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Nell Gwynne

Updated on August 15, 2010

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 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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    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Well Wisher. I admired Nell because she went so far with so little; and it wasn't easy for a woman to make her own way in the world. Her sense of humour was EXQUISITE! I found a LOT of Nell Gwnne stories, but didn't want to make the hub too long. One time, she and the King went out to dinner, and since the King never carried money, Nell ended up paying for the dinner. Know what she said? "I have never been in poorer company!" Bold little thing. Everyone loved her.

    • profile image

      Well Wisher 8 years ago

      I enjoyed your hub. It's a talent to make history interesting. I wonder if you admire Nell because she could laugh on Sundays?

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Good comment, Catherine R. You know, weirdly enough, I liked Camilla and thought she had it a bit rough. I think the reason for the public reaction against Camilla was just that everyone liked PRINCESS DI so very, very much, and they didn't want to see that fairy-tale marriage turn to dust.

      I made a correction to this hub, by the way: It isn't Reformation Enland, it's RESTORATION England. The monarchy was restored. I don't know how I came to make that mistake, and repeat it. I hope this fixes things. Sometimes I wonder if I'm losing it in my middle age!!!!

    • Catherine R profile image

      Catherine R 8 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      That was interesting to me because having lived in London for many years I have seen the pub and heard of Nell Gwynne and I realized that she had something to do with theatre but I didn't know that she was the mistress of Charles 11. How interesting that she was so popular (because of/despite this) - remember how unpopular Camilla Parker Bowles was in the days that she was the mistress of Prince Charles. We seem to have changed our morals a bit as a society.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Oh, good comment, dohn121. Hi awsydney! Glad you both liked the hub. I'm fascinated with Reformation England, ever since that movie, the Libertine. Nell wasn't particularly beautiful, it was her character that made her such a favorite.

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      I'm with the aussie! I've not known Nell until today. Thank you, Paradise7. I think that what many people just don't get is that sex and beauty is not what sells...It's fantasy that gets sold in our modern day theaters and magazine racks.

    • awsydney profile image

      awsydney 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      ok, at least I know who Nell Gwynne is now! Thanks!