No no, it is not my new job title, lol, it is the book I finished at the weekend by Gillian Bagwell. An historical fiction about Nell Gwynn, one of the most known and loved Mistresses of King Charles II and believe me he had a many!
The story starts with Nell aged 10, a street trading oyster seller [hard to imagine they were as cheap as chips, although it might explain the debauchness of the time] who tries to flee her violent alcoholic mother. Nell has no options, she joins her sister Rose and Madam Ross’s cat house and prostitution becomes her profession. The oldest profession in the world, and as many she cultivates a band of regulars who keep her and Madam Ross adequately paid. Nell is a buxom young thing who draws the eyes well but sometimes by those who are intent on being cruel.
With King Charles on the throne and the puritan Cromwells grasp removed the theatres are soon reinstated where Nell and Rose become orange sellers to the crowds. One day there is added excitement as the King and his Mistress de jour Barbara Palmer were to visit the theatre and watch the play. During the interval Nell took to the stage to call her market wares and Charles entranced by her charm bought oranges from her. She is best known as the orange seller, yet this is a job she held for the least time. The theatre was the venue where the lowest low could mix and mingle openly with the highest high, many a titled Royal, aristocrat and gent would visit backstage. She became a friend of Samuel Pepys, they remained so throughout her life.
Nell’s heart desired to be on the stage, she adored watching the player perform and feel the audience. Completely illiterate she persuaded some of the company to teach her the lines and she was given a chance, a small part in a comedy. Nell was well received, the audiences were hooked on Nell and Nell was hooked on acting. She began a lovers affair with one of the leading men of the company and they captivated audiences for months in the numerous roles performed, some written specifically for them. The King and Barbara [now Countess of Castlemaine] were frequent theatre attendees, often requesting a command performance at Whitehall for the King and his company. It was not long before Charles took her as his Mistress and Nell was pregnant, both ending her acting career. She was a Mistress without agenda, so often pretty young things were ‘introduced’ and were used by sponsors and spies to ‘pillow talk’ the King into doing something for them or passing on his political/battle intentions, but Nell was different, she simply loved him and cared not for politics or war.
The King granted her property and an allowance, she found herself in a Pall Mall home with servants and silver. She never left her friends and helpers, often paying over for some food stuffs or clearing a debt to save a soul from the debtors goal or finding work for a friend in need. Of course this is the time of the infamous Lord Rochester [adeptly played by Johnny Depp in The Libertine]. A period in history of hedonistic debauchery, sex is a leisure, a tool, a weapon and a gift but above all it is enthusiastically undertaken.
Three years after King Charles II’s death Nell suffered a series of strokes that left her bed ridden and she died of a syphilis type infection at the age if 37. She was buried at the Church of St martin In The Fields. but the church and grounds have been much altered and the actual resting place of her bones is no longer known.
The book flowed very well and the style of writing was very easy.