Assorted background links. Nell was mentioned by Pepys on many occasions and was a famous actress. She also became one of the many mistresses of Charles II. Among his famous dying words were his request to his brother James II "please don't let poor Nelly starve".
Richard Holden • Link
My Pepys also mentions Nell as living on Drury Lane.
I was in the Nell Gwyn Pub Friday just off the Strand, nice Ales.
See Grammont's footnote number 166 for her life details and little anecdotes.
dirk • Link
Nell Gwynne (by Peter Lely)
CGS • Link
another lead on her story put together later:
" There lies intomb'd with this marble pile,
The wonder of her sex, who for a while
Fate durst not venture on, but taking breath
He has refin'd her to the arms of Death.
Readers, lament ! for seldom shall you find
The weaker sex to bear so strong a mind.
Strengthened with all the virtues France or th' Rhine,
England and Spain could infuse from wine.
But Bacchus, unkind, did tempt her to ingage,
Where she expired by subtle Neptune's rage.
The fate was cruel, yet the fame remains ;
For drinking, none like her the world contains.
So after-ages then, a stattue raise,
That we may eternalize her praise."
Mrs. Ellen Guyn's Character.
Mrs. Guyn, tho' Mistress to a Monarch, was the Daughter ot a Fruiterer in Covent Garden.
This shews that Sultans, Emperors and Kings, When Blood boils high will stoop to meanest Things.
Nelly, for by that Name she was universally known, came into the Theatre in the way of her Business, to sell Fruit,
The Orange-basket her fair Arms did suit,
Laden with Pippins and Hesperian Fruit,
This first step rais'd, to th' wond'ring Pit she sold
The lovely Fruit smiling with streaks of Gold.
Fate now for her did its whole force engage,
And from the Pit she's mounted to the Stage,
There in full Lustre did her Glories shine,
And long eclips'd, spread forth her Light divine;
There Hart's and Rowley's Soul she did ensnare,
And made a King the Rival to a Play'r.
This is Lord Rochester's account.
---The History of the Stage. C. Cibber, 1742
Eleanor Gwynn, better known by the familiar name of Nell, was, at her first setting out in the world, a plebeian of the lowest rank, and sold oranges in the playhouse. Nature seems to have qualified her for the theatre. Her person, though below the middle size, was well turned; she had a good natural air, and a sprightliness that promised every thing in comedy. She was instructed by Hart and Lacy who were both actors of eminence; and, in a short time, she became eminent herself in the same profession. She acted the most spirited and fantastic parts, and spoke a prologue or epilogue with admirable address. The pert and vivacious prattle of the orange-wench, was, by degrees, refined into such wit as could please Charles II. Indeed it was sometimes carried to extravagance: but even her highest flights were so natural, that they rather provoked laughter than excited disgust. She is said to have been kept by lord Dorset, before she was retained by the king, and to have been introduced to the latter, by the duke of Buckingham, with a view of supplanting the dutchess of Cleveland. Nell ,who knew how to mimic every thing ridiculous about the court, presently ingratiated herself with her merry sovereign, and retained a considerable place in his affection to the time of his death.—She continued to hang on her cloaths with her usual negligence when she was the king's mistress: but whatever she did became her. Ob. 1687.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.