Nell Gwyn was born in a London slum in 1650, and at fifteen she was selling oranges at the King's Theatre, Bridges Street. Two years later she first went on the stage at Drury Lane. When she became King Charles II's mistress in 1668, she had already had four lovers, and her royal liaison produced two openly-acknowledged sons.
The King's appetite for mistresses was legendary, but his wife, Queen Catherine, who was unable to bear him a living child, tolerated them. Nell was the most popular of the King's paramours, and she resisted the temptation to become involved in politics or to influence him in any way. When King Charles II was on his deathbed in February 1685, he asked his brother and heir, who became King James II, to look after his mistresses, and in particular ensure that Nell would not starve. The new King granted her a pension, and she died after a stroke two years later.
This report prepared by John Van der Kiste