"Nell Gwyn, Charles II's rumbustious mistress"
Portrait of Nell Gwyn by Sir Peter Lely c.1675
Public DomainPortrait of Nell Gwyn by Sir Peter Lely c.1675 - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Nell Gwyn (1650-1687) was an actress who became the most famous of King Charles II's mistresses.  Well-known in her day, her story has become part of popular folk culture with its echoes of the classic Cinderella-like rags-to-riches tale.

After being employed to sell oranges at the newly licensed Theatre in Bridges Street, (later to become the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) she went on to become an actress.  The new style Restoration comedy suited her talents, making her a star of the London theatre.  The affair with Charles II seems to have begun in 1668, and although Charles was by no means the first rich man with whom Nell had affairs, he was by far the most prestigious.  After the death of King Charles on 6th February 1685, his brother James II, who succeeded him to the throne, proved faithful to Charles's wish to 'not let poor Nelly starve'; he paid off her debts and made her an allowance.  Nell outlived Charles by three years, and died of a stroke.  During her time with the King, she had two sons by him and was the only one of his many mistresses to enjoy public popularity.


Part of an historical monologue, 400 Years of English History by George S. Stuart.  This except contains an anecdote about Nell Gwyn.