Phillips, Teresia Constantia (DNB00)

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PHILLIPS, TERESIA CONSTANTIA (1709–1765), courtesan, eldest daughter and second child of Thomas Phillips, was born at West Chester on 2 Jan. 1708–9. She states, with every appearance of accuracy, that her father was a cadet of an old Welsh family, and a captain in the army in Lord Langdale's regiment, that is, the 5th dragoon guards. When he left the army in 1717 he brought his family to London, where he was for a time in needy circumstances, but was eventually, according to Teresia, befriended by the first (dowager) Duchess of Bolton, who had stood godmother to Mrs. Phillips. This patronage enabled Teresia to complete her education at Mrs. Filler's boarding-school in Prince's Court, Westminster. Beyond this point Teresia's own narrative must be followed with caution. It is probable that she commenced a life of intrigue at a very early age. ‘Thomas Grimes’ (as the future fourth Earl of Chesterfield preferred to be called in certain youthful passages) was, she says, her lover in 1721. She subsequently gave an account of her relations with him, which was convicted of gross inaccuracy in a well-written ‘Defence of the Character of a Noble Lord from the scandalous Aspersions contained in a malicious Apology,’ published in 1748. To avoid arrest for debt, on 11 Nov. 1722 she went through the form of marriage with a Mr. Devall, who had previously been married under another name, and with whom she never exchanged a word. According to the ‘apologist’ of Lord Chesterfield, although her amours were soon ‘as public as Charing Cross,’ she married, on 9 Feb. 1723, Henry Muilman, a Dutch merchant of good standing. In the following year Muilman managed to obtain from the court of arches a sentence of nullity of marriage, but he agreed to pay Constantia an annuity of 200l. This was discontinued upon her cohabitation at Paris with another admirer (Mr. B.). Henceforth the sequence of her adventures becomes bewildering. The notoriety of ‘Con Phillips’ was mentioned by Horace Walpole in the same breath with that of ‘the czarina’ (Corresp. ed. Cunningham, vi. 112), and she is similarly mentioned in the first chapter of Fielding's ‘Amelia.’ After many experiences in France, England, and the West Indies, she determined to blackmail her friends by publishing ‘An Apology for the Conduct of Mrs. Teresia Constantia Phillips, more particularly that part of it which relates to her Marriage with an eminent Dutch Merchant.’ A motto from the ‘Fair Penitent’ adorned the title-page of the book, which, in consequence of the difficulty of finding a bookseller, was printed for the author in parts, subsequently bound in three volumes, in 1748. A second edition was called for at once, a third appeared in 1750, and a fourth in 1761. The memoirs, which are written with a good deal of dramatic effect, are stated by Bowring, in a manuscript note to the ‘Memoirs’ of Bentham in the British Museum, to have been edited by Paul Whitehead [q. v.], whose services were remunerated ‘in kind.’ They exerted a considerable influence upon Bentham's youthful imagination, especially their account of the chicanery incidental to law proceedings.

The mercenary object of the writer was more plainly avowed in her ‘Letter humbly addressed to the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Chesterfield,’ issued in 1750 and appended to subsequent editions of the ‘Apology.’ In this she assumes Chesterfield to be the author of the ‘Whole Duty of Man,’ and contrasts the moral therein conveyed with the practice of a ‘highborn debauchee.’ The letter elicited a satirical vindication by ‘a Lady.’ About this period Mrs. Muilman, as she still called herself, was deeply in debt, and was more than once imprisoned in the Marshalsea. Muilman seems to have done his best to bribe her out of the country, but he was not successful until 1754, when she finally removed to Jamaica. A correspondent of the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1765 states that she married in Jamaica a ‘Mr. M.,’ an Irishman, who was a well-to-do land-surveyor at Kingston. She inveigled him into leaving her the whole of his fortune, and, having buried him, married a Scot, upon whose death she obtained a further increase of her resources. Her last husband was a Frenchman named Lanteniac, a nephew of Vaudreuil. She died on 2 Feb. 1765, ‘unlamented by a single person.’ A mezzotint portrait, engraved by Faber after Highmore, was prefixed to the ‘Apology.’

[Apology for the Conduct of Mrs. Teresia Constantia Phillips; Walpole's Corresp. ed. Cunningham, vii. 112–13; Bentham's Memoirs, ed. Bowring, x. 35, 77 sq.; Gent. Mag. 1765, p. 83; Nichols's Anecdotes, iii. 611; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. xii. 314, 6th ser. v. 178; J. C. Smith's Mezzotinto Portraits, i. 410; Allibone's Dict. of English Lit.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; hints kindly supplied by J. Power Hicks, esq.]

T. S.