Nell Gwynn’s foul trick on fellow mistress to secure Charles II’s favour | History | News

Nell Gwynn’s foul trick on fellow mistress to secure Charles II’s favour | History | News

Nell Gwynn – also spelled Gwyn and Gwynne – is one of the most famous mistresses in history. Nell was born on February 2, 1650 in the depths of poverty and began working in one of London’s most productive brothels. She soon became a celebrity of the era, enjoying a successful career on stage with famed diarist Samuel Pepys, who praised her. She attempted to climb the ranks even further by enlisting the favor of King Charles II with a sneaky trick against her rival.

After working at Madam Ross’ brothel serving drinks to drunk players, Nell landed a job through her sister Rose’s contact with playwright Harry Killigrew and a job selling oranges at the new King’s House, where she was introduced to acting.

Later, Mr. Killinger, impressed by Nell, introduced her to the Hart and Lacy theater company. Her career flourished and by 1665 she was making a name for herself, described by Samuel Pepys as “pretty, witty Nell” in his journal entry in April of that year.

But disaster struck. London was struck by the Great Plague and the theaters were soon closed. The following year, the Great Fire of London swept through the capital, destroying around 13,000 homes.

At the same time, King Charles II faced many difficulties in his life. His wife, Queen Catherine, was unable to produce an heir. The monarch, who was “addicted to women” according to diarist John Evelyn, didn’t seem to have that problem as he had 13 children by different mistresses, all of whom were illegitimate.

Nell, whose career suffered from the London disasters, traveled to Tunbridge Wells with several other actresses, including Mary Moll Davis, to win the King’s favour.

Moll, who had much in common with Nell, was also an entertainer and their rivalry had started on the stage. While Nell was famous as a comedy actress at the King’s Theatre, Moll’s singing and dancing captivated audiences at Duke’s Theatre.

It is said that Moll was the illegitimate daughter of Thomas Howard, third Earl of Berkshire, and therefore considered herself of higher status than Nell. It was Moll who first won the king’s favor and was chosen as his mistress.

It meant she was showered with gifts, which she drew the attention of her rivals to by boasting about her “powerful, pretty good trainer” and a ring worth £600, around £110,000 today. Nell then devised a ruse to ensure that it would be her in Charles’ bed.

One evening, hearing of Moll’s appointment with the king, Nell invited her rival to tea, but the cakes she served were far from what they seemed.

READ MORE: Affairs, Exiles and Beheadings: The Reigns of King Charles I and II

The sweet treats were laced with jalapepe, a powerful laxative that Moll was taking. Nell’s plan worked as hoped and she was seen in Charles’ company from then on.

Nell was known for her wit: she famously called the king “her Karl the Third”, a reference to her two previous lovers, who were also named Karl. It was this humor and good company that endeared her to the monarch.

She was bequeathed a house in Newmarket, West Suffolk, as she enjoyed gambling and horse racing. Charles often spent summers there with her, even discussing matters of state with her – which left the court less than pleased.

During their relationship, which lasted until the king’s death in 1685, she had two children, one of whom died in infancy. Her son did not receive a title – which many of Charles’ illegitimate children also received, further infuriating the court.

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However, Nell had another trick up her sleeve to make this happen. As the couple watched their son play, she waved her child over and called out, “Come on, you little bastard, and say hello to your father.” This horrified Charles, who quickly arranged for him to be given the title of Duke of St .Albans was awarded.

Nell remained close to the king’s heart to the end. On his deathbed he asked his brother and heir to the throne, James II, “not to let poor Nelly starve”.

But after the King’s death, Nell’s love of gambling got her in hot water, and she was soon locked up in a debtors’ prison until the new monarch was convinced to ransom her and pay her a pension of more than £200,000 today.

She died just two years after Charles at the age of 37.

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