Eleanor Gwyn


Born as Eleanor Gwyn, but more commonly known by her nickname, “Nell,”Eleanor Gwyn is known for being one of the first actresses to be allowed to take on the role of a woman playing a woman during the Restoration Period. Nell Gwyn was born on February 2, 1650 and died on November 14, 1687, making her only 37 years old when she died. In addition to being a well-known actress, Eleanor Gwyn was also linked to King Charles II, as one of his numerous mistresses. (bio.com)

Life Before Theatre

Before even setting foot on the stage of a theatre, Nell Gwyn’s job during her teen years was to sell fruits outside of the prestigious and well-known King’s Theatre. This job could be seen as the stepping-stone that helped Nell to get beyond the theatre doors and up on to the stage, performing countless shows. (bio.com)
While working outside the theatre one day, Nell Gwyn met Charles Hart, who was one of the most famous actors of that time. Charles Hart was known for doing shows at The King’s Theatre. Hart also helped Nell Gwyn to get her foot in the door to The King’s Theatre, as well as helped work with her and train her on acting techniques to use while performing. (authorama.com)
At just 14 years old, Eleanor Gwyn would take the stage on The King's Theatre for the first time in a performance of The Indian Emperor. This first performance of hers was the gateway to an almost seven year long acting career, which was considerably a long amount of time, especially since she was one of the earliest female actors in the history of theatre. (bio.com)
Eleanor Gwyn in the early stages of her acting career.

Life In Theatre

Around the time Nell was allowed to enter inside the theatre and become an actress, women were just starting to be allowed to act in performances. Prior to women becoming integrated into theatre, a boy or a man, dressed for the part, would play a woman’s role. With the help of Charles Hart, Nell Gwyn was soon gracing The King’s Theatre and became a regular in the various performances the theatre put on. It was also around this time that Nell Gwyn was going to be publically linked to King Charles II, the third man that she was a mistress to. (authorama.com)

The King's Theatre.

Through ticket sales and attendance records of performances from the mid 1600’s, shows that had featured Nell Gwyn drew in larger crowds than a typical show might. However, the reason for this boost in attendance is not because of Nell Gwyn’s amazing acting style. The alleged romance between King Charles II and Nell Gwyn had people buzzing and wanting to know who is the woman King Charles fell for. (questia.com)

King Charles II

During her time in the theatre, Nell Gwyn caught the attention of King Charles II. King Charles was immediately drawn to Gwyn
during one of her performances, and she ended up becoming one of his numerous mistresses. (questia.com) Together, King Charles II and Nell Gwyn had two sons – Charles and James Beauclerk. These were Gwyn’s only children, and two of the alleged 12 (however this was never confirmed if there were more) children that King Charles had. James, however, died when he was a child. King Charles II died not too shortly after the death of James. (bio.com)
Even after King Charles II’s death, he made sure that Nell and her boys were taken care of. King Charles’ request was that she was provided for, her house was paid for, and money was to be given to her, to assure a good life for her and their son Charles. There is a rumor that King Charles II’s last words were something along the lines of “Do not let poor Nelly starve!” It was also a request of King Charles and his brother for Nell to convert to Catholicism, but she never fulfilled this request of theirs. (berkshirehistory.com)
King Charles II.

Life Post Theatre

Nell Gwyn’s acting career totaled around seven years, before she stopped performing in shows. Upon hanging her hat, Gwyn returned to her home, where she lived with her mother until her mother passed away. After her mother’s death, Eleanor Gwyn found herself in debt, which King Charles II requested be paid off on her behalf, as part of his requests before his death. Nell Gwyn lived out the rest of her life in peace, with no other men, other than her eldest son, Charles. (berkshirehistory.com)


Though Eleanor Gwyn was never officially married to anyone, she was known for being the mistress of a handful of men. The first man that Gwyn was linked to was Charles Hart, whom she became close with in the beginning of her acting career on The King’s Theatre and remained with him until she met Charles Sackville, also known as Lord Buckhurst. Gwyn’s thing for men named Charles did not stop with Charles Sackville. The third and final man Gwyn was linked with, and became the mistress to, was King Charles II, whom she remained with for the longest. (bio.com)


Near the end of Gwyn’s prosperous life, she suffered from a stroke that left her paralyzed on the left side of her body. She continued to live as much of a life as she could, when she suffered from a second stroke a few months after the first. Eleanor Gwyn’s diagnosis was apoplexy, which could not be treated at the time of her life, and there was nothing for anyone to do, except wait for Nell to die. She passed away on November 14, 1687. Her body was buried at the Church of St. Martin-In-The-Fields, which is located in London. (questia.com)
St. Martin-In-The-Field.

Works Cited

“Famous Affinities of History By Lyndon Orr.” Famous Affinities of History, N.p., n.d.
Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
"History Witch." History Witch. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
Johnson, Ben. "Nell Gwyn (Gwynne)." Nell Gwyn. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
"Nell Gwyn | Biography - English Actress." Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
Encyclopedia Britannica. N.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
"Nell Gwyn." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
"RBH Biography: Nell Gwynne (1650-1687)." RBH Biography: Nell Gwynne (1650-
1687). N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
Prieto-Pablos, Juan A. "Admission prices at the Dorset Garden Theatre: an analysis of the
Duke’s Company’s bill for Nell Gwyn’s attendance (1674-1676).” Theatre Notebook June 2008: 63+.
Academia OneFile. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.