Nell Gwynn: Not your strumpet

Nells mother ran a brothel; her Dad wasn’t on the scene. But this wasn’t even the most tulmotous part of her, far from ideal, childhood. 

Born in 1650, Nell grew up in one of the most difficult times in English history.

By 11 Nell had seen England change from a puritanical Government led country, where church attendance was mandatory and gambling, dancing and theatre was banned – to a country with a new King, Charles ll, at its helm, who loved nothing more than a drink, a dance and a roll of the dice.

It was to say the least: a full on clusterfuck of change!

Nell saw her future possibilities and place in society change overnight.

BUT she didn’t have time to focus on how the rich (and therefore powerful) were turning her world on its head; she had to earn a living!

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But obviously less making it rain, more making it so you eat and don’t die…

Growing up in a brothel it’s very possible that Nell worked there as a child and although that suggests she may have dabbled working as a sex worker, it’s not known for sure if she did.

What we do know is that one of Nells jobs was to fetch brandy to refresh worn out punters mid session. A totally acceptable job for a child. What gif.gif

But, growing up in the brothel made Nell a hustler and by her early teens she was flogging oranges to the crowds now flocking to Londons Covent Garden and its newly re-opened theatre district.

Orange selling may sound wholesome, but believe me, it was dog eat dog.

With hoards of sellers packing the streets, only the loudest, boldest and most whip smart would get theirs wares noticed. In this competitive game of survival, Nell was a clear winner.

With a quick wit, a no nonsense attitude and looks to boot she quickly captured the attention of the crowd and her oranges were selling like hot cakes (or hot oranges?…)

But it wasn’t just Theatre go-ers who were attracted to Nell. The Kings own theatre company soon noticed Nell and invited her to join their troupe.

At just 14 Nell became one of the first female actresses to take the stage.

Nell Gwynn, painting
The hero of our play, Nell Gwynn

Sadly, Nell couldn’t read or write, which made reading scripts and learning lines pretty much impossible!

Still, she found ways round this. Having herself coached through the dialogue.

But this impairment perhaps explains why Nell hated dramas, which she found dull and too wordy (to be fair, if you’ve ever had to sit through a restoration era drama, then I’m sure you agree)

Yet, when it came to comedy, Nell would light up a stage. Using her fast wit and ability to creatively swear like a sailor, Nell became a household name.

Esteemed writer Samuel Pepys was a huge Nell fan girl, dubbing her:

‘Pretty witty Nell’

His thirst apparently could not be contained and Pepys continued;

‘So great a performance of a comical part, I believe, was never in the world before’

Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys: Fan girl and thirstiest bitch on the planet 

As all good theatre kids know, a play isn’t anything if there isn’t a showmance behind the scenes and Nell was more than happy to do her bit. So, she started an affair with famed actor, Charles Hart.

Like all good showmances the pair starred opposite each other in several productions and their PDA made things nice and awkward for everyone working with them.

But it wasn’t too last. Nell moved onwards and upwards. Starting affairs with many a man whose name started with ‘Sir’ and ‘Lord’.

And then one night Nells life changed for ever…

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It’s about to be just like disney; with added sex, swearing and alcohol!

In 1667 a 17 year old Nell was performing in ‘The Maiden Queen’, when the thirty something King Charles ll rocked up.

Charles was taken with Nell, as was his pal, the Duke of Buckingham, who saw Nell as the perfect pawn for a scheme he was plotting.

You see, The Duke of Buckingham was keen to oust the Kings current mistress, Barbara Castlemaine, who he believed was demanding too much money and power.

So why not replace the noble born Barbara with this gutter snipe? Nell was a slum girl done good, surely she’d be so thrilled at being in the Kings bed and would be no trouble at all!

Not our Nell!

Nell immediately refused the Mistressing offer. Unless, of course, she was paid £500 compensation for the ‘trouble’ that becoming the Kings mistress would cause her.

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Truly, Nell had historic levels of sass

The King wouldn’t pay Nell… but he also couldn’t resist her.

She soon became became a fixture at court parties, events and plays.

Within months the unlikely pair were firm friends and only then did Nell fall into Charles bed and accept the role of royal mistress.

Of course she still had caveats! She wasn’t giving up her career for anyone.

Charles eventually agreed and so Nell became one of the first Royal Mistresses to hold down a career and her mistress-ing duties.

Nell Gwynn, portrait 2.jpg
Duties that included, but were not limited to, occasionally getting half a boob out

Charles was enamored with Nell. So enamoured in fact that he had a topless portrait of Nell made and took immense pleasure in taking male friends into his rooms to let them marvel at the fine piece he was tapping. Because Charles was nothing if not a classy King. Nell Gwynn as venus

Nell was the apple of Charles eye…but that eye had a habit of wandering.

In 1668 Charles made entertainer, Moll Davis his mistress.

He lavished Moll with jewels and the promise of a house. The similarities between the two women were obvious and this cut a little to close to the bone for Nell. So she decided to shut that shit down.

Moll Davis
Moll Davis – I mean she hasn’t even got half a boob out, what kind of mistress is she?

Nell sent a dish of sweet meats for Moll to fill up on before she joined the King in bed that night (gotta keep your energy up!).

Sadly the sweet meats were laced with laxatives and for some reason Moll didn’t make her rendezvous with Charles…

Shortly after she was removed from mistress-ing duties.

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After Moll, no other mistress came close to toppling Nell. By 1670 she was firmly the main woman in Charles life and was pregnant with his child.

She decided to rest up and make sure her unborn baby was safe, so stopped working as an actress.

Unfortunately, at the same time, Charles decided she should also stop working as his mistress.

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Appropriate reaction

There was a new lady in Charles life and this one was no less than French nobility!

Louise de Kéroulle moved to England to serve the Queen (she had previously served Charles sister in France) Charles was soon head over heels for his wifes new maid and made her a royal mistress.

Louise used this new position to enjoy the finer things in life. She spent wads of cash on art, fashion and jewels. On the side she took up politics, forging herself a key role in English affairs with which to promote French causes.

Louise de Kéroulle
Louise De Kerolle: Unlike Moll, you know she is a threat because she has both boobs out.

Unsurprisingly Nell and Louise did not get along.

Not only were they fighting over the same man, but they were from two very different worlds. Louise was born into her position, Nell had to fight tooth and nail. Louise had never needed to work a day in her life, while Nell loved the independence work gave her so much that she was back on stage a mere four months after giving birth!

The fight between Louise and Nell got dirty real quick. And by that I mean they used tactics that were less based in Royal proticall and more Mean Girls.

Nell dubbed Louise ‘squintabella’ (due to a slight cast on Louise’s eye) and Louise never missed a chance to bitch out Nells lowly birth.

Charles gave Louise the title, Duchess of Portsmouth, as thanks for her role as mistress. Obviously Louise looooved rubbing this in Nell’s face. Once confronting/faux complimenting Nell in a crowded room (As she was passive aggressively want to do)

‘Nelly, you are grown rich, I believe, by your dress; why woman you are fine enough to be a queen’

Nell shot back

‘You are entirely right, madam, and I am whore enough to be a duchess.’

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Bitchy comments aside, Nell had one thing Louise could never have.

She had the people on her side.

English people had a history of not being huge fans of the French and they were certainly not fans of Louise.

She was a catholic in a protestant country, who was rumored to be a spy and oh yeah…she was French. Nell played up to this.

One day when riding through London, the people in the street stopped to boo the carriage, thinking the woman inside to be Louise.

Calmly Nell popped her head out of the window and said:

“Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore” 

popcorn gif.gif

seriously, get Tina Fey, I think we found a Mean Girls prequel 

In addition to her ability to sass for days, a HUGE positive Nell had going for her in the growing battle against Louise, was that she didn’t engage in politics.

This was a shrewd move. Nell had seen countless mistresses removed from their posts due to political meddling. Hell, she had even bought in as a mistress to oust the political minded Barbara Castlemaine!

The more Louise pushed for Frances interests in English politics, the more she pissed people off and pushed Charles away.

Nell opted for a different tact. She wanted to show Charles she was in it for the long haul. That the only thing she wanted from this relationship was him.

She didn’t ask for titles unless it was for their children and only pushed for political and social change on very rare occasions; which had the added bonus that this meant she was more likely to be listened to.

Nell’s clever moves paid off in 1675 when an exotic new woman arrived at court and pushed Louise off her pedestal.

The arrival of Italian runaway bride, Hortense Mancini, sent Louise packing.

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Hortense Mancini, only one boob out…who knows what that means at this point

But Nell wouldn’t be ousted so easily. By now she had stopped acting and given Charles 2 sons, she’d paid her dues and wasn’t leaving without a fight!

Luckily Nell didn’t need to fight, Hortense (who we’ve covered here) was far to busy getting drunk, dueling in her nightgown and having sex with Charles’ daughter, to have any time to actually spend with Charles.

Unsurprisingly her career as mistress was short lived (screwing your partner’s daughter will do that…)

Though Hortense was out the picture things were about to get veeeeery shit for Nell.

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Honestly, this level bad

Within 2 years:

– Nell’s mum drowned

– Nell fell seriously ill

– Nell’s son died

– The press started saying that Nell was losing her looks (because papers have always been pricks)

Nell had just turned 30 and it felt like her life was already over.

She didn’t know what to do. All she wanted to do was escape.

So she did.

Nell packed up her things and moved to the country.

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half boob, a confused child and sausages…truly the symbols of the British countryside

But Nell wasn’t going to be shacked up in the countryside alone.

By the time he reached middle age Charles was having some trouble getting it up (decades of excessive drinking and partying will do that to a penis)

He wanted to relax; less partying all night, more of having a little lie down. Where better to do that then Nell’s country escape.

With nearly twenty years under their belt, Nell and Charles were happy to just spend time together. They went on walks, played cards and spent time with their son. Basically, they just had a nice time.

Then, on 1st February 1685, Charles spent the evening with Nell and some of his past mistresses (which sounds a bit Sister Wives…but each to their own)

The next morning Charles suffered a fit and 4 days later he was dead.

His last wish was:

‘ Let not poor Nelly starve’

As per Charles wishes, Nell’s debts were wiped and she was given a hefty pension. Despite being an very eligible bachelorette, Nell turned down all suitors, instead choosing to spend her time hosting salons at her house and entertaining friends.

Then in March 1687 Nell suffered a stroke that left her half paralysed.

In May that same year she suffered another stroke that confined her to bed.

She continued cracking jokes and seeing friends until in November 1687 she suffered a final stroke. Nell died aged just 37.

But she wasn’t done just yet…

A huge crowd swarmed London’s Martins in the fields church for Nell’s funeral. As per one of her final wishes, the closing sermon read:

‘Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance’

This was really interesting where can I find out more? In the spirit of Nell I am going to direct you to a play. That play is of course called, Nell Gwynn. Much like Nell its a whole lot of fun and is currently on at the Globe in London and also on tour!

The Batshit and Fantastical Life of Hortense Mancini

From bedding Kings to fleeing countries dressed as a pistol wielding man. Duelling her lovers, drinking, dancing and above all fighting for her independence; the life on Hortense Mancini was to be blunt, fucking insane…so lets get to it:

Born into nobility on the 6th June 1646 in Rome, Hortense Mancini was the fourth of five sisters.

Their Mother a great beauty, their Father an aristocrat who practiced black magic (specialising in necromancy) and their Uncle was Cardinal Mazarin; both Cardinal and Chief Minister to Louis XIV (the real power behind the French throne) – it’s safe to say the sisters had a somewhat eclectic background.

But things didn’t stay nattily rosey for long; in 1650 tragedy struck when Hortense’s Father died suddenly.

Fortunately the situation was far from as black as it could have been and Hortense’s Mother made the canny choice of leaning on Uncle Cardinal Mazarin in the families hour of need.

Uncle Cardinal had a soft spot for his nieces; in particular the wild and witty Hortense and he soon invited them to stay at French Court, where he would see what he could do for the girls.

Cardinal_Mazarin
Cardinal Mazarin

The Mancini sisters took the streets of Paris by storm; very much the 17th century Kardashians; they were olive skinned, beautiful and very scandalous. They even had their own name ‘The Mazarinettes’ (that’s some top 17th century branding there, Kris Jenner would be proud)

With the attention of French society gossip mills focused on The Mazarinettes, it’s hardly surprising that when Uncle Cardinal announced his plans to arrange fabulously powerful and rich marriages for his nieces; the Mazarinettes became hot property.

Now the most eligable prospects in the European marriage market, everyone wanted a piece of Laure, Olympe, Marie, Hortense and Marie Anne.

Marie, Olympe, Hortense
Marie, Olympe and Hortense

The Mazarinettes had their pick of European nobility; Marie even became the lover of Louis XIV! Then Charles ll, party lover extraordinaire and future King of England, rocked up at French court.

Currently in exile from England, Charles quickly fell for fun loving Hortense. The pair seemed like two halves of one hedonistic whole; Charles proposed and promised to make the teenage Hortense England’s Queen (should his exile end…)

But Uncle Cardinal was having none of it. He was not about to set up his favourite niece with a galavanting eccentric Englishman with no fortune and only a title to his name (a title, btw, that was both now worthless and liable to one day get him killed) so Charles was sent packing

Charles ll
When Charles did become King, Uncle Cardinal offered 5 million for Hortense’s hand. Charles declined

Soon the Mancini sisters started to be married off to Princes, Generals and Dukes but Uncle Cardinal wanted something extra special for his favourite niece.

In fact this would be his dying wish and on his deathbed Cardinal Mazarin left Hortense his fortune and finalised her marriage to the richest man in Europe.

At the age of 15 Hortense was now one of Europes wealthiest women.

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-maybe not a totally historically accurate gif interpretation… –

This all sounds great. Until you realise that the richest man in Europe was the literal worst.

Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye
Presenting the incredibly sexy Armand-Charles de la Prote

Hortense’s husband to be, Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye (say that three times fast) was a religious nut, which is bad, but this guy took zealous dickery to a whole new level.

He worried that the sight of milkmaids milking cows would be so lustful and sinful to passing men that he ordered that any milkmaids in his service have thier teeth knocked out, so their smiles would no longer pose the threat of starting some kind of dairy based sexual riot.

what the dick?
Yup, don’t look for the logic here

Upon marrying Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye –from now on just Armand, because I’m not typing that all out again- 15 year old Hortense quickly realised that he was a monumental bell end.

Aside from his zealous nature, he was jealous and prone to angry and violent outbursts. He covered any nude paintings of men in the house so Hortense wouldn’t be tempted by lustful thoughts, burst into her room at night to check for hidden lovers and forced her to spend days praying away her sins.

This wasn’t Hortenses’ style.

If her husband wouldn’t let her be around men then that was fine; she could be flexible.

And so, soon into her marriage Hortense starting seeing another young woman; Sidonie de Courcelles.

Unsurprisingly Armand wasn’t happy when he discovered the affair. And so he packed the two girls off to a Convent.

Yup…That’s right. He sent them away. Far away. Together. This man is a genius.

OBVIOUSLY the girls continued their affair and weren’t overly fussed about their punishment.

They spent their days at the Convent playing pranks on the nuns, pouring ink in the holy water and attempting escape by fleeing up the chimney.

It was basically St Trinians but with more sex and pissed off nuns (actually, how has this not been made into a film?) Soon the nuns had enough and sent the pair back to Armand and the affair fizzled out.

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Fucking fun wrecking Armand

Somehow in their seven years of tumultuous marriage Hortense and Armand had 4 children (no I don’t know either) But the children weren’t enough to keep Hortense tied to Armand.

She decided to leave her husband, which in the 17th century meant that she would lose her children. The price of Hortenses freedom was high, but one she would be willing to pay if it meant escaping Armand for good.

After several foiled attempts (which led to Armand imprisoning her in the family home) Hortense left her husband on 13 June 1668. She rode out the gates on horseback, dressed as a man and quickly fled France for the safety of her sister Marie’s home in Rome.

Sadly Marie’s place wasn’t the safe house Hortense was hoping her; as Marie was deathly afraid her husband was trying to poison her (I’m not saying that Uncle Cardinal was shit at picking spouses but…) so the sisters fled to France where Marie’s former lover Louis XIV announced that both women were now under his protection.

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Marie and Hortense

Things were looking up. Louis XIV gave Hortense a hefty pension, which allowed her the unusual freedom of becoming an independent woman. She set up house in France and transformed her new home into a haven for artists, philosophers and great minds of the time.

Hortense also picked up a lover, The Duke of Savoy , who helped Hortense fight of her husbands many demands for her return.

Sadly all good things must come to an end; the Duke died and Armand finally managed to get his hands on her assets; freezing all her finances (including her pension from Louis XIV) until she agreed to come back to him.

fuck
Fucking Armand! 

But Hortense wasn’t going to back down that easily.

She headed to England; agreeing to work with England’s ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu on his plan to de-seat one of the English Kings mistresses, Louise de Kerouaille.

Thats right, after turning down his proposal, Hortense was now travelling to England to become Charles ll’s new mistress. You can’t deny Hortense had moxy.

Hortense battled treacherous roads, icy weather and a near shipwreck on her journey from France to England. But she refused to give in and return to her husband, set on forging her own path and getting back the independence she had lost in France.

Hortense arrived at English Court in 1675 dressed as a pistol wielding man (naturally) and Charles ll fell for his old love once more; Hortense became a royal mistress.

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You can tell because her boobs out

Her partying, drinking and general debauchery rivalled Charles. Luckily Hortense’s love of sword fighting and horse riding helped ensure this her lifestyle didn’t have too much of an effect on her appearances.

Naturally the other women in Charles life started to grow concerned about Hortense; she could be a real threat to their positions.

But Hortense didn’t want to be like his other mistresses, she wasn’t a Nell Gwynn; she couldn’t dedicate her whole life to Charles. She escaped one man that wanted to rule over her and she sure as shit wasn’t go back there.

Hortense wanted to live as she choose; to drink, dance and take as many lovers as she could!

And so she did.

She lived independently yet remained a mistress. Charles loved Hortense for who she was and so he turned a blind eye to her refusal to call him ‘your majesty’ and made an exception for her long list of lovers; that is until Hortense pushed things too far by sleeping with both Charles and his daughter…

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Not at the same time. But still. 

Anne, Countess of Sussex was Charles daughter with one of his first mistresses, Barbara Castlemaine.

Anne was 15 and unhappily married when she met Hortense (now in her early 30’s) the two became firm friends, which quickly progressed to much more (wink).

The women attempted to keep the affair relatively quiet, but the court rumour mills intrest peaked.

Then things really hit the front page when Hortense and Anne publicly duelled in St James Park, in their nightgowns, with a group of men looking on.

Anne’s husband was furious and she was sent away from court where desperate and lovelorn she took to her bed for days, a miniature of Hortense pressed close to her chest.

Charles ll wasn’t best pleased with Hortense, but with the affair over he cooled down.

…..Until Hortense took on another lover, this one the Prince de Monaco.

Sleeping with his daughter was one thing, but sleeping with another royal was a step too far for Charles. He put a stop to their affair and stripped Hortense of her royal pension for several days.

Thats right, days, I know, I don’t know how she coped either.

crying

Charles and Hortense remained friends. And with her pension back in place Hortense lived more than comfortably in Chelsea, her home once more a salon for artist, poets and great minds.

Then in 1685 Charles ll died suddenly.

Hortense maintained her place at court, remaining good friends with England’s new King, James ll, but with her protector now gone there was nothing stopping Armand from forcing his errant wife home.

And so in 1689 Armand took his case to court. The law was on his side and demanded that Hortense return to Italy and Armand. But she refused.

This time though Hortense’s fighting spirit failed her. With the stress of Armand’s continued efforts to force her back, as well as her years of drinking and gambling starting to take effect, Hortense found herself in spiralling debt.

She maintained her refusal though, retiring to the English countryside, where she died in 1699.

But thats not the end of the Hortense’s story…

Because Armand was still alive. 

That’s right, Armand had plans for Hortense, even in death.

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Yeah, Armand be crazy. 

Armand traveled to England, where he bought Hortense’s body from her creditors.

He then proceeded to take Hortense with him wherever he went, with her body propped up in his carriage.

Because Armand was (and will always be) the literal worst.

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