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Nell Gwynn - who originally sold oranges in the precincts of the Drury Lane Theatre, became an actress at the age of only fifteen, through the influence of her first lover, the actor, Charles Hart, and also of Robert Duncan, a guards officer who had an interest in the theatre's management. Her first recorded appearance on the stage was in 1665, as Montezuma's daughter, Cydaria, in Dryden's Indian Emperor, a serious part to which she was not well. In the following year, however, she played Lady Wealthy in James Howard's comedy The English Monsieur. The diarist, Samuel Pepys, was apparently delighted by the performance from "pretty, witty Nell", but went further upon seeing her as Florimel in Dryden's Secret Love, or the Maiden Queen, : "so great a performance of a comical part was never, I believe, in the world before.....so done by Nell her merry part as cannot be better done in nature" (25th March 1667). Nell's success brought her other leading roles: Bellario, in Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster; Flora, in Rhodes's Flora's Vagaries; Samira, in Sir Robert Howard's Surprisal. Nell Gwynne excelled in the delivery of the risqué, but fashionable, prologues and epilogues of the time, but her success as an actress was largely due to John Dryden, who wrote characters especially for her, having made a study of her airy and irresponsible personality. In her early teens, Nell Gwyn was engaged to sell oranges at the King's Theatre. Her natural wit and complete lack of self-consciousness caught the eye of the actor Charles Hart and others, and Dryden wrote plays to exploit her talents as a comic actress.

She became Charles Hart's mistress, she called him Charles the First, and was then passed to Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, whom she dubbed Charles the Second, and later the King, calling him her Charles the Third.

Lady Castlemaine (Barbara Palmer) had been Charles' mistress for many years when he became enamoured of Nell.

The Restoration brought the innovation of actresses on the London stage, and Nell managed, in spite of her illiteracy, to join their ranks and become one of the most celebrated comediennes of the time, featuring in bawdy comedies often in saucy 'breeches' roles, acting in plays by John Dryden and George Villiers among others. Nell came to the attention of Lord Buckhurst and was soon and briefly his kept mistress. In 1668 Nell became the mistress of Charles II, provided with a house in Pall Mall. She gave birth to two sons; the first acknowledged and eventually made Duke of St Albans and the second almost certainly the king's too. Charles died in 1685, and Nell only survived him by two years, expiring on November 14 1687, the one-time orange seller having a funeral at which the Archbishop of Canterbury preached. King Charles was the monarch of England from 29th May 1660 to 6th February 1685. Charles I, his father was executed after the English Civil War. Subsequently, England, Scotland and Ireland became united republic under Oliver Cromwell. It was only in 1651, that he was crowned King of Scots. Charles II had a tumultuous relation with the Parliament, though he took care to see that there was no open hostility. The affair continued, though it had rough patches. Charles II died on 6th February 1685. Nell died on 14th November 1687 after suffering two paralyzing strokes earlier. She was only 37. Thus, ended one of the famous royal romances in the history of England and this romance of King Charles II and Nell Gwynn makes very interesting study of the peccadilloes of English aristocracy.When Charles II died in 1985, Nell was deeply in debt. Charles pleaded on his deathbed "Let not poor Nelly starve". Charles' successor, James II, paid off all Nell's debts and gave her a pension, upon which she lived, taking no more lovers in tribute to the king's memory, until she died on 14th November 1687.

At her funeral, the Archbishop of Canterbury preached a sermon based on Luke 15:7. 'There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance'. Nell is buried in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.