Mistress of a King – Nell Gwynn’s London

Neil Gwynn came from nothing to become the mistress of King Charles II. Her story is told by Gillian Bagwell and is set in the heart of theatreland in London……so off I went….  

Nell Gwynn
Nell Gwynn

The Darling Strumpet is the story of Nell’s impressive rise from the streets of London to the most coveted position in the land. Her spirit shines out in the book – her tenacity, wit and charm above all else.

But what also came out of this novel, sadly, was the awful early life she had and the abuse she suffered at the hands of men and boys. Some readers will feel very uncomfortable at the language and descriptions used but they are all sadly representative of the time it would seem. Women in general were nothing more than men’s playthings and I must admit I shed a tear at some of the early scenes.

Talking of the King’s mistress they have just spotted in the crowd, one of the lads with Nell boasts;

 “Aye, just give me half an hour with her. I reckon she’d be worth the price.”

But Nell’s real story is not the negative parts of her life but how she overcame these and other situations by her charm and sheer zest for life. Her thrill at  getting a job selling oranges at the theatre is charming as it is exciting for the reader as we know this is the start of some good fortune for a heroine we have already come to love.

Arriving at the Theatre where she is going to see a lady called Orange Moll to see if she can a job at this amazing new place of excitement:

And she would be part of it! She felt a thrill, and then a stab of doubt..[ ]

After all, who was she but a ragamuffin from the squalid streets?

The majestic looking Kings Theatre on Drury  Lane
The majestic looking Kings Theatre on Drury Lane


Nell is enthralled by the smells and sounds of the theatre – no wonder she wants to become an actress. When the man who says will teach her, suddenly murdered, I admit I cried. No! Was Nell’s dream about to be snatched away??

Please come back for part two …there was too much to share in just one post!

3 thoughts on “Mistress of a King – Nell Gwynn’s London

    1. Yes I love walking in the footsteps of both real and fictional characters. So great you set the novel there and really brought the place to life for me. I saw a new and exciting side to Covent Garden.

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