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Charles II's Favourite Mistress (Hardback)

Pretty, Witty Nell Gwyn

P&S History Social History Women of History 17th Century

By Sarah-Beth Watkins
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 192
ISBN: 9781399000567
Published: 23rd September 2021

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Nell Gwyn, the most infamous mistress of Charles II, was a commoner raised from the dingy back alleys of London to the stage and into a king’s arms. Hers was a true rags to riches story that saw a young girl rise from selling oranges to capturing the heart of a king. The Restoration period was one of change. After the troubled years of the English Civil War, it was time for pleasure, debauchery and entertainment with the ‘Merry Monarch’ restored to the throne.

Nell was one of the first actresses on stage; a loveable comedienne who wowed audiences with her wit and charm. She fell in love with Charles Hart (one of the leading actors of the time), had a torrid affair with Lord Buckhurst and ultimately ended up in the king’s bed. She stayed on the stage for six years, but she stayed in the king’s heart for seventeen – his only mistress who was faithful to him.

Set against the backdrop of Restoration London, this book charts Nell’s life and that of her family and friends – from her drunken mother and troublesome sister to the most notorious wits of the age John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester and George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Nell had a generous heart and a mischievous spirit, and was friends with people from all walks of life. The only woman she really detested was another of the king’s mistresses, Louise de Kerouaille, known as the French Spy.

This highly entertaining book will tell the story of Nell’s life – the good and the bad – and show why Nell truly embodies the spirit of the Restoration.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A very well researched biography of Nell Gwynn, the most beloved by the English people among King Charles II's mistresses. From a humble background as an orange seller in a theater to becoming a popular actress on the stage and subsequently catching the king's eye and eventually becoming one of his mistresses you could say that it was quite a rise. Among the three major mistresses, she alone was always faithful to Charles. She eventually bore him two sons which he recognized and supported as well as Nell. She grew up in and had a large role in Restoration circles counting nobles, authors, theater owners and merry rakes as her acquaintances. The author did an excellent job of combining the historical events that occurred during Nell'a life along with her biography. I really enjoyed reading about Nell and the Restoration period.

NetGalley, Rena McGrath

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

As a former student of Restoration and British Lit and a self-professed Anglophile, I absolutely loved this book. I loved learning so much about Nell Gwyn and really getting what I felt was an in-depth look into her life, career, family, and her role in the history and context of Restoration England.

NetGalley, Laura Marion

Nell Gwyn knew that one of her rivals, another actress, was going to spend the night with the King. She would put paid to that! Nell made sure that she put purgatives into her rival's drink. I doubt that it was a good night for anyone.

This is just one of the many anecdotes in this lively book about the rollicking Nell, who made her way up from a hard life in the slums with a drunken single mother to become quite respected as an actress and Charles II's favourite mistress with many notable friends. Pretty, sympathetic and vivacious, Nell was a great comfort to the King, and she was not malicious, or grasping. There is a tale though that she wanted a title for her son, and dangled the young boy over the window sill under the King gave him the title of Lord Burford!

This almost reads like a novel about Nell, and it has many interesting stories about the other mistresses, as well.

NetGalley, Lisa Sanderson

I came away from it feeling well-informed of her life story and glad I read it. It was concise, digestible and an easy read.

NetGalley, Elizabeth Stebbings

This is a very deep and in-depth look into the life of Nell Gwyn. One of the most favored and colorful of Charles II mistresses... Very Informative.

NetGalley, Tami Mangrum

I find Restoration England quite fascinating (thank you Mathew Baynton in Horrible Histories!) and there's so much to explore in this period. There so many first hand accounts - looking at you Pepys! - so it feels like you're able to really get close to the people you read about. You can find out more about their character - both the good and the bad.

All in all I enjoyed this read and I felt I got to learn more about Nell which, you know, was the whole point!

NetGalley, Sarah Matsson-Klingzell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. I loved how the author has drawn on lots of contemporary accounts and sources to try to give us an idea of the real Nell Gwyn - not just the glamorous mistress of Charles II but what she was like as a mother, daughter, sister and friend. I learned a lot of new things reading this book, and especially liked the details of the bickering between the mistresses all competing for Charles' attention - and how Nell expertly responded to it, sometimes with props and even dressing up! A really good read for anyone interested in Restoration Britain or women's history.

NetGalley, Jo Romero

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A delightful and rollicking biography of Nell Gwynn, one of the most famous royal favourites in English history and her complex relationship with one of the greatest womanizers in the history of Great Britain.
A wonderful portrait of an admirable courtesan full of delicious details about Restoration England and the frivolous court of the most famous and lovable of all the Stuarts, Charles the Second....
I really enjoyed this very entertaining biography. Very amusing and highly recommended.

NetGalley, Jean Luc Estrella

I enjoyed this well researched biography immensely. I knew very little about Nell Gwynn and was fascinated by her story. The fact that she’s still remembered in such positive terms almost 350 years later speaks volumes about her. The book relies on many contemporary sources which bring her to life. I was particularly interested in the section about Restoration theatres .
The book deals with many other areas of life at court and also the rivalry between Charles II’s mistresses ; Nell once again comes out of this very positively. The last section is very touching ,outlining all the provisions made in her will for charitable purposes.

NetGalley, Evelyn Love-Gajardo

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A brilliant history of Nell Gwyn, superb in the attention to detail and historical research that went into the book. It is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.

NetGalley, Mary Hawkes

About Sarah-Beth Watkins

Sarah-Beth Watkins is the best-selling author of Tudor and Stuart non-fiction books including Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII. She writes articles for The Tudor Society and various history blogs. Watkins grew up in Kew, not far from Richmond and Hampton Court Palace, and was often to be found as a child soaking up history at Ham House. She now lives in Ireland.

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