1893 text

Mrs. Knight, a celebrated singer and mistress of Charles II. There is in Waller’s “Poems” a song sung by her to the queen on her birthday. In her portrait, engraved by Faber, after Kneller, she is represented in mourning, and in a devout posture before a crucifix. Evelyn refers to her singing as incomparable, and adds that she had “the greatest reach of any English woman; she had been lately roaming in Italy, and was much improv’d in that quality” (“Diary,” December 2nd, 1674).

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

2 Annotations

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Mary Knight, a pupil of Henry Lawes and probably the best-known soprano of her day. Her vocal range was remarkable: see Evelyn, iii. 230, iv. 49 & nn. Pepys does not appear to have heard her during the diary period.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Mary "Moll" Knight, another mistress of Charles II, was famous for her beauty and the sweetness of her voice. She appears to have become the mistress of the King earlier than 1667, when, according to a lampoon of the times, she was employed by him to procure the favors of Nell Gwyn. That the King would engaging a mistress in such a delicate transaction implies a cessation of activities, if not also of sentiment and regard -- but Charles continued their friendship, if not intimacy, for many more years.

On 13 March, 1682, Pepys writes to Lord Brounker: 'I have not yet been to Mrs. Nelly's, but I hear that Mrs. Knight is better, and the King takes his repose there once or twice daily.'

Mary Knight’s admirable singling probably served to prolong their connection after her beauty had ceased to charm. The sweetness of her voice is celebrated by Pepys. (Memoirs of the Court of England During the Reign of the Stuarts, Volume 3: 7392-392)

Charles II continued their friendship for many years, as he was a frequent visitor to her lodgings during the Newmarket meetings, regardless of Nell Gwyn and the duchesses of Richmond and Cleveland being in attendance at the same time.

The excellence of her voice is also implied in Waller's 'Poems' as we find 'a song sung by Mrs. Knight to her Majesty on her birthday.'

According to the lampoons of the times, Mary “Moll” Knight was just as celebrated for her profanity as for her voice.

We think Mary Knight died repentant. Mary’s picture by Kneller represents her in mourning, kneeling before a crucifix when she is older, but her countenance shows beauty. Her arms are meekly forded upon her breast, while penitence and humility are strongly implied in her face. (The History of Newmarket and the Annals of the Turf, Volume 3: 37)

For more gossip about many of Charles' amours:

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