they entitled to physical contact or a relationship with the courtesan they support. It is important to remember that we are playing a role playing game and that our personas and scenarios are not real life.
What is the Tullia Society?
The original Tullia Society was a group created by Emilio Orsini, a patron of the 16th century courtesan Tullia d’Aragona, of six cavaliers to fight for her honor. In the SCA, the Tullia Society is a free association of people who are adjacent to the KWC. They serve a number of functions: protection at gatherings, escorts between parties, assistance with setup and tear down, and joining us in role play and facilitation of our gatherings. They are different from patrons in that they are more involved in the day-to-day functioning of the KWC. Members may be referred to as cavaliers or Tullians.
More on Patrons and Tullians:
Patrons and members of the Tullia Society have some things in common. They are both ways that our friends, partners, and family members can play with and support us. But patrons are specifically about a mutual exchange of goods and services-even if it’s just in role play. As stated before, KWC members do not have sex for money. But we do escort our patrons to parties, we provide companionship, and host salons and other gatherings to benefit our patrons. Members of the Tullia Society protect us and help us do what we do, but since these are the way we connect to friends and family, the lines between Tullians and patrons can get blurry.
Where can I find out more information on historical sex workers?
The files on the Knowne World Courtesans – Study and Support Group have a wealth of resources and we are always adding more. Check out the book list and our articles as a starting place for your own research.
How do I explain the KWC to others in my barony/kingdom/at events?
Share the information on this FAQ!