Madeline's Reviews > Nell Gwyn: Mistress to a King

Nell Gwyn by Charles Beauclerk
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Jul 25, 09

bookshelves: history-nonfiction
Read in January, 2005

My favorite historical stories always seem to focus on the royal mistresses, and Nell Gwynn holds a particularly special place in my heart. She has the distinction of being born into absolute poverty (her mom owned a brothel, which Nell may or may not have worked in when she got older), and unlike many other women who slept their way to power (*coughAnneBoleyncough*), she was smart, funny, good-natured, and generally a pretty cool person.

She was the mistress of King Charles II, who met her at the theatre where Nell worked, first as an orange seller and then as an actress. Nell's main rival was the king's other mistress, the French Louise de Keroualle. Lucky for Nell, the British people loved her and hated Louise. My favorite story about Nell was the time when Louise decided to have her driver take her past Nell's house in the pimped out new carriage the king had bought for her, so Louise could put Nell in her place. Nell responded by hitching a mule to a wooden cart, which she then drove past Louise's house yelling, "Whores to market, ho!" That's another thing I like about her - Nell understood perfectly that she was nothing more than an expensive prostitute, and she never pretended to be anything else.

So, now that I've fangirled enough, let's talk about the actual book. It's very detailed and informative, and if you want to learn more about Nell this is a good place to start. However.
Charles Beauclark is a direct descendant of Nell Gwynn, a fact that he informs us of at least fifty times during the book. He can hardly be considered an impartial biographer, and at several times gets downright misty-eyed when he's speculating on Nell's life. (Yes, Charles, it's possible that Nell and her childhood friends played kings and queens in a dirty alleyway, with her little friends shouting "long live queen Nell!" but can we move on, please?) Beauclark even ends the book talking, not about Nell, but about his own grandson, who Beauclark thinks "shows that the spirit of Nell Gywnn is alive and well" or some crap like that.

In essence - this is probably the best nonfiction Nell Gwynn book out there, because unfortunately not many people have written about her. But if anyone finds a better one, please let me know.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Wealhtheow (new)

Wealhtheow Hah! Love your review.

But (though no one in their right mind would call her good-natured) Anne Boleyn was tres intelligent, you best recognize.

Madeline I don't deny that Anne was smart, but she was definitely more of the evil-genius type. My point was that, of all the royal mistresses I've read about, Nell Gwynn seems like the only one who wasn't a power-hungry bitch. She was more like, "Wait, so this guy will give me titles and houses and diamonds, and all I have to do is sleep with him? Rock on."

message 3: by Wealhtheow (new)

Wealhtheow I totally agree, Nell seemed really kind-hearted. Plus I appreciate that she was too smart to meddle in politics. And the anecdotes about her ("No, good people, I am the PROTESTANT whore") just make me appreciate her more.

Madeline Oh man, the "protestant whore" story is definitely one of my favorites. The more I read about the woman the more I decide that she was basically the Restoration's answer to Tina Fey.

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