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Moll Davis, portrait after Sir Peter Lely, circa 1665-1670

Mary "Moll" Davis (also Davies or Davys;[1] ca. 1648 – 1708) was a seventeenth-century entertainer and courtesan, singer and actress who became one of the many mistresses of King Charles II of England.

Early life, theatre career

Davis was born around 1648 in Westminster and was said by Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, to be "a bastard of Collonell Howard, my Lord Barkeshire" - probably meaning Thomas Howard, third Earl of Berkshire.[2]

During the early 1660s she was an actress in the 'Duke's Theatre Company' and boarded with the company's manager, Sir William Davenant.[3]

She became a popular singer, dancer and comedian, but the wife of Pepys called her "the most impertinent slut in the world".[4]

Royal mistress

Davis met King Charles II in a theatre or coffee-house in about 1667.

She flaunted the wealth she acquired from her association with Charles, and gained a reputation for vulgarity and greed. She showed off her "mighty pretty fine coach" (Pepys:[5]) and a ring worth £600, in those days a vast sum. [6]

Davis gave up the stage in 1668 and in 1669 had a daughter by Charles, Lady Mary Tudor, who became famous in her own right. Later, Charles dismissed Davis, possibly due to some chicanery by Nell Gwynne, a major rival for the King's affections. [6] Davis did not leave empty-handed however: Charles awarded her an annual pension for life of £1,000. In January, 1667–68, Pepys notes that the King had furnished a house for Moll Davis, the actress, "in Suffolke Street most richly, which is a most infinite shame." At the time this street belonged to James Howard, 3rd Earl of Suffolk and 3rd Lord de Walden, a nephew of Thomas Howard, Moll's natural father. Mary Davis is given in the rate books for 1672-3 but not earlier. [7]

As a celebrated actress and society lady, she was the subject of portraits by the fashionable artist, Sir Peter Lely. [8]

House in St James's Square

In October 1673, Davis bought a new house in St James's Square from trustees for Edward Shaw, paying £1800.[9] 'Madam Davis' first appears in the ratebook for the year 1675 and last appears in 1687.[9] This house (which was surveyed by John Soane in 1799) was almost square and had three storeys, each with four evenly-spaced windows, all dressed with a wide architrave and cornice.[9] The staircase hall was south of a large room in front, and two smaller rooms and a secondary staircase at the rear. There was a massive cross-wall, containing the fireplaces of the back rooms.[9] It would now have been Number 22, St James's Square, if it had survived.[9] It was demolished in 1847 to make way for a new club house for the Army and Navy Club, having survived longer than any other of the other original houses in the square.[9]

Marriage

In December 1686, Davis married the French musician and composer James Paisible (c. 1656-1721), a member of James II's private musick.

Sir George Etherege wrote scornfully of the marriage: "Mrs Davies has given proof of the great passion she always had for music, and Monsieur Peasible has another bass to thrum than that he played so well upon".[10]

The Paisibles joined James's court in exile at St Germain-en-Laye, but in 1693 returned to England, where Paisible became composer to Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Princess Anne, heir to the throne.[11]

References

  1. ^ Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson. "Davis, Mary". In Macy, Laura. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ Pepys, 9.24
  3. ^ Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson, Davis [Davies; married name Paisible], Mary [Moll] (c.1651–1708), actress and royal mistress in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  4. ^ Samuel Pepys Diary 1668 - complete
  5. ^ Samuel Pepys Diary February 1669
  6. ^ a b The Mistresses of Charles II: by Brenda Ralph Lewis at Britannia.com
  7. ^ 'Suffolk Street and Suffolk Place', Survey of London: volume 20: St Martin-in-the-Fields, pt III: Trafalgar Square & Neighbourhood (1940), pp. 89-94. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=68418 Date accessed: 26 May 2010.
  8. ^ "Madame Davis". Grosvenor Prints. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f 'St James's Square: Army and Navy Club', in Survey of London, volumes 29 and 30 (St James Westminster, Part 1 (1960) pp. 180-186, online at St James's Square: Army and Navy Club at british-history.ac.uk(accessed 18 January 2008)
  10. ^ Etherege, Sir George, Letters of Sir George Etherege, ed. Bracher, p. 118
  11. ^ Lasocki, David, Paisible, James [Jacques] (c.1656–1721), composer and recorder player in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004)

2 Annotations

Rex Gordon  •  Link

Moll Davis, the leading coquette of the Duke's company, could not match Nell Gwynn in comedic skills; where Nell was spontaneous and witty, Moll was simply coarse. But she was the better dancer of the two. The second-rate poet Richard Flecknoe, who disapproved of theatre-folk for their loose morals, nevertheless gave Moll credit for her talent:

Who would not think to see thee dance so light,
Thou wert all air? Or else all soul and spirit?

At one performance at court, Moll cavorted so suggestively that not only the queen but also, astonishingly, Lady Castlemaine were affronted and left abruptly. At another court performance, everyone watched the king as he ogled Moll and observed Lady Castlemaine passing the evening in stony-faced silence. By 1668 it was common knowledge that Charles had set Moll up in a house in Suffolk Street, off Pall Mall, and that she had left the Duke's company. In 1673 she presented Charles with his last illegitimate child, a daughter, christened Mary Tudor. Moll enjoyed all the perks associated with her position, including her own carriage and footmen, and regularly importuned the king for more gifts, one of which was a ring said to be worth 600 pounds. She held the king's interest longer than most of his mistresses. When the royal ardor finally cooled Moll was left with a pension of 1,000 pounds a year and an even finer house in St James's Square.

Taken from Derek Wilson, "All the King's Women,(Love, Sex and Politics in the Life of Charles II)" Chapter 9.

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References

Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.

1666

1667

  • Mar
  • Aug

1668

1669