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 Nell Gwyn

 by Charles Beauclerk





This biography portrays the life of Nell Gwyn (1650-87), whose 17-year relationship with King Charles II is one of the great love stories of English history. Comic actress, popular icon, Court jester and loyal friend, Nell was the original "people's princess" and the only royal mistress ever to increase her monarch's popularity. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, she was the "living antithesis of Puritanism".

The author Charles Beauclerk is a direct descendant of Charles II and Nell Gwyn
, and has made use of family papers not seen before. The most complete life of Nell Gwyn ever to appear, her story is played out against a backdrop of political intrigue and profound social change. The book brings new insights into Nell's career as an actress as well as her domestic life, and probes beneath the surface of her relationship with the King.

The Restoration was a time of extremes, and no one embodied the spirit of the era quite like Nell Gwyn. A sort of 17th century Cinderella, her experiences ran the social gamut, from London waif to royal mistress, and while her son was made a Duke her mother died in a ditch. Charles's reign was the first truly modern era in England (the era of newspapers, tea and coffee, party politics, one-parent families, and royal walkabouts) and furnishes many parallels with our own, not only politically but socially too. Fanaticism threatened to engulf the country, but the King's close relationship with the people – symbolised by his love for Nell Gwyn – saved the day.

It seems incredible that an oyster wench brought up in the slums of London should have formed a lasting relationship with the most powerful man in the land, and made herself at home in his witty and sophisticated Court. Afterall, Nell must have been more like a hurricane than a breath of fresh air in the corridors and state rooms of Whitehall. As Bishop Burnet exclaimed, she was "the indiscreetest and wildest creature that ever was in a

Charles Beauclerk has presented an intimate portrait of Nell Gwyn, moving beyond the icon to the person and exploring her impact on the life of the Court and the country at large. In doing so, he has been able to establish Nell Gwyn's significance not only for her own time, but for ours too. For here was a woman who brought the monarchy to the people and the people to the monarchy, and what wouldn't the House of Windsor now give for such a force to set to work in the psyche of the nation?

To order Nell Gwyn

US hardcover: Nell Gwyn U.S. Hardcover



Editorial Reviews


Beautiful, quick-witted, good humoured and sexually magnetic, Nell Gwyn remains one of England's great folk-heroines. The story of her exceptional rise from an impoverished childhood (she was the fatherless daughter of an alcoholic bawd) to the wealth and connections that came with being the lover of one history's most louche kings, is a highly charged mix of lust, money, high politics and love. Possibly a child prostitute, 'pretty Nelly', as Samuel Pepys called her in his diary, was famously spotted selling oranges in the first Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She took to the stage and became the most successful comedienne of her day with parts written for her by the great dramatists of the age. It was while she was performing that she caught the eye of Charles II, the newly restored, pleasure-seeking, 'merry monarch' of a nation in full hedonistic reaction to puritan rule. Their affair earned her his undying devotion and, despite the other women in his life, the intense intrigues of court, the fire of London, the great plague and the constant threat of rebellion, their genuine love lasted until their deaths.


- Daily Mail


"Mr. Beauclerk writes of a time when, if it was good to be king, it was good to be his mistress too.  He does not fashionably cut his characters down to modern size -- and is himself directly descended from the union of Charles II and Nell Gwyn, of which he writes with such humor, spirit, and erudition."

- Fay Weldon


"Shining beauty and dazzling wit brought orange-seller Nell Gwyn to the attention of Charles II.  For seventeen years, as lovers and loyal friends, the two shared the pleasures of the bed and the play, of falconry, fishing, and walking in the woods at night.  Charles Beauclerk has the blood of Nell and Charles in his veins, and, through his easy, erudite pen, Restoration England comes alive.  A book to be savored, slowly."


- Gillian Gill, Author of "Nightingales:  The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale"


"As well as being a cracking good read, this is both a scholarly, sympathetic, mature, and thought-provoking biography of our finest folk heroine and a well-rounded portrait of Restoration England."

- Hugh Massingberd, "The Spectator"



Customer Reviews


Nell and the King, 14 Jul 2006


This is the story of a truly extraordinary affair between a commoner and a King, of their lives in London, the Court and the Theatre, as they negotiate the social landmines of their relationship. The author conveys his genuine belief that these two people, so far apart in birth, status and experience, loved and supported each other, despite all the problems surrounding them. If the editing falters a little at the beginning, what follows is both entertaining and informative, inciteful in it's portrayal of life in Carolinian London. Naughty, saucy, loving Nell bestrides the pages, on the stage, working mischief at court, swanning around London in her monogrammed carriage, and finally, alone and in debt, without the true love of her life.

Read this book and get to know Nell and Charles. Decide for yourself, true love or opportunism. Well worth the read, and do read the Epilogue.

- Susan Campbell




The seventeen-year romance-cum-friendship between London's most notable comedienne, the outspoken, salty commoner Nell Gywn and the bright, saturnine, often incomprehensible King Charles II, makes for a lively tale. There's a great deal about Restoration theatre and politics, most especially the politics of the court, as a bonus underpinning to the story of the two unlikely lovers.

But were they so unlikely a pair? Both were children of hardship: Nell, scrambling from poverty and probable illegitimacy to theatrical stardom, then upward to precarious glamour as the King's mistress, and Charles, for eleven years an impoverished, apparent loser scrambling to keep himself going, even to stay alive, in Europe while the Commonwealth ruled.

This is the first time I've gotten much of a feel for what Charles was like as a person, and one of Beauclerk's special skills appears to be character analysis. What an interesting comment on Cromwell's real values was his desire to be adorned in royal regalia after his death. This account of Nell's story is full of similar colorful insights and anecdotes.

I'm familiar with the hardcover edition, and thought those color plates extremely good. Impressively, they are also very well done for this handsome paperback.

- Sally Mosher


Superb Insights Into The 17th and 21st Centuries , 14 Jul 2006


Far more than a mere recitation of dry facts, Charles Beauclerk's biography of the magical life of Nell Gwyn displays rare insight into the human condition, which insights one soon realizes are acutely applicable to the here-and-now of politics, art, and the mysterious attachments of the heart. To history, Nell Gwyn was all to often misunderstood to be merely (pg. 297) "...the stuff of legend, the girl from the slums who had won the heart of a king." In the author's hands, however, this story of love reciprocated (for such it was) is more than romance- it shines a spotlight on the theatre of politics and power which was the 17th century and still is today, in which nothing is as it seems to be, and fame provides a most convincing disguise for the truth. Beauclerk's evident erudition is worn lightly, and in this biography the richly comedic serves to illustrate the philosophical. Beautifully written, the author's style is both polished and relaxed, not unlike the later diaries of James Lees-Milne, with a limpid clarity of prose interspersed with surprising imagery, like his description of the Protestant rabble-rouser Titus Oates, (p. 279) "His mouth, we are told, was in the centre of his face, and he was built like an orc, with short bandy legs and long lifeless arms." On nearly every page one finds apt insights as, for example (p. 293) referring to the death of Nell's mother, " many alcoholics, old Madam Gwyn probably found a way of abandoning decent surroundings for a life of misery somewhere." The world of Charles Stuart and Nell Gwyn was a theatre, both metaphorically and literally, and whether on stage or at court everyone acted a part. In his biography of Nell, the plays of Dryden, Marvell, and others are neatly dissected by Charles Beauclerk to reveal unexpected depths of meaning. Nell was above all a comedienne, a star in her own right whose alliance with the saturnine, tricksy Charles Stuart made them the most successful double act of the 17th century. And there is, of course, the well-known account of Nell, whose coach being attacked by a mob mistaking her for the King's French (and Roman Catholic) mistress Louise de Keroualle, ordered her driver to stop, and flinging open the window (p. 307) "...cried out good-humouredly, 'Pray, good people, be civil, I am the PROTESTANT whore!' Immediately, the curses turned to cheers, caps were tossed in the air, and a path cleared for her coach. Waving and smiling, she passed on." And so, waving and smiling, Nell's brightly shining spirit has been well and truly awakened in this present biography.