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Elite Man–Courtesan Romance

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Edward: Stay. Stay the night with me. And not because I’m paying you but because you want to.
Vivian: I can’t ... I want more. I want the fairy tale.

Love can be a funny thing, especially when it comes to prostitutes, concubines, strippers, or other types of sex workers. Be it a priest, a prince, or some other person, this trope is when a person of high birth or status comes to fall in love with a member of The Oldest Profession.

In many cases, this high-ranking person has some personal issues going on (loneliness, grief, or low self-esteem) or issues in their family, and initially turned to this prostitute for companionship or as an erotic distraction, but eventually they fell for them.

Most of the time, this prostitute is a High-Class Call Girl with a heart of gold and a big deal is made of this high ranking person being with this prostitute, especially if it would ruin the family name if their relationship got out.

Truth in Television to some degree in some time periods and cultures.


Sub-Trope of both Men Are Tough and Women Are Delicate, since he's the one from wealth and power. Contrast Platonic Prostitution, where the character is just friends or friendly with a prostitute. Compare to Uptown Girl and Opposites Attract. Also compare Compare Sex Equals Love, which assumes that an emotional relationship will arise -- ah, develop — from a physical one.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • This is the reason for Serge's complicated social status in Kaze to Ki no Uta—his parents were a French nobleman and his wife, a Romani High-Class Call Girl that he ruined the family's reputation by marrying.
  • During the final arc of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, it's revealed that Kaguya's mother was a High-Class Call Girl that her father (might have) gotten pregnant. And despite how horrible of a person he's built up to be over the course of the series, he did genuinely love her.

  • Breakfast at Tiffany's (the film, not the book) makes the male protagonist the kept man of a movie-exclusive character Emily Eustace, nicknamed '2-E'. She's a rich older woman who acts as his Romantic False Lead, allowing him to be Promoted to Love Interest for Holly. In the book, he was gay and they were Just Friends.
  • In Chunhyang, the noble-born scholar Mongryong falls in love with Chunhyang, a courtesan's daughter.
  • In Devdas, the eponymous character is the son of a wealthy landowner, in love with his childhood friend, Parvati (Paro). She, however, is married off to someone else. To cheer him up, his friend introduces him to a very wealthy, beautiful, and popular courtesan by the name of Chandramukhi. He is initially disgusted with her, but eventually, he ends up marrying her, though he is always dogged by his feelings for Paro and spends most of his time drowning his sorrows.
  • The film version of From Hell makes Ann Crook into a former prostitute, who had fallen in love with a wealthy man called Albert, married and had a baby. Albert is in fact the prince of England, and Ann is lobotomized to keep this secret.
  • Deconstructed in Moulin Rouge!, where Satine unapologetically says that she's paid to "make men believe what they want to believe." Her seduction of a Duke who might have played this trope straight backfires nastily on both her and the penniless writer who genuinely loves her.
  • In Pretty Woman, wealthy businessman Edward Lewis hires Hooker with a Heart of Gold Vivian Ward to act as an escort for him for a week. Over that time he gradually falls in love with her, and she with him.
  • Shanghai Express has the unique variant of the courtesan being the ex girlfriend of the elite man. Dr Donald Harvey is an officer in the British Army, while Marlene Dietrich's character was previously his sweetheart Madeleine. After she played "a woman's trick" to see if he cared about her, he split up with her and she became a prostitute to survive. However, she's now the High-Class Call Girl, known as 'Shanghai Lily' and the movie involves them falling back in love. Things are complicated when the villain of the film threatens to blind Donald, and only relents when Lily offers to become The Mistress for him. Despite this, it has a happy ending.
  • In The World of Suzie Wong, contrasting with the book, Robert is a middle class former architect and considered respectable enough to be invited to dinners with wealthy English expats in Hong Kong. He falls in love with the titular Suzie Wong, a prostitute at the Nam Kok hotel. She had another one prior to the film's start, where she was with a rich Hong Kong businessman, and ended up having a son. The movie doesn't elaborate, but the book explains he was originally planning to marry her.

  • Belisarius Series revolves around Byzantine general Belisarius and his wife Antonina, who used to be a courtesan before marrying him. Coincidentally, they also serve below Justinian and Theodora (see real-life version below).
  • In The Bible, God tells the prophet Hosea to go marry a prostitute. But she's not the heart-of-gold type and soon starts cheating on him. So he's angry with her for a while and even throws her out, but then God tells him to go and woo her back. It's all a big metaphor for God's relationship with Israel.
  • The Comfortable Courtesan:
    • A subversion where everyone believes that Clorinda and Lord Raxdell are an example of this, but she's actually The Beard for him, although they are very close friends. The men who Clorinda has the most emotional feelings towards tend not to be of the highest class.
    • Happens for real in a gay variant with Bexbury and Marcello, although Bexbury died still believing that Marcello was only in it for the money.
  • Duke Leto's romance with Lady Jessica from Dune. She is not a prostitute or courtesan, but a member of The Order of Bene Gesserit, who ship off some of their younger initiates as concubines to powerful nobles in order to advance their genetic selection agenda. Despite this, Leto and Jessica genuinely fall in love with each other, and she even defies the order by giving birth to his son (initiates can choose the baby's sex at will, and she was supposed to bear a daughter).
  • Judge Dee: It was entirely expected for a High-Class Call Girl to snag a rich husband this way in Imperial China.
    • The judge once had to deal with the fallout of a high-ranking official committing suicide after being spurned by a courtesan, who was found dead soon after. The man's suicide had nothing to do with the courtesan, she just assumed he'd killed himself out of despair and used his death as publicity. In fact, he thought he'd caught leprosy like his father and killed himself before he became too disfigured, the father thought the girl was responsible and killed her out of grief.
    • In another, he comes across a scam where a courtesan is to be bought off her madam by a high-ranking official despite already being freed. He recognizes the likely victim as his friend and colleague Magistrate Lo and intervenes to prevent him from adding the Gold Digger to his extensive harem.
    • One short story has him accompany a young prostitute to her home, then listen to her problems, learning her fiance is about to be executed for the murder of a fellow officer's wife. When she tried to visit him in prison, she ended up flogged by the guards, badly scarring her chest (which is not good for her job, in addition to being a single mother). The judge saves the man's life, though he's not exactly grateful, telling the judge he has nothing to look forward to ever since his fiance quite sensibly never visited him in prison. The judge drops him off in front of his house, tells him his wife and son are inside, and leaves.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • This trope is horribly deconstructed with Tyrion Lannister and his two loves, Tysha and Shae. He's the son of Tywin Lannister, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Westeros (albeit he is The Unfavorite). Tysha, the first girl he fell in love with, turned out to be a prostitute his brother Jaime hired so he could lose his virginity, which backfired. Tyrion's sense of romantic love is skewed by this incident and he frequents brothels, thinking no other woman would ever willingly be intimate with him. He eventually falls in love with a prostitute named Shae and goes to great lengths to keep her safe from his enemies (including his own family), but it turns out that not only did she never really love him, she betrays him by falsely testifying he plotted to kill King Joffrey, then sleeps with his father. When Tyrion finds her in his father's bed, he strangles her to death. And then on top of all that, it's revealed that Tysha actually wasn't a prostitute; she was a crofter's daughter who genuinely loved Tyrion, with Tywin forcing Jaime to lie because she wasn't a 'suitable' bride.
    • The second wife of Pentoshi magister Illyrio Mopatis was a prostitute named Serra, whom he genuinely fell in love with and wed even though it angered the Prince of Pentosh, a relative of his late first wife. Serra died of plague some years ago and Illyrio still keeps a locket with her picture inside.
  • In Tales of the Branion Realm, Prince (later Aristok) Demnor and his Companion Kelahnus. This is actually more common than the Companion's Guild likes to acknowledge and, like everything else in the realm, applies even when gender-flipped.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Firefly
    • Atherton Wing's infatuation with Inara Serra is this. Although he initially comes across as romantic, Atherton quickly reveals that he still very much sees the "courtship" as a transaction and stops acting nice when he realizes he can't buy Inara's exclusive attention.
    • Inara's client during her introduction in the pilot made a similar offer (minus the coercion), and Inara and Kaylee later indicate that this happens fairly often.
  • In Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister of House Lannister of Casterly Rock, one of the many noble houses in Westeros and by far the richest, falls in love with camp follower Shae in the Riverlands, who becomes an Ascended Extra after Season 2 when he takes her to court. As in the books, it doesn't end well although it's suggested here that, unlike her book counterpart, Shae actually did love Tyrion and turned on him due to feeling betrayed by his attempt to Break Her Heart to Save Her.
  • Prince Daemon Targaryen has a close relationship with prostitute Mysaria in House of the Dragon, with her becoming The Mistress to him. Despite their difference in station Mysaria seems to share Daemon's more unorthodox view of the world, and is one of his few genuine emotional supports. She does bring up the power imbalance as a potential issue when Daemon includes her in his antics in 1.02, chatising Daemon that while he can afford to galavant around pissing off powerful lords, someone in her position is at far greater risk.
  • Sam in Ozark falls in love with a woman from the strip club in season 3. In season 4, he proposes to her and she says yes.
  • In Salem, Cotton Mather, a Puritan reverend, is in love with a prostitute named Gloriana, much to his father's dismay.
  • A rare gender flip in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Lucretia is the lady of the house at a gladiator school, rising through the ranks over the years. She keeps the school's champion Crixus as her personal sex slave, ostensibly to help get pregnant (as she fears her husband is infertile) but it's also clear she's fallen in love with him. She doesn't realise that Crixus merely does what he's commanded, which is complicated even further when he falls genuinely in love with her personal handmaiden Naevia.
  • In Succession, Connor Roy, the eldest son of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in America, dates and eventually proposes to Willa, a High-Class Call Girl, much younger than him. A major point of contention in their relationship early in the show is how the rest of the family look down on Willa and judge Connor to be a naive fool to believe the relationship is genuine.

  • In Man of La Mancha, the story within the story involves an older gentleman named Alonso Quijano who falls in love with a prostitute named Aldonza. Because of his delusion, he believes her to be a lady he calls Dulcinea and refuses to accept that she is a prostitute.
  • In La Traviata, Alfredo Germont falls in love with the beautiful Parisian courtesan Violettta Valéry. The later part of the plot is driven by the scandal their relationship brings to Alfredo's family.

    Video Games 
  • A quest in Mass Effect involves a Turian general feeling scorned at a high-class courtesan's rejection of him and spreading false rumors about her.

     Real Life 
  • Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire began life as a sex worker (moving up from low-class brothel to stage performer and High-Class Call Girl). She eventually attracted the attention of then-Prince Justinian and married him in 525 A.D., becoming a co-ruler of the empire with her husband and pushing through many reforms in women's rights, including an outright ban on forced prostitution.
  • Irish courtesan Elisa Lynch became the mistress to Paraguayan President Francisco Solano Lopez and though they were never officially married, she was his wife in all but name. Her legacy is very controversial; she is a national heroine in Paraguay (as well as her home in Ireland) but considered a Lady Macbeth abroad specially in Brazil. Nevertheless, she was the subject of several literary works.