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Gwyn, Nell

Gwyn, Nell (1650–87). Born in 1650 in Hereford, Nell first worked as a barmaid in her mother's drinking-house and then as an orange-seller outside the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (London), before attracting the attention of Charles II, by which time she was a popular actress at the Theatre Royal itself. She became his mistress though sharing his affections with Louise de Kéroualle (duchess of Portsmouth) and others. Charles was infatuated not only by her physical appeal but also by her natural wit, boldness, and sparkle. The birth of two sons, Charles Beauclerk, later earl of Burford and duke of St Albans, on 8 May 1670 and James, on 25 December 1671, ensured that she remained in favour. But Charles's intention of creating her countess of Greenwich never materialized, emphasizing the social distinction made between the treatment of Nell and other royal mistresses. She remained, despite everything, ‘the darling strumpet of the crowd’. Following Charles's death in 1685, she was given Bestwood Park near Nottingham, where she lived until her own death following a stroke on 16 November 1687. She was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

Sue Minna Cannon

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Gwyn, Nell

Nell Gwyn (Eleanor Gwyn), 1650–87, English actress. Once an orange-seller at the Theatre Royal, she became a member of Killigrew's company, making her debut there in 1665. Her charm and vivacity in comic roles endeared her to the public, as did her witty renditions of prologues and epilogues. She became the mistress of Charles II (1669) and bore him two sons, one of whom was created the duke of St. Albans. Her portrait was painted by Sir John Lely; she is the subject of several plays including Sweet Nell of Old Drury, by Paul Kester.

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Gwyn, Nell

Gwyn, Nell (1650–87) English actress. She made her first appearance in John Dryden's The Indian Emperor (1665), after being discovered selling oranges. She attracted the attention of Charles II, and became his mistress.

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