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Moll Davis
Mary Davis by Sir Peter Lely.jpg
Portrait after Sir Peter Lely
Bornc. 1648
Died1708
London, England
Burial placeSt Anne's Church, Soho, London
Occupation
  • Courtesan
  • singer
  • actress
  • dancer
  • comedian
Spouse
(m. 1686)​
ChildrenMary, Countess of Derwentwater

Mary "Moll" Davis (c. 1648 – 1708), also spelt Davies or Davys, was a courtesan and mistress of King Charles II of England. She was an actress and entertainer before and during her role as royal mistress.

Early life

Mary Davis was born in Westminster, as a presumed illegitimate child of Thomas Howard, 3rd Earl of Berkshire. The eminent diarist Samuel Pepys wrote of Mary as "… a bastard of Collonell Howard, my Lord Barkeshire."[1] Her parentage is also attributed to Thomas' elder brother Charles Howard.[2] Mary's birth is often contradicted,[3][4] though it is believed to be around 1648.

In 1663 Mary had installed herself as an actress in the Duke's Theatre Company, and boarded with the company's manager, Sir William Davenant.[5] There she quickly became a popular singer, dancer and comedian,[6] and began using the name "Moll". Although Samuel Pepys wrote good tidings about Moll,[7][8][9] his wife Elisabeth claimed her to be "the most impertinent slut in the world".[9]

Royal mistress

Portrait of Moll Davis, by Peter Lely

Moll had met King Charles II in a theatre or a coffeehouse in 1667,[10] and soon became his mistress—for her beauty and charm.[4] As a mistress, she was said to have flaunted the wealth she acquired from her association with Charles and gained a reputation for vulgarity and greed.[11][3] She showed off her "mighty pretty fine coach"[12] and a ring worth £600.[11] Moll left the stage in 1668.

Fall from affection and exile

In 1669 Moll gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Mary. The father was King Charles himself. Shortly after the birth of the child, Charles dismissed Moll, possibly due to some chicanery caused by Nell Gwyn; a new rival for the king's affection.[11] In fact, Nell Gwyn and Moll Davis were such rivals for the king's affection that Nell purposely dropped a powerful laxative into a piece of cake Moll was to eat before she was to leave for the king's chamber.[3][4][13]

Moll, however, did not leave empty-handed: Charles awarded her an annual pension for life of £1,000. In January 1667–68, Pepys notes that the king had furnished a house specifically for Moll Davis, stating, "… in Suffolke Street most richly, which is a most infinite shame."[9] At the time this street belonged to a certain James Howard, 3rd Earl of Suffolk, a nephew of Thomas Howard, the presumed father of Moll. She is given in the home rate books of 1672-3 but not earlier.[14]

As a celebrated actress and society lady, she was the subject of many portraits by the preeminent artist Sir Peter Lely.[15]

House in St James's Square

In October 1673 Moll Davis bought a new house in St James's Square, paying £1800.[16] Moll, listed as "Madam Davis", first appears in the ratebook for the year 1675 and lastly appears in 1687.[16] 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.[16] 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 a few fireplaces.[16] It would now have been Number 22, St James's Square, if it had survived.[16] 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.[16]

Marriage

In December 1686, Moll married the French musician and composer James Paisible—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."[17]

The Paisibles joined James' court in exile at St Germain-en-Laye, but in 1693 returned to England, where Paisible became a composer to Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Princess Anne, heir to the throne.[18]

Death

Moll died in London, at her home in Dean Street, in 1708. She was buried at St Anne's Church in Soho, on 24 February.

Moll's daughter, Mary, earned the title of countess and became an actress herself.[19]

References

  1. ^ Pepys 1955, pp. 9–24
  2. ^ "Mary Davies". Chantry Fine Arts.
  3. ^ a b c "Moll Davis - Common actress to royal mistress". History of Royal Women. 3 October 2020. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  4. ^ a b c "Moll Davis". The Wrong Side of the Blanket. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  5. ^ 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)
  6. ^ Baldwin, Olive; Wilson, Thelma (2001). Davis [Davies, Davys], Mary. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.07309.
  7. ^ "Samuel Pepys and the First Actresses". www.rmg.co.uk. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  8. ^ Pepys, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys Part 2. ISBN 1-85998-037-6. OCLC 655643848.
  9. ^ a b c Samuel Pepys Diary 1668 – complete
  10. ^ Sarah (2 March 2014). "The Courtesans of Charles II". History in the (Re)Making. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  11. ^ a b c The Mistresses of Charles II: by Brenda Ralph Lewis Archived 27 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine at Britannia.com
  12. ^ Samuel Pepys Diary February 1669
  13. ^ "Beauclerk, Lady Diana", Oxford Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2003, doi:10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.t007128, retrieved 19 May 2022
  14. ^ '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. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  15. ^ "Madame Davis". Grosvenor Prints.
  16. ^ 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)
  17. ^ Etherege, Sir George, Letters of Sir George Etherege, ed. Bracher, p. 118
  18. ^ Lasocki, David, Paisible, James [Jacques] (c.1656–1721), composer and recorder player in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004)
  19. ^ Urban, Sylvanus (1794). The Gentleman's Magazine: And Historical Chronicle For The Year MDCCXCIV (1794). Vol. LXIV (64). London (Church Yard, Ludgate-Street): Arkose Press. p. 889.

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