World will call you ‘whore’,
But quick wit and stage presence
Will make term neutral.
Welcome back to Actor Week! We’re continuing with everyone’s favorite royal mistress, Nell Gwynn.
Born in 1650 in London, the details of her early life are decidedly nebulous. Her mother, Ellen, was probably a brothel owner and the identity of her father is murky. Was she a child prostitute? A turnip vendor? A beer slinger? We don’t know.
From 1653 to 1660, there was a decided lack of theater in England as the Puritan Cromwells were in charge and they banned every sort of fun. Charles II, on the other hand, was all about fun and made it legal again as soon as that crown was on his head.
From here, details about Nell get more concrete. Young Nell took advantage of the re-opened playhouses by joining the ranks of ‘orange girls’, who would sell, well, oranges during shows and act as messengers for actors and audience members. From there, she lept onto to the stage and gained a reputation as a wonderful comedic actress. (Not dramatic. Most thought she sucked in those roles and she agreed.)
It was in those roles that she caught the eye of the king and the two were together by 1668. Given Charles’ sluttiness, people were astonished that the relationship lasted, two sons resulting. From there, she kept up with acting (at least until shortly after she had her firstborn), and friendships with such folk as Samuel Pepys, Aphra Behn, and Chuck’s other mistresses. (Okay, she bickered with rival Louise de Kerouaille, but they also had tea together, so.)
But fun times end for all, even for kings. Charles’ last words were reportedly, “Let not poor Nelly starve.” Unfortunately, his brother James did not have to follow these deathbed instructions for long, as Nell died just two years later, in 1687. (Either from syphilis complications or being fed up with James badgering her to become Catholic.)
“I AM a whore. Find something else to fight about.” – Nell, to two men fighting on the issue. But I encourage you to check out more of her quotes, because she’s got some zingers.