Eleanor “Nell” Gwynn
1650 – 1690 A.D.
Eleanor Gwynn, an English actress, one of the favorites of Charles II. As a young girl she was an orange vendor, and wandered from tavern to tavern, entertaining the company with her songs.
In her sixteenth year she went upon the stage, and became one of the most popular actresses of her time in light, humorous parts. Her intimacy with Charles commenced in 1669, and lasted till his death. She was called Madam Ellen, had an establishment of her own, and was admitted to the best society of the period.
Her frailty and a tendency to hard swearing seem to have been her chief faults. She was merry and open-hearted, generous to profusion, and in her prosperity ever mindful of her old friends, particularly those of the theatrical profession.
She instigated Charles to erect Chelsea hospital for disabled soldiers, and her health used regularly to be drunk by the pensioners on the anniversary of Charles’ birthday.
The king appreciated her good qualities, among his last words were, “Let not poor Nelly starve.” She is believed to have led a virtuous life after the death of the king, and her funeral sermon was preached by Dr. Tenison, afterward Archbishop of Canterbury. Her person is thus described by a writer of the time:
“She was low in stature, what the French call mignonne and piquante, well-formed, handsome, but red-haired and rather embonpoint. Airy, fantastic, and sprightly, she sang, danced, and was exactly made for acting light, showy characters, filling them up, as far as they went, most effectually. She had remarkably lively eyes, but so small they were almost invisible when she laughed; and a foot, the least of any woman in England.”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.