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Nell Gwynne - King's mistress
Nell Gynne in King Charle's arms in the BBC series
Nell Gwynne in King Charles's arms in the BBC series

She was a Hereford girl who became a Royal mistress. As the life of Charles II becomes a major BBC TV series we look at the colourful life of Nell Gwynne.

Charles II and Worcester
Map of Charles II landmarks
Charles - the power and the passion

Nell Gwynne - history UK
Nell Gwynne - biography
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Born 1650 at Pipewell Lane, Hereford.

In her early teens was an Orange seller at the Drury Lane Theatre in London

Made her debut as an actress in 1665

Became (one of the many) mistresses of King Charles II in 1670

Is mentioned in Samuel Pepys diary as "Pretty, witty Nell"

Bore two sons by Charles - one died and the other was made Earl of Burford and, subsequently, Duke of St. Albans

She survived Charles and was given a pension by James II

She died in 1687, aged 37, and is buried in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Field

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Nell Gwynne certainly knew how to live life to the full, packing a career as an orange seller, an actress and a royal mistress into her 37 years.

Hereford has always laid claim to Nell Gwynne - there's still a pub named after her in Monkmoor street in the City.

She was probably born in Pipewell Lane, though naturally London has also laid claim to Nell, saying she was born near Drury Lane, where she later made her name as an actress.

Her parents were colourful characters.

Dad was a former soldier, ruined by the civil war, and he died in a debtors prison in Oxford, and his daughter probably didn't know him.

Her mother was drowned in a pond at Chelsea in July 1679, probably while she was drunk.

By this time Nell was already an actress - though she'd started work as an orange seller at the Drury Lane theatre.

Orange selling was a euphemism for a much older profession, though Nell was never ashamed of this.

She once told a crowd surrounding her carriage "Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore."

Though barely able to sign her name Nell was a vivacious character - Samuel Pepys was entranced by her, called her "Pretty, witty Nell" is his famous diary.

It wasn't long before Nell was the mistress of Charles Hart the actor, and was having plays written for her. She was especially good at comic roles.

Nell had a thing about men with the name Charles - after Charles Hart she became mistress of Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and then Charles II, King of England. Nell called them Charles the first, Charles the second and Charles the third!

Royal mistress

Being a Royal mistress under the Stuarts was a very public position - Nell was one of 13 mistresses Charles II kept.

Unlike some of Charles' other mistresses Nell was popular with the public possibly because she wasn't a gold digger.

The king set her up in a nice little house 200 yards from Windsor castle and paid her a pension out of the Secret Service budget!

She bore him two children: The elder was born in 1670 the elder, Charles ( I wonder where that name came from?) was made Baron Heddington and Earl of Burford and, later, Duke of St. Albans.

The younger, James, born a year later died when he was nine.

Nell remained a royal mistress until Charles died, indeed some of his last words are reputed to have been "let not poor Nelly starve."

James I, who succeeded to the throne, saw that she didn't - paying off her debts and granting her another pension - again out of the Secret Service budget!

Nell died young, even for those times, at the age of 37, and her funeral was a very public event, with the funeral sermon being preached by the vicar, Thomas Tenison, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury.

Its hard to imagine that happening today.

If you know anything about the life and times of Nell Gwynne then let us know. E-mail: or
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