This is the last woman who loved Charles II that we are going to explore this week. After this one, I think I have hit all of the most important ones. There will still be a book review and vocab posts this week on this subject.
Nell Gwyn was very different from the women Charles’ typically had dalliances with. She was an actress and grew up in the streets – she wasn’t at all refined like the other ladies we saw this week. Nell started off her theatre career at a young age as a vendor of oranges during the productions at the King’s Theatre. She started out acting at age 14. She was able to move up the ranks and become one of the first well known actresses at the time.
Nell met King Charles while watching a show with a date. They seem to have began their relationship shortly thereafter in April of 1668. Nell found her way as mistress relatively unblocked at the time as Barbara Palmer was basically no real competition at the time. Louise de Keroualle would eventually become her rival a few years into their relationship. Nell had 2 sons by Charles: Charles Beauclerk (in 1670) and James Beauclerk (in 1671 – he died at age 6). This would give him 8 sons – and none of these were from his wife!
Her relationship with Charles lasted until his death. He is said to have made the famous statement on his deathbed to his brother James, “And let not poor Nelly starve”. James followed his brother’s request – her debts were paid off, she was given a pension, and her mortgage was paid. Two years after Charles death Nell suffered 2 strokes, one that paralyzed one side and the other that left her bedridden. She died a few months later at the age of 37.
If you would like to read more about Nell try these books:
The King’s Favorite: A Novel of Nell Gwyn and King Charles II by Susan Holloway Scott
Nell Gwyn: Mistress to a King by Charles Beauclerk (a descendant of Charles and Nell)
Nell Gwyn by Derek Parker
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