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They were more respected by their extramarital companions, both placing one another's family obligations ahead of the relationship and planning their own liaisons or social engagements around the lovers' marital obligations.
Prior to the Renaissance, courtesans served to convey information to visiting dignitaries, when servants could not be trusted.In Renaissance usage, the Italian word cortigiana, feminine of cortigiano ("courtier") came to refer to a person who attends the court, and then to a well-educated and independent woman, eventually a trained artist or artisan of dance and singing, especially one associated with wealthy, powerful, or upper-class society who was given luxuries and status in exchange for entertainment and companionship.A male figure comparable to the courtesan was the Italian cicisbeo, the French chevalier servant, the Spanish cortejo or estrecho.The cortigiane oneste were usually well-educated and worldly (sometimes even more so than the average upper-class woman), and often held simultaneous careers as performers or artists.They were typically chosen on the basis of their "breeding"—social and conversational skills, intelligence, common-sense, and companionship—as well as their physical attributes.In Renaissance Europe, courtiers played an extremely important role in upper-class society.
As it was customary during this time for royal couples to lead separate lives—commonly marrying simply to preserve bloodlines and to secure political alliances—men and women would often seek gratification and companionship from people living at court.
In these cases, their relationships with those of high social status had the potential to improve their spouses' status—and so, more often than not, the husband was aware of his wife's profession and dealings.
Courtesans from non-wealthy backgrounds provided charming companionship for extended periods, no matter what their own feelings or commitments might have been at the time, and sometimes had to be prepared to do so on short notice.
Often, courtesans serving in this capacity began their career as a prostitute, or were passed from one benefactor to another, thereby resulting in them being viewed in society circles as lower than both their benefactor and those of wealth and power with whom they would socialize.
Often, in instances of this sort, if the courtesan had satisfactorily served a benefactor, that benefactor would, when ending the affair, pass them on to another benefactor of wealth as a favor to the courtesan, or set them up in an arranged marriage to a semi-wealthy benefactor.
For example, they were well-dressed and ready to engage and participate in a variety of topics ranging from art to music to politics.