Of a great heroine I mean to tell,
And by what just degrees her titles swell,
To Mrs Nelly grown, from cinder Nell.
~ Anonymous: A Panegyric on Mrs Nelly (17th century)
There’s something about Nelly …. For centuries, Nell Gwynne has captured hearts and minds. What was Nell Gwynne’s secret? She was a woman who knew how to laugh. How to live. How to love. As an historical fiction/romance fan, I’ve always adored her. When I decided to take up my own quill and start writing fiction, I planned to write a version of her secret diary. For a couple of years I had a wonderful time playing with Nell, collected and read many books, and tracked down obscure historical sources. I then discovered there has been a Nell Gwynne boom – and a raft of novels had been written in celebrating her. Instead of adding my own version, I moved on to writing other books. Little did I know that my husband was about to surprise me with a birthday gift of a specially commissioned portrait of Nell, painted by artist Lauren Wilhelm (photograph above). Now Nell lights up the stairwell in our home, and guides me upstairs to write.
If you don’t know her name, Nell’s is a real life Cinderella tale of 17th century England, of a low born ‘orange girl’ who became a famous actress and mistress to King Charles II. We don’t know much about her; mainly that she captivated the King and theatre audiences with her wit. “What history and tradition tell us of Nell Gwyn has been told as a decorative romance, where no liberty has been taken with what we know or believe to be the truth,” wrote Marjorie Bowen in 1925. “Fancy has been allowed to enlarge upon it … None of the details, however, outrage history or defy probability…” Even in the prim and proper 19th century, in the Victorian era, Nell remained beloved. A 1901 biography dubbed her ‘Our Lady of Laughter.’
My historical romance PLAYING THE DUKE’S MISTRESS (published by Harlequin, May 2016) is dedicated to Nell Gwynne. It is set in mid-Victorian London, when many actresses had to contend with being seen as title-hunters and gold-diggers – as Darius Carlyle, the Duke of Albury initially suspects actress Calista Fairmont to be. Yet not every actress wants a coronet …I do hope Nell approves!
Meet Nell and some other authors who love her on my Pretty Witty Nell Pinterest Page.