Lydia Quigley is one of the main characters of Harlots. She is played by Lesley Manville. Her high-class bordello services rich and powerful men, by appealing to the fine arts.


Lydia Quigley is a woman of mysterious origins. Her mother died giving birth to her and it is implied several times that she was either molested by her father, or was forced into the sex trade by him (or perhaps both); she finally reveals that it was her father who took her innocence at the age of 7 and that he procured a long line of men to take advantage of her. She was groomed by her father's mistress, Mrs May, whom Lydia idolized as a mother. May taught her the art of pleasing men, and Lydia eventually became the madam of her own brothel.

Lydia has one son, Charles, whom she views as weak and useless but whom she also deeply loves. Lydia has a decades-long feud with Margaret Wells, who was once a girl in her employ. Margaret escaped with her long-time friend Nancy Birch, who was also kept by Lydia. Her feud with Margaret which reignites when our story starts; the harder Margaret tries to climb up, the more Lydia is determined to keep her down. Her loathing knows no bounds.

Lydia is accused of being 'a kidnapping pimp' more than once and has neither affection nor respect for other harlots. On an evening when her more vulnerable contemporaries are dragged from their brothels half-naked and screaming, she sits safely in her carriage and enjoys the "sport". Unlike her rival Margaret, Lydia protects no one.

Season 1 Edit

The Lady Macbeth of brothel keepers, Lydia runs a very high-class seraglio in Soho for clients that are from the highest echelons of society; they walk the corridors of power and money. Her girls are well-fed and well-dressed, they learn how to sing and dance and play instruments. However, they are also prisoners and she cares little for them; she does not care if a paying customer abuses a girl - anything can be bought for the right price. Lydia is delighted when Emily Lacey deserts Margaret and comes to work for her instead, but Emily has trouble adjusting to Lydia's strict rules and education.

Lydia becomes horrified at the thought of Margaret moving into a newer, nicer house in a more upper-class neighbourhood. After Margaret finds a girl that used to work for Lydia named Mary Cooper dying of French Pox in the street, she uses her death to discredit Lydia with a newspaper article calling her "Dame Death". The article causes serious damage to her business as all clients fear the French Pox.

In order to expand the business and forge alliances, Lydia becomes entangled in a secret order of men with a bloody thirst for rape and murder, the "Spartans". Lydia procures unsuspecting virgins under the pretence of hiring maids. She then drugs them and provides them to the order of men. While initially unaware of the extent of the order's activities, Lydia's shock at the discovery of their depravity is shortly eclipsed by her vision of gain. Because of the high risk she takes, Lydia insists on knowing the names of the men she's supplying them to. 

When Charlotte and Daniel Marney are arrested for the murder of Sir George Howard, Lydia uses her connections to have Charlotte released. Charlotte moves to Lydia's house in Golden Square and soon begins working for Lydia, even becoming close to the woman, who views Charlotte as a surrogate daughter of sorts. Unbeknownst to Lydia, Charlotte plans on taking her revenge for the countless lives ruined by Lydia, including her mother's. 

Season 2Edit

Season two finds Lydia continuing to run her brothel in Golden Square. Her business is interrupted by the new Judge Hunt, who arrests her for keeping a "bawdy" house. Lydia must pay a £500 fine or be sent to jail. Margaret Wells accuses her of kidnapping and attempts to find a girl to testify against her while she is still imprisoned. Hunt interrogates Lydia about the missing and murdered girls, but she refuses to reveal any information. Lydia sends a letter to the Spartans, begging them to pay her £500 bail, but they refuse. 

Lydia enlists Charlotte in extorting the money from Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam, whose closely guarded secret Lydia is privy to. The women are successful in securing the funds from Lady Fitzwilliam, and Lydia is released.

Lydia returns to Golden Square, only to find Justice Hunt's constables stationed at the doors, keeping business from being conducted. Lydia moves her girls to her old friend Mrs May's residence. 

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