Monday, 31 December 2012

Pretty, Witty - Nell Gwyn, the King's Courtesan

Often lampooned, she was reportedly possessed of great comedic talent, making her the most famous of the Restoration actresses. She also won the heart of a king, but ultimately died alone and in debt.

Eleanor (Nell) Gwyn was allegedly born on 2nd February 1650 (or possibly up to eight years earlier). The place of her birth is disputed. Hereford, London and Oxford all claim her as their own and her surname is distinctly Welsh, lending some weight to Hereford's claim as this city is on the Welsh-English border. Whatever the truth of it, she was certainly raised in London, around Covent Garden.

Hers was an inauspicious start. The daughter of a a father with an uncertain background who disappeared from her life in early childhood, while her mother probably ran a 'bawdy' house, along with Nell's sister, Rose. It is highly likely that Nell herself worked as a child prostitute.

How then did she become a famous actress and catch the eye of a king?

It all began with a former prostitute called Orange Moll who was licensed to sell oranges in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane - the King's own theatre. Business must have been good because Orange Moll was able to offer work to both Nell and her sister, Rose. Less than a year after starting her new job, Nell had caught the eye of Thomas Killigrew, who owned the theatre, and, at the age of fourteen, her good looks, clear, penetrating voice and witty banter had landed her a new career as part of the theatre's company of actors.

King Charles II was a regular member of the audience and, learning the craft of acting quickly, Nell was soon performing on stage, where she sparkled in comedic roles. Her reputation grew and, when the King moved to Oxford as a result of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London (summer 1665 to autumn 1666), she became one of the select King's Company of actors, performing for His Majesty and the exiled court. She played role after role opposite her real-life lover, Charles Hart, as part of a series of comedies based around two central characters - a male and a female known as a 'gay couple'. In fact, it is said she perfected this style of comedy and made it her own.

Her affair with Hart ended when she caught the eye of the aristocratic Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. It was to be the first rung on the ladder that led her to claim the ultimate prize.

By now, it was 1667 and Nell was aged somewhere between 17 and 25 - young, vivacious, attractive and talented. Her new lover was charming, dissolute, cultured and witty. They must have been much in demand at discreet country-house parties! But, just a few months later, her affair ended and events took a momentous turn.

In April 1668, Nell was at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, in the next box to the King, who seemed far more interested in her than in the play and flirted outrageously with her. Anecdotally, Charles discovered after supper that he had no money on him and Nell had to pay, whereupon, she is said to have exclaimed in an excellent imitation of the monarch, "Od's fish! But this is the poorest company I ever was in!" The King was entranced.

Following her two previous affairs with men called Charles, she nickamed the King, her "Charles the third." She was under no illusions that he would be faithful to her. His wife, Catherine of Braganza, had found herself virtually powerless at court as a result of her husband's longrunning - and continuing - affair with the powerful Barbara Palmer (Lady Castlemaine), whose five children were fathered by Charles. In fact, there existed a veritable harem of women, drawn from every level of society, who were called upon to warm the King's bed as his fancy took him.

Nell gave birth to her first son, also named Charles, on May 8th 1670. He was the King's seventh son by five different mistresses. In the same year, she rather extraordinarlily returned to the stage, while her royal lover took yet another mistress - the French maid of honour, Louise de Kerouaille. Nell nicknamed her 'Squintabella' and they remained rivals for years - although they did occasionally take afternoon tea together! A fly on the wall would have witnessed some interesting exchanges between the woman of noble birth used to the gentility of Versailles and the ex-orange seller and actress with a tendency to use colourful language.
Charles Beauclerk, 1st Earl of Burford

Nell's second son by the King - James - was to die tragically young, while her eldest became the Earl of Burford, a title he may or may not have been given as a result of a carefully calculated remark of Nell's. On a visit from the King, she is alleged to have summoned her son, saying, "Come here, you little bastard and speak to your father." When the king protested, she simply replied, "Your Majesty has given me no other name by which to call him." So Charles Beauclerk, Earl of Burford he became.

The king bestowed property on Nell but she was by nature spendthrift and accumulated vast debts. At the King's death, on February 6th 1685, his brother, James II, succeeded him, as none of Charles's many children was legitimate. "Let not poor Nelly starve," the dying King is reputed to have said and James II respected his wishes and paid off most of the outstanding debts at that time.

As for Nelly, she suffered a series of strokes that kept her confined to her Pall Mall home and, less than three years after the King's death she died from apoplexy, almost certainly due to syphilis. She had accumulated yet more considerable debts - but also left a legacy to the prisoners of Newgate in London (the infamous debtors' prison), no doubt in gratitude for having been spared their fate.

Colourful, bawdy, witty and pretty, Nell Gwyn was a unique and honest character who never forgot who she was, unlike so many courtesans. I'll leave the last words with her. 

When riding in her carriage one day, she was mistaken, by the crowds, for her rival, the Roman Catholic Louise de Kerouaille. They shouted obscenities and called her a "Catholic whore". Undaunted, Nell stuck her head out of the window, smiled and said, "Good people, you are mistaken. I am the Protestant whore."

Monday, 24 December 2012

Have a Wonderful Christmas

May Your Christmas Sparkle
and may all your dreams be fulfilled
Happy Christmas from Antonia

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Seducing Amanda on Sunday

My Christmas stocking treat - six more sentences for Six Sentence Sunday, from 'Seducing Amanda':

Three nights later, I woke again from a heavy and dreamless sleep to find I wasn’t alone in my bed. As before, I switched on the lamp—this time just to be sure I wasn’t imagining it. Sure enough, I saw the telltale ripples moving upward under the sheet. This time the movements were heavier as the mattress undulated beneath me. Could it be him? Hardly daring to breathe, I switched off the light and lay down, quivering in anticipation of the pleasure to come. 

 Seducing Amanda is available here:    Barnes and Noble All Romance Books Kobo

You can read the other great Six Sentence Sunday authors here

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Fantasies In The Flames

Temperatures are plummeting, the wind has a real bite to it and your cheeks tingle from the frosty chill outside.

What better time then, to unwind that long scarf from around your neck, shuck off the woolly coat and mittens and tuck your numb feet into a pair of warm, comfy slippers. Then take yourself off into your living room, curl up in your favourite armchair and, if you're lucky enough to have one, stare into the dancing flames of your fire. Listen to the crackling of the logs and bathe in the warmth, as your cheeks turn rosy red.

And what images can you see in those red and yellow flames?

Figures of Fire and Flame II - Lance Jackson

Maybe dancing angels or lovers entwined. As a log falls and sends a shower of sparks shooting up the chimney, do you catch a glimpse of a witch stirring in the shadows, or fire sprites darting among the embers? Do gleaming eyes glow red as you watch them? Or do your own eyes grow heavy, while your senses relax?

Firelight in winter, the scent of applewood and Christmas punch. Mulled wine blending with cinnamon and nutmeg. Toasted marshmallows and hot, steaming chocolate.

This is the stuff of stories, and when shared with friends, the telling of them. Tall tales, where ghosts and fae folk scare the unwitting traveller and when fact and fantasy meet, merge and become one.

Here's a wonderful collection of classic Ghost Stories for Christmas on DVD  

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Six Sentences of Seduction

For the first time, I am participating in Six Sentence Sunday. 

Here are my six from the first chapter of Seducing Amanda, my new sizzling novella:

 'My breath caught in my throat as I realized the sound was coming from one of the rooms I had yet to tackle. A room that had been—last time I had seen it—stuffed with old chairs, battered children’s toys, and rolled up, dusty rugs.

Now its door was open, and a flickering light shone from it. Trying not to make a sound, I made my way to the door and peered in. That’s when I saw him for the first time. He wasn’t alone.'

You can check out the other great authors on Six Sentence Sunday here

Seducing Amanda is available here:   
Barnes and Noble
All Romance Books

Friday, 7 December 2012

Seducing Amanda. Just published!

A lonely girl, a haunted house, and a ghostly passion from the past.

 Escaping from a disastrous marriage, Amanda Dalton seeks a chance to heal her troubled mind at Dalton Manor, the rambling Victorian mansion recently inherited from her aunt. Her new home seems the perfect place to recuperate, but the house has a secret or two of its own. A mysterious couple comes to call--a beautiful man and woman who share their passion and encourage Amanda to explore her deepest sexual fantasies. But who are they? Where have they come from? Why won’t they tell her their names?

When Amanda discovers she is not the first to enjoy a ménage a trois with the couple, she’s drawn in ever deeper. She combs the house for clues to their identity, her desire to learn the truth becoming an obsession. But her work proves fruitless. With Christmas coming, Amanda knows she will soon have to make a decision--one that will determine the rest of her life. The snow is falling as she sips her wine. In the corner of her room, the lights twinkle on the Christmas tree near the fire. All is still and quiet. Until there’s a knock at the door…

Warning: Ménage, M/F/F, light BDSM, spanking, F/F content

Published by Etopia Press and available now from:
Barnes and Noble
All Romance Books
Coming soon from:
and other online booksellers