Nell Gwynne as "Cupid"
Nell Gwynne (1650-1687) was born in The Coal Yard, off Drury Lane, in London, England. Nell got off to a rough start in life. He father was a soldier who was ruined by the English Civil War, when the Roundheads with Thomas Cromwell established a Puritan protectorate, deposed King Charles I, and lopped off his head.
Nell's mother drowned in a pond at Chelsea, while inebriated.
Nell sold oranges near the theater in Drury Lane, until she became an actress at the age of 15. She quickly became popular in comic parts. Samuel Pepys writes in his diary:
So great a performance in a comical part was never done in the world before...it cannot be better done in nature...
Nell excelled at the delivery of spicy, witty prologues and epilogues. Part of her success was due to the patronage of John Dryden, who wrote parts especially for her. She remained a member of the Drury Lane Company, performing many comic roles to the delight of packed houses in John Dryden's theater.
It was as the mistress of King Charles II from 1670 until his death that made Nell even more of a public favorite. The Restoration of the monarchy (back by popular demand!) was in full swing; London was experiencing a reaction from the dour, churchly, Puritan rule of the Roundheads. The party was on...
Nell's candid recklessness; her open indiscretions, her quick wit and ready smile appealed enormously to the London public. She was a true child of the London streets; she was the antithesis of Puritanism and the spirit of Restoration England.
Her rags-to-riches story made her a perennial favorite with the London people. The Nell Gwynne pub remains open to this day.
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