Special Sub-Topic: Nell Gwyn
|When was Nell Gwyn born?|
1650. A horoscope (prepared by the antiquarian and astrologer Elias Ashmole) survives, and shows the day of her birth as Saturday, September 2, 1650. This date is generally accepted. Her birthplace, however, is disputed. Some people believe she was born in Hereford in what was then called Pipe Well Lane but is now known as Gwyn Street. Others say that she was born where she grew up, in the neighbourhood of Drury Lane in London. Anthony à Wood, the 17th-century Oxford historian, says that she was the granddaughter of Dr Edward Gwyn, a Canon of Christ Church, and Parker thinks that Oxford is perhaps the most likely birthplace.
|What part did Mary Meggs play in Nell's early life?|
She employed Nell as an orange-seller at the King's Theatre. Little is known for certain of Nell's early years. Her mother worked for some time as a barmaid in the Rose Tavern, next door to Drury Lane Theatre. Samuel Pepys reports hearing of a quarrel between Nell and another actress in 1667, in which Nell admitted having been "brought up in a bawdy-house to fill strong waters to the guests." At all events, by the age of thirteen she was one of the orange-girls who worked for Mary Meggs ("Orange Moll") at Thomas Killigrew's theatre in Drury Lane. In those days an orange cost sixpence - that's several pounds in 2003 money.
|Nell's first serious affair was with Charles Hart. Who was he?|
An actor. Charles Hart had begun acting as a boy before the theatres were closed down by Parliament in 1642, and he was highly regarded by playgoers and critics. He shared Nell's affections with an older actor, John Lacy, who had started out as a dancing master. The two men are generally thought to have taught Nell the rudiments of acting and dancing, enabling her to progress "from the pit to the stage." Hart and Nell Gwyn often appeared together on stage: they are perhaps the first notable British theatrical couple.
|Nell is generally reckoned to have made her first stage appearance as Cydaria, the daughter of Montezuma, in "The Indian Emperor." Who was the author of this play?|
John Dryden. Critics and audiences generally agreed that she was unsuited to the part, though she continued to play it: Pepys' diary contains two adverse criticisms of her performance (August 22 and November 11, 1667). She had much greater success in comic roles, especially when she was teamed with her lover Charles Hart. One of their greatest triumphs was in Dryden's "Secret Love," premiered in 1667: Dryden certainly had Nell in mind when he wrote the part.
|In the summer of 1667, the London theatres were closed down during the Dutch wars. Nell transferred her affections from Hart to a young nobleman. Who was he?|
Lord Buckhurst. Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, was the heir to the Earl of Dorset. He was one of a group of young men, sometimes known as "The Wits" or "The Merry Gang," who spent much time in the company of the King and Court. They included the Earl of Rochester, Henry Jermyn, Sir Charles Sedley, and the playwrights Etherege and Wycherley. Many of them were well known as rakes. Buckhurst lived with Nell during the summer of 1667 at Epsom, then a fashionable watering-place.
|Nell's theatrical life was mainly lived at the Drury Lane theatre, but she also entertained the Court at a fashionable spa. Where was this?|
Tunbridge Wells. Tunbridge Wells is about 35 miles from London, just off the road to Hastings. It was one of the first great English spas, and was enjoying its heyday in Charles II's reign. The King brought his Queen there in the hope that the waters would help her to conceive (spa waters were credited with the most amazing powers!). The players from the London companies were invited down there to entertain the Court. Some people think that Nell's liaison with the King may have begun there, but the weight of evidence suggests that they first met rather later.
|Besides Nell, another London actress became a mistress of Charles II. Who was this?|
Mary ("Moll" or "Mall") Davis. Moll Davis (sometimes called Mall) probably became Charles's mistress shortly before Nell. At that time, she was particularly admired for her singing of the song "My lodging is on the cold ground" in William Davenant's "The Rivals." There was a degree of rivalry between Moll and Nell: one story says that, when Moll was scheduled to spend the night with the King, Nell spiked Moll's drink with a laxative (or in some versions an emetic). Although Moll didn't share the King's bed as long as Nell, she continued to act and sing at Court: in 1684 she played the part of Venus in one of the earliest English operas, John Blow's "Venus and Adonis."
|On May 8, 1670, Nell gave birth to her first son by the King. The boy was eventually made a duke - with which title?|
Duke of St Albans. The boy, Charles Beauclerk, was made Baron Hedington and Earl of Burford at the age of six, and Duke of St Albans at the age of fourteen. Duke of Richmond was the title given to the King's son by Louise de Kéroualle (Duchess of Portsmouth); the Duke of Grafton was his son by Barbara Villiers (Lady Castlemaine), and Duke of Buccleuch was a Scottish title held by the ill-fated Duke of Monmouth. Charles's fertility seems to have been passed on to his descendants, for all these dukedoms survive: in 2003 the peerage includes the 14th Duke of St Albans, the 11th Duke of Grafton, the 10th Duke of Richmond and the 8th Duke of Buccleuch. Nell's second son by the King, Lord James Beauclerk, died in his ninth year.
|Which British institution, founded by Charles II, is traditionally said to have been suggested by Nell Gwyn?|
The Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The Royal Hospital was founded by Charles II in 1682 to provide accommodation and care for army veterans. Today it has about 350 "pensioners," whose uniforms (red in summer, blue in winter) are one of the traditional features of London life. Alas, there is no hard evidence that the Hospital owes its existence to Nell. Charles was probably inspired by Louis XIV's Hôtel des Invalides in Paris, which had been founded twelve years earlier.
|When did Nell Gwyn die?|
1687. Nell lived for about 2¾ years after the death of Charles II and died on November 14, 1687 at the age of 37. The cause of her death is not known, but it may have the after-effects of a stroke that she suffered some months earlier. She was buried in St Martin's-in-the-Fields, the parish church for her town house in Pall Mall. Her funeral sermon was preached by the vicar of St Martin's, Thomas Tenison, who went on to become Bishop of Lincoln and Archbishop of Canterbury.
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