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.

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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.

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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” 

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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!

3 Important Witch Trials In History (that you’ve never heard of)

Superstition made living in Europe around 1560 – 1630 very dangerous for any woman that bucked the norm. Panic was wide spreads and things soon escalated from accusation to execution.

The Berwick witches!

hocus-pocus

Now this was far from the first witch trial in England- but it was the catalyst for things being particularly burney during the reign of King James l.

In 1590 King James and his new wife Anne of Denmark, were sailing home from their wedding in Denmark to James home in Scotland; when their ship was hit by a terrific storm – though the couple was fine, rumors soon flared up that the storm had been the work of witches determined to murder the newlyweds.

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Accusations spread across England, Wales, Denmark and Scotland; with nearly 100 women  in Berwick being accused of forming a coven and bringing about the storm.

Fun fact – in Scotland it was completely legal to torture witches; this little legal loop hole unsurprisingly led to some pretty lurid confessions from the Berwick ‘witches’, including one Agnes Sampson.

Agnes was a healer and midwife for the community and despite sounding like an all around good egg; the elderly woman was accused of being the lead witch in the plot to sink the Kings ship. She was questioned and tortured in front of the King at Holyrod Palace. Initially Agnes pleaded her innocence, but after she was stripped, shaved and beaten…she admitted her guilt.

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It had all started so well…

Agnes said that the witches had been called to action by Francis Stewart, 5th Lord of Bothwell (who had a claim to the throne so long as James remained heirless). To cast the spell that set forth the storm, the witches had gathered in church yards to kiss the devils ‘backside’. They had dug up graves to secure fingers for spells, and in one instance, stolen a cat, christened it, tied male genitals to the cats legs, sailed out to sea, and tossed the poor kitty into the sea (which sounds totally legit)

Agnes was executed, along with other accused witches in Scotland and Denmark.

Following the trials, James wrote and published a pamphlet which scandalously detailed the events of the trial; and in no small way helped to create the panic surrounding witchcraft that would see thousands of innocent people executed.

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James l – in no way remembered as a notorious dick

 

The Fulda witch trials

It wasn’t just England who got a little…heated (sorry) over witches. Germany also got involved in the epidemic (after all they are the home of fairy tales!) and my God did the Germans go all in.

The Fulda witch trials took place over 3 years between 1603-1606 and saw over 200 people executed. It was one of the worst and most large scale of the witch trails in Europe during this era.

The trials were triggered by the return to power of Prince-abbot Balthasar Von Dernbach, following 20 years in exile.

Now though he had an amazing name, the good Prince was a bit of a massive dick. Upon coming home he ordered a witch-hunt to cleanse the area (as you do). You see whilst the Prince had been in exile, Fulda had enjoyed a period of relative religous liberalism, and the good Prince was not down with this. So naturally he figured a witch hunt was the best way to ‘cleanse’ Fulda. Nice guy.

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The excessive gilding tells you that this man will in no way be remembered as a notorious dick

The most high profile the Prince’s 200 odd victims was Merga Bein.

Merga had been married twice before, but she was independently wealthy herself; the now heir to her two previous husband’s fortunes. This factor seems likely to have played a pretty hefty part in her being ‘cleansed’ by the Prince.

Merga was one of the first arrested. She was accused of being in cahoots with the Devil, of having murdered her second husband and their children and of having taken part in the Sabbath of Satan. Merga was sentenced to be burned at the stake.

However her husband argued that executing her was illegal as she was pregnant. No matter for the good Prince though, he just claimed that the child was clearly the Devils- and so Merga along with over 200 others was executed.

The executions only stopped after the good Prince died. I’m sure all of Fulda was devastated…

woman-cheering

3. Hag Riding

Witch trials were still going on in the 19th century, though less common place. Kind of awesomely though, they tended to be prosecuting the accusers!

In 1875 the town of Weston Super Mare housed one of these trails- which concerned the fantastically named practice of hag riding.

Hag riding was essentially, ‘sleep paralysis’. Much of these claims were just nightmares, but in Weston Super Mare, the claimant was was stabbed in the face and hand as a defense against the dreams.

Hester Adams accused neighbor, Maria Pring of appearing in her dreams to terrify her for over two years, Hester claimed that she lived in fear of Maria (an early adopter of Freddy Krueger based high jinks)

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But Hester was an early adopter of, er…knives? (sorry) She decided that the only way to stop the dreams was to draw Maria’s blood… because logic. The elderly woman stabbed Maria in the face and hand, which put a stop to the dreams (again- logic)

Though understandably confused by the case bought to them, the magistrates erred on the side sanity (ish) and ordered that Hester give Maria a shilling and agree to keep the peace (and try really hard to not stab her neighbours anymore).

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Thats just 3 notable witch trails that you might not know- or if you do, you might not know that much about.

You see *gets on soap box* the problem with witch trials is that its hard for us to ever know much about the people who were accused. We can only ever have half of the story- because 99.9% of the time we don’t know anything about the people who were accused – these were people who were often poor and lived on the fringes of society, they were easy victims. Often the only direct information we have from them is their confession- which was false and 9 time out of 10 obtained through torture – not great.

It’s important to try and seen the humanity behind the horror.

OK *gets off soap box* sorry about that

Bonus Wicked as way of apology:

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Go get her, she’s Wicked

7 Best Hangover Cures In History

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Hangovers are as old as history itself. As soon as people worked out how to create and drink alcohol (at least 10,000 years ago, somewhere in the Neolithic period) they were also working out how to cope with the morning after.

From Ancient Egypt and Greece, to the Middle Ages, and even the courts of Kings and Queens, every era has its own hair of the dog, and all of them are infinitely more interesting than the Iron Bru and bacon sandwich that your mate swears by.

1.A Human Skull

Starting strong- our first hangover cure comes from my favourite lover of drunken debauchery, King Charles ll; and it’s a doozy.It isn’t exactly surprising that Charles needed a solid hangover cure (this is the man that drunkenly yelled ‘encouragement’ at the foot of his little brother, James l, bed, whilst the aforementioned was losing his virginity) but the method that Charles used to help abate his headache and woozy stomach was a little, er, un-orthodox.

skull

Respected 17th Century physician, Dr Jonathan Goddard suggested ‘Goddard Drops’ for the King, which was an elixir consisting of dried viper, ammonia, and the skull of a recently hanged person. Dr Goddard sounds like a delight.

We don’t know how effective Charles found Goddard Drops, I’m going to suggest it probably wasn’t that good- though the ammonia may have helped him to throw up. So if that’s your thing…

2.Eel 

The good people of The Middle Ages were partial to a drink. This was in no small part due to the water being so unclean that it was a much safer option to drink alcohol instead.

Brewing beer had long been popular, but it becomes almost an art form during this period, it’s like craft brewing now, but with less irony. Soldiers returning from the Crusades bought back new knowledge of spices, herbs and mass murder- two of which really helped in creating a new beer boom.

middle-ages-drinking

So what did these new beer aficionados’ do to beat the morning after the night before? They ate eels. Now this actually sort of makes sense, eels are jam packed full of good stuff, including protein, calcium, and tons of vitamins!

Unfortunately, that wasn’t why they were eaten. Doctors (a term I loosely use…) of the period believed that once consumed, the eels would become alive when in the stomach, and drink up all the alcohol left inside- a really nice visual image there

3. Soot

‘Mother’s Ruin’(Gin) had started to wain in popularity in Victorian England; as the temperance movement promoted controlled drinking – but you can’t keep a good binge drinker down, and the cocktail soon arrived on British soil which Charles Dickins gleefully wrote about in his American Notes for General Circulation. 

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To combat a night of too many Gin-Slings and Timber Doodles (actual Victorian cocktail) people would warm up some milk and then mix in a spoonful of soot; this would be consumed to help with any shakiness and sickness. Though not recommended by me (or anyone) – the charcoal present in soot does actually help to balance acid and alkaline in the stomach, so it might have helped.

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It also seems like a much nicer option than another Victorian hangover remedy suggested in The Medical Advisor, which involves pouring vinegar down a person’s throat, and then rubbing it into their temples, which seems less like a hangover remedy and more a really dicky form of water torture.

4. Owls Eggs

The Romans have a reputation for being big drinkers, but for much of the period, that really wasn’t the case. Wine tended to be diluted with water, 1 part wine, 4 parts water, and alcohol was only really consumed during meals. However, feasting could sometimes go on and on, and on and on, and…on; a lot of over indulging on wine and food inevitably leads to a very nasty hangover (think post Christmas…)

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Pliny the Elder (above), had just the solution, 2 owls eggs, raw of course. The Great Great Great Grandfather of downing a glass of raw eggs. This would actually help replenish amino acids, so if you can get your hands on owls eggs, then this would actually be pretty useful- good work Pliny!

5. Fried Canary

I spoke to soon. Pliny The Elder wasn’t done. Along with being an esteemed Roman author, naturalist, philosopher and Army commander, Pliny knew that his true calling was developing hangover cures, and that’s how he came up with possibly the greatest idea of his life, defeating a hangover by eating a fried canary.

tweety-bird

Pliny was pretty exact on what you needed to do to an unfortunate canary to truly get it’s full benefits and flavour. First one must behead the bird, before fully de-feathering it, then fry it, and add salt to taste before serving.

There aren’t really any benefits to this, its basically a really grim fry up, but it would make a good talking point- should you want to traumatise someone by kidnapping, beheading and then eating their pet. I know what Pliny would do.

6.Coke

Until 1906 Coca Cola contained a pretty hefty dose of cocaine, which made it a very popular hangover cure, because well, that’s going to perk you right up. The cocaine came from coca leaf, which was also prominent in several other products, including Halls Coca Wine, which was was marketed as a ‘great restorative’ (Halls wine is now banned and non-existent, because you know, cocaine…)

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Once cocaine became the sort of thing you weren’t allowed to put into your ‘restorative’ products, something else needed to be done to sell them as hangover friendly. Adolphe Jeantet, The Ritz Carlton’s Head Banquet Man (actual job title), had just the thing, and in 1938 his hangover cure took New York City by storm, a chilled bottle of Coca Cola, shaken, and then mixed into a glass of ice cold milk. Delicious? Jeantet’s press agent at the time described the effects of the drink; you drink it ‘take a little nap, and after that you feel wonderful’ –that actually sounds really nice.

7. Crying

Now chances are, depending on the severity of the hangover, you already want to do this, so just let it all out. Kingsley Amis (great name), author of On Drink, suggests that crying is the best hangover cure. Now this particular tip isn’t incredibly historical, On Drink was written in 1972, but I do think it is pretty brilliant.

crying

Kingsley argues that to tackle the physical hangover symptoms, one needs to tackle the emotional symptoms (can you tell this book was written in the 70’s?), he calls this ‘The Metaphysical Hangover’ (yup definitely written in the 1970’s), and the only way to defeat it is by embracing all your feelings, and just having a good cry.

So thats the best that history has to offer your hangover- I hope that it helps, but if not:

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I say we listen to Snape
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