During Samuel Pepys's life women were first allowed to take to the stage as professional actresses. In Women's History Month we speak to playwright Jessica Swale about the actress Nell Gwynn, who is the subject of her Olivier nominated play.
Before becoming an actress what is Nell Gwynn’s story?
Do we know how she become an actress?
It’s during this period that we first see women taking to the stage in England. Do we know why this was?
Nell was one of the first actresses in England. What would her experiences have been?
Nell became a mistress of King Charles, do we know more about this?
Yes. She was probably his favourite mistress. Certainly their relationship stood the test of time and she was with him until he died. Apparently his final words were 'let not poor Nelly starve.' I suspect they loved each other. She had none of the political aspirations of his other mistresses. She didn't want to become an aristocrat, she never wanted a title, so I imagine that it was the man himself that she was attracted to, rather than their relationship being political opportunism on her part. Both Charles and Nell lived very public lives, so perhaps they understood the cost of fame and were able to identify with each other. They certainly enjoyed secret nights playing cards together away from prying eyes. Charles had secret passages built so that he could visit her without others knowing.