Adelheide was born somewhere near Milan. Her father was Robert De Harlet, the younger brother of Phillip De Harlet, Duke of Beaumont and ambassador to the English court. Her mother was a German camp frau, captured as part of the baggage train in one of the many skirmishes that occur before a war. Her mother died of fever, having had little to do with the upbringing of the unwanted child. The baby was left to the mercies of the other women in the camp, until she could walk and drew the attention of her father.
In those yearly years, her father treated her as a son, teaching her a soldier’s life with the armor and battle tactics. Adelheide grew up in the military encampments playing with the boys and learning the art of war. As she was a late bloomer, Adelheide easily passed as a boy and eventually a young man amongst the troops. It wasn’t until a small battle that Robert realized his young “boy” had grown to a woman. He decided that a soldier’s life was not for his young daughter. Since relations between Venice and France had somewhat healed, he took his daughter there to be educated.
Though uncommon for a father to make that decision for his daughter, Robert De Harlet paid to have her trained as a courtesan. Usually, it was the mother who took her 2nd or 3rd daughter to train with the courtesans. Looking at the situation, the age of Adelheide, gaining puberty at 11 years old, his ‘father’s pride’ dictated that he wanted something better for his intelligent daughter. And though she had seen some of the more dismal, bloody side of life; living and fighting as a boy during the Italian wars, her father thought it best that she have some refinement. (He was raised in a wealthy household and couldn’t take a bastard, common child back to Beaumont; likewise, he had a genuine fondness and respect for his daughter.)
Though the idea of being reduced to a whore didn’t appeal to her at first, Adelheide had a good sense of the way the real world operated. As an intelligent woman/child with no means other than a soldier’s background and possessions, she could appreciate the freedom that the courtesans had moving through a man’s world. If she continued to stay with her father, she would have been pregnant by the time she was 14 and probably dead by the time she was 20. She would have been useful to the men in the camp, but not useful to herself. In Venice, she learned art, history, cooking, reading, writing, and how to pleasure a man. She learned an appreciation for all aspects of polite society and soon became well accepted in her craft. By the time she was 18, she owned her own house on the Piazza di Coeur. She was well paid for her services. She came under the notice of one of the papal attachments to Venice under the Pope Clement VII. When he was recalled to Rome, he asked her to go with him.
Adelheide was set up in her own house, with servants and complete entourage, near the Sistine Chapel. Her role in Roman society was to entertain her patron and see to the needs of his guests. During the day, she took on small tutoring jobs with some of the wealthier families in Rome. During the sack of Rome, 1527, her apartments were raided and all of her possessions were taken. Her entourage was killed or taken, like herself, as plunder.
Adelheide became a camp frau. (In truth, she had been looking for a change in her lifestyle. And she still remembered the feel and freedom of a military encampment. Though now she was better able to deal with the men.) She traveled with the army. At first she suffered ridicule from her ‘peers’ in the camp. However, after she showed that she could set up and tear down camp; cook and clean and care for weapons; sew and help the other women with caring for the children; she was soon accepted by the stern and proud German women. In her evening hours, she read the books that she had taken from the various pillaged towns. Although most of the soldiers didn’t care about reading, some came to her just to listen to the stories. As a learned woman, and one to whom the other women looked to for direction, the Hauptmann gave her the honorific title, Trossmeisterin, the head of his baggage train. Adelheide was satisfied with her new role. She could be seen on campaign and in the streets of invaded towns, herding the wayward Frauen back to where they needed to be. She had punishment devices made so that she could properly execute the duties of her office. Most of the time, it took only the threat of those devices to keep the Tross in line.
When the camp landed in Koroneburg and the Baron heard that there was a woman of learning among the soldiers and asked if she could tell the stories of the wars she had seen to his visiting guests. He paid the Hauptman to rent Adelheide’s services.
With regards to men: her philosophy is simple. All men are potential clients. All men shall be made to feel as though they are special and loved exclusively, if they can afford to pay for those services. Any man can find a way to pay for the services of a well trained woman. Men are a non-emotional necessity of business. Love of one man is not part of the business.
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