Margaret Hughes 2.jpg
A Portrait of Margaret Hughes. Painted by Peter Lely.

Margaret “Peg” Hughes

Margaret Hughes (Sometimes known as Peg Hughes) is known to be the first female actress on the female stage. She lived between 1630 and 1719. (Callow) Known for her most famous role in Shakespeare’s play “Othello” as Desdemona.

Personal Life

Hughes was born into a theater family (Spencer). Not much was known about her or her family because her life was only recorded after her debut as an actress(Aleisha). After the acceptance of the audience she quickly became a big name in the acting world. Although she was not the most famous female actress of the time, she definitely had a story to tell (Spencer). There have been reports of her having brief affairs with Charles II, Charles Sedly, and other members of the court(Davison).

Due to her many affairs, it quickly allowed her access too many perks of the court(Davison). On a summer visit with the court to Turnbridge Wells in 1668, she met Prince Rupert, cousin to Charles II. Acording to records, this hadn't been the first time that Prince Rupert had slept with an actress. The actresses of this time often did more than just acting. Men
Through Rupert, Margaret lived a lavish and wealthy life. Many people were rather jealous of her wealthy success, since she came from such a lowly beginning. While she settled in with him, she
took a short retirement from acting(Davison). During this time, she gave birth to an illegitimate daughter. Rupert took the child in happily
Prince Rupert by Simon Verelst
Prince Rupert by Simon Verelst
and named her Ruperta. Ruperta grew up well and took a were allowed into their dressing rooms before the shows and after. However, Prince Rupert felt more for Margaret than just a prostitute. For a
while, she evaded Prince Rupert's advances(Davison). Eventually, though, she accepted his gifts and advances. She proved to him that her love was lasting and he proves to her that he wasn't simply an older man looking for a young lover. They married unofficially in a “Left handed marriage” (A marriage for two people of different social standing so that neither the name nor the title will be passed to the wife.) (Davison)
good personality from both her mother and her father. Sadly, Ruperta and Margaret only had the fame of Margarets name to go by.
Despite not being able to take on Rupert’s name, their life together was a happy one. Eventually, Rupert became ill. Margaret had taken care of Rupert until his deathbed(Davison). Two days before his death, he signed his will, signing off most of his life’s money and belongings to Margaret and his daughter(Davison).

There have been notes of Margaret having a serious gambling addiction(Davison). During her marriage, she had seemed to be cured of the habit. However, after Ruperts death, Margaret gambled off most of what was left to her in the will(Davison). Eventually she moved to Eltham in Kent and died around October 1st, 1719(Davison). As for Ruperta, she had married Brigadier-General Emanuel Scrope Howe and gave birth to four kids. She later died the same year as her mother(Davison).

Professional life and work

After the Restoration and the English Civil war, theater came to life again in England. King Charles, who just recently became king and was an avid theater goer, removed the ban of theater and gave Thomas Killigrew and William Dovenant rights to produce certain productions(Spencer). Thomas Killigrew took a different turn and allowed a female actress to take on the role of Desdemona in his production of Othello(Callow). Through this production, Margaret stirred an emotional response in the audience. So much so, that King Charles took notice and passed the law that females would play female roles and males would play male roles.

Margaret is said to have theater in her blood, having come from a theater family. Margaret’s first appearance, as said earlier, was in Thomas Killigrew’s “Othello” in 1660. She continued to perform as part of the Kings Company through 1660 to 1669(Callow). Being part of the kings company gave her certain rights like immunity from arrest from debts. It also helped that she had so many ins
A Portrait of Margaret Hughes

with the royal courts(Spencer). After her last performance as Angellina in Shirley’s “The Sisters”, she took a break from acting to create a life and family with The Prince Rupert(Callow). She lived quite lavishly during this time.

Hughes returned to the stage for a full year and a half, between 1676 to 1677(Callow). After that season, she retired from acting completely to fully devote her time to her daughter and her weakening

husband. She never returned to the stage after Rupert’s death(Davison).
The works that Margaret Hughes performed in were:

  • Thomas Killigrew’s “Othellow – Desdemona (1660)
  • John Dryden’s “Evening Love, or, The mock Astrologer” – Thedosia (1668)
  • Fletcher’s “Island Princess” – Panura (1668)
  • Dryden’s “Tyrannic Love” – St. Catherine (1669)
  • Shirley’s “The Sisters” – Angellina (1669)
  • Settle’s “Ibrahim” - Mirva
  • Ravenscroft’s “The Wrangling Lovers” - Octavia
  • Rawlin’s “Tom Essence” - Ms. Moneylove
  • Settle’s “Pastor Fido” - Gerana
  • Sedley’s “Antony and Cleopatra” - Charmion
  • Aphra Behn’s “The Rover” - Valeria
  • Durfrey’s “The Fond Husband” - Cordelia
  • Thomas Porter’s “The French Conjurer” - Leonora


Aleisha. “The My Hero Project – Margaret Hughes.” My Hero Project, 25 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

Callow, John. “Hughes, Margaret(d.1719)”,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

Davison, Anita. “Hoydens & Firebrands: Margaret [Peg] Hughes Prince Rupert’s Last Love.” Hoydens & Firebrands. Blogspot, 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

Spencer, Charles. "Chapter 23." Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007. 315-21. Print.