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Margaret Wells is one of the main characters of Harlots. She is played by Samantha Morton.


Margaret Wells is at the centre of our world. Shrewd, indomitable and humorous, Margaret has risen up from the streets. Proud of the way she runs her family and her house, she is tough and loving in equal measure. She is hungry for success and thrilled when she achieves it – even when her ambition begins to threaten everything she cares for.

Margaret is the product of generations of whoring. She runs a popular middle-class brothel in Covent Garden, working hard to find new clients and to keep her position on Fortune’s slippery wheel. This is becoming increasingly difficult as Covent Garden isn’t the hot spot it once was. Margaret retains a bruised humanity, using laughter as a weapon and a shield. She treats her employees fairly, by the standards of the day. Although she takes a massive cut of everything that they earn, she encourages them not to drink and to save their money, giving Margaret’s house its good atmosphere. The women are there by choice and they earn a decent living. She is ambitious for herself, hoping to exploit London’s property boom with a move to Soho, a more fashionable and expensive area. She is also deeply emotionally invested in the success of her two daughters, Charlotte and Lucy.

Margaret was the daughter of a bunter (prostitute) but "no one would touch her". Her mother spent all her money on gin and sold Margaret, at the tender age of ten, to Lydia Quigley for a pair of shoes. Margaret's life in Lydia's house was fraught with abuse and manipulation and she was servicing clients at a young age. Although Lydia claims that she "treated [Margaret] like her own," no intelligent person would believe her. In time, Margaret managed to escape with her friend Nancy Birch. Margaret does not know who her father is, but was told by her mother that he was a redhead - for fear of sleeping with her father by accident, she tells Nancy that she has never laid with a ginger.

Margaret has two daughters, Charlotte and Lucy. While she clearly favours Lucy over her eldest, Charlotte is the successful one. Margaret cares deeply for her daughters, risking everything for them in many cases. She also has a son, Jacob Wells North, with her longtime partner, protector, and lover William North, who was born a free man in London.

Season 1[]

Margaret runs a popular middle-class brothel in London's Covent Garden. Raising herself from the streets, she has ambitious hopes for both her daughters, Charlotte and Lucy. She refuses the possibility that Lucy will marry, spitting the words: "And have a man own everything she earns? I wouldn't wish marriage on a dog!" Nevertheless, she insists that Charlotte contract herself to a man-child baronet under the reasoning: "Men don't respect whores! They respect property!"

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Margaret's rivalry with Lydia Quigley is a decades-long affair, with a devastating history. Margaret, along with her friend, Nancy Birch, worked in Lydia's brothel in their youth. Their escape marked a new dawn in their lives - if not financially, then emotionally.

The experience left an obvious mark on Margaret. Always on the lookout for new clients, she works hard for everything she has. Shrewd and indomitable, Margaret uses humour to disguise her frailties. Deeply ambitious, she will stop at nothing to find success. Her determination often drives a wedge between herself and her partner, William North.

Margaret is effectively common-law married to William, who also serves as the house doorman and services the occasional female client. Although they are not married, the pair have a biracial child, Jacob. Their son receives Margaret's maternal ambition, in his own way. An astute mother of a dark-skinned child, Margaret abhors the possibility that Jacob might someday "crawl on his belly as some rich man's boy."

Margret has a strained relationship with her eldest daughter Charlotte, who was successful very early on and made enough of a name for herself to gain a keeper (a man who keeps her as his mistress). However, she appears to be slightly resentful that her mother brought her into the life she currently lives, slapping her at one point and saying it was "for what you made me".

Margret's relationship with her younger daughter, Lucy, is very different. Margret has somewhat coddled Lucy, building her up with compliments about her beauty and constantly telling her she is destined for a rich keeper. Unfortunately, Margret's praise seems to have given Lucy a sense of superiority. She feels that she is above the other girls in the brothel, despite having little success early on with clients and lacking in quick wit, an affinity for small-talk and sex appeal. She eventually appeals to Charlotte to help her.

Margaret eventually maneuvers her way into a better house to attract more clients with the help of her ex-lover Nathaniel Lennox, despite Quigley's efforts to ruin her move. Margaret hears that one of Lydia's old girls, Mary Cooper, is living on the streets and dying of French Pox (an STI). Margaret takes her in, intending to use her against Lydia. She hires a writer to pen an article in the paper about "Dame Death" (Lydia) who left her girl in the street to die. Her plan works and the rumour quickly spreads that Quigley's brothel harbours diseases, chasing away all her customers. When Mary dies, Margaret throws a wake for her to honour the fellow working women and to continue to discredit Lydia. At the end of the funeral, they lay Mary outside of Lydia's door surrounded by candles and flowers.

Lydia hires thugs to hinder their move, but after a brawl in the street with men backing Margaret up, they move in. Margaret is called to Nathaniel's home with word that he is dying. By the time she arrives, he is already dead. She tells his African-American wife, Harriet Lennox, that she needs to find out immediately if she and her children by Nathaniel are provided for after his death. After helping her search, they find her freedom papers, which are unsigned. Harriet is horrified that Nathaniel lied to her, and Margaret encourages her to forge his signature on the papers. But before she can, Nathaniel's eldest, freeborn son, Benjamin Lennox, arrives and orders her to leave. Margaret eventually hires Harriet as a maid in her brothel after Benjamin throws her out and takes her children from her.

A preacher, Florence Scanwell, is hired by Lydia to condemn Margaret's clients outside her door in exchange for an apartment across from the brothel. This heavily impacts her business. Charlotte suggests a masquerade party to attract new clientele. The plan works, and the party is a huge success. Harriet charms Lord Repton and gets promoted to a working Harlot in the brothel, making a deal with Margaret to let her work to buy her children back.

During the masquerade, Lydia's son, Charles Quigley, takes some of Lydia's girls in hopes of stealing business. One of Lydia's girls, Marie-Louise D'Aubigne, deserts her to work for Margaret, who, in return, goes to Lydia's brothel to pays off the French woman's debt to her. While there, she offers her a truce, saying they are even for when Emily Lacey deserted her to go and work for Lydia. Emily eventually escapes Lydia's, having been locked up like a prisoner there. She begs Margaret to take her back, but Wells refuses, saying she cannot have war with Lydia. She gives Emily some money and sends her away. When the rest of the girls respond with shock and dismay, she responds that she will "protect them while they are under her roof" but not after.

Eventually, Margaret's problems start stacking on top of each other. Benjamin is demanding payment immediately on the loan his father gave her for her house, and none of her girls will sleep with him to buy her time due to his racism and cruel treatment of Harriet. Charlotte leaves Sir George, her keeper, and the security he gave her, while Lucy is still failing to attract a suitable keeper. Lydia is demanding Margaret tell her the location of Emily Lacey and has started watching the house. Fanny Lambert is pregnant and too far gone to have an abortion.

Sir George, deciding he is done with Charlotte, arrives at the brothel demanding to be Lucy's keeper. After Margaret names her price, he offers her the money right then and there. Margaret, seeing this as the opportunity to solve all their problems, readily accepts. George then demands to be the one to tell Lucy "the good news" despite Margaret's protests. After trying to force himself on Lucy, she reacts by stabbing him in the stomach. Margaret immediately worries that Lucy will hang for the crime, even if George does not die. She tells Kitty Carter to send for a surgeon, the quietly tells her to do nothing or Lucy will hang. She decides it is better to have him die than risk Lucy, eventually strangling him herself saying, "now it's my murder".

While planning on how to get rid of Sir George, Charlotte is horrified that her mother would sell Lucy to him so quickly and demands to know how much money she got from the deal. She calls her mother "vile" and storms out of the room. Margaret, in a rare show of panic, breaks her composure and begs Charlotte to fetch Nancy to help. To buy more time after Lydia shows up at her door, she reluctantly gives up Emily's location - she has been hiding at Nancy's. William, Jacob and Nancy take Sir George's corpse up the river and dump it there.

 Charlotte eventually explains that George's death is not good for her, as they were seen quarrelling and she showed up at his house with Daniel to get her things back to no avail. Margaret is horrified, and constables drag Charlotte away soon after. Lucy offers to come forward herself in place of Charlotte, an unthinkable option for their mother. Meanwhile William and Jacob have disappeared, and haven't returned since dumping George's body. And Margaret is frantically looking for them. When she asks Nancy where they have gone, she practically throws her out the door having found out that she gave up Emily's location to Lydia in order to buy herself some time. She praises William and Jacob for leaving her, and tells her she is getting close to being what she always despised - Lydia.

Florence comes to Margaret seeking an alliance against Lydia. But Margaret, having seemingly lost her will to fight, says, "any other day, I would". The price for Harriet's children has gone up, and with Benjamin threatening to take them with him to America, she becomes desperate enough to blackmail Margaret into giving her the money. Margaret, again seemingly having lost the will to fight, simply goes into another room, emerging with a coin purse. She places it on the table saying, "it's all I have".