On this day in history….6th September 1651

On this day in history : 6th September 1651 – After the defeat of his Royalist Army, by Cromwell’s Parliamentarians at the Battle of Worcester, King Charles II spends the day hiding in an oak tree….

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Charles II circa 1653 – Philippe de Champaigne – Public domain

The Battle of Worcester, which took place on the 3rd of September 1651, was the final battle of the English Civil War…. Oliver Cromwell’s 28,000 strong New Model Army far out-numbered the King’s 16,000 men…. Around 3,000 lost their lives and a further 10,000 were taken prisoner; however, King Charles and other important Royalists managed to escape….

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Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester – Published by Machell Stace CC BY-SA 2.5

Charles and his companions sought shelter at the safe houses of the White Ladies Priory and Boscobel House (both in Shropshire)…. After a failed attempt to cross the River Severn, dressed as woodsmen, King Charles and his men were forced to return to their safe houses…. However, it was deemed theses hiding places were no longer safe and it was suggested King Charles hide in an oak tree within the grounds of Boscobel House….

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English Heritage – Public domain

And so, this is what he did…. From his vantage point he could see the progress – or rather the non-progress – of the Parliamentary soldiers searching for him…. He later made his escape posing as the servant of Jane Lane of Bentley….

On this day in history….2nd February 1650

On this day in history : 2nd February 1650 – The birth of Eleanor “Nell” Gwyn – who from selling oranges goes on to become an actress and the mistress of King Charles II….

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Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn – Image credit : Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

Born Eleanor Gwyn – the early details of Nell’s life are sketchy….but it is thought her father died in Debtor’s prison and her mother ran a bawdy house….

When Nell was around 14-years-old a friend of her mother’s, Mary Meggs – a former prostitute also known as ‘Orange Moll’ – was granted a licence to sell fruit and confectionery at Drury Lane Theatre…. She hired Nell and her older sister, Rose, to sell oranges….the scantily clad ‘orange-girls’ would sell sweet ‘china’ oranges at sixpence each….

The girls were also used to act as messengers between men in the audience and the actresses backstage…. Female actors were a relatively new phenomenon – until recent years the roles of women had been played by men and boys…. With her vivacious wit, high spirits and pretty heart-shaped face Nell soon came to the attention of Charles Hart, a leading actor of the time…. At the age of 15 Nell made her debut on the stage….and she also became Charles Hart’s mistress….

Plays were written for Nell to bring out her comic talents….but as well as having the ability to make audiences laugh she was an excellent singer and dancer. Nell Gwyn became the leading comedienne of The King’s Company….

Nell was popular amongst the gentlemen and was mistress to a fair few….including Charles Sackville (Lord Buckhurst). When her relationship with King Charles II began she referred to the King as her Charles the Third….

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King Charles II of England by John Michael Wright – Public domain

Her love affair with the King began in April 1668, when she attended a performance of the play ‘She Wou’d if She Cou’d’ by George Etherege at the theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields…. The box alongside hers was occupied by King Charles II and they spent the entire evening flirting with each other….

Nell became the King’s mistress in 1669. She was actually one of many….the King was a busy boy…. As well as having a wife, the Portuguese Queen consort Catherine of Braganza, he liked to have several mistresses on the go at one time…. Frances Stuart, Lucy Walters, Louise de Kerouaille, Moll Davis and Lady Castlemaine were just a few Nell had to share him with….and other mistresses came and went….

The rivalry between the King’s women was great….all were needy and greedy – demanding houses, money and even titles….all except Nell. Perhaps this was a clever move on her part….she was given a house near to Pall Mall and an allowance of £4,000 per year – and then later a further £5,000 per year on top….

The King had 13 children that he acknowledged with his mistresses – and he provided for them all…. Nell gave birth to their first child, Charles, on the 8th of May 1670…. She herself had never received a title from the King – but managed to manipulate one for her child….by calling him a ‘little bastard’ in front of his father…. The King was shocked – but Nell responded by asking what else she should call him, for was it not true? The King immediately made his young son the Duke of St. Albans…. Nell gave birth to their second son, James, Lord Beauclerk in 1671….but he was to die in 1680….

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Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans c.1690 – artist : Godfrey Knellor – Public domain
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Nell Gwyn with her two sons. Image credit : Lisby via Flickr

King Charles II himself was to die 5 years later, on the 6th of February 1685…. On his deathbed he requested of his brother, James, who was to succeed him….“Let not poor Nelly starve”….

After the King’s death Nell found herself in considerable debt with the threat of Debtor’s prison hanging over her…. True to his word King James II settled her debts and gave her a pension of £1,500 per year….

However, just 2 years later Nell was to suffer a stroke – and 8 months later, on the 14th of November 1687, she died….she was just 37 years of age…. Nell Gwyn, favourite of the King, was to become a legend….out of all the King’s mistresses she was the only one who managed to win the affection of the people….

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Nell Gwyn – artist Peter Lely c.1675 – Public domain

On this day in history….29th December 1675

On this day in history : 29th December 1675 – King Charles II orders the closing of all coffee houses, as he believes they are a hub of malicious gossip about the Government…. It causes a national outcry….

17th century London coffeehouse – Image : Bodleian Library, University of Oxford – Public domain

Coffee had only relatively recently arrived in Europe from Turkey and had quickly become a fashionable drink – not because it tasted good, as this early coffee really did not – but because of the buzz the caffeine gave…. People were soon addicted to it…. The first coffee house opened in Oxford in 1652, with London following in the same year with one in Cornhill…. Soon coffee houses were everywhere….

The non-alcohol serving, men only establishments became lively meeting places both for social and business purposes…. Aside from general chit-chat of the day deals would be struck, current affairs debated and pamphlets distributed…. Each coffee house would have its own particular clientele, often defined by a profession or occupation – politicians, merchants, bankers, authors and poets, artists and musicians…. Some establishments were rather more shady, favoured by criminals and pimps….

King Charles II became nervous; he was convinced that the population was plotting treason; he believed the peace of the realm was at stake with the establishments promoting rumour mongering – and that they made people idle…. And so he issued a proclamation to make coffee houses illegal – but he didn’t stop there….He also banned the selling of coffee and for good measure added to the ban the sale of tea, chocolate and sherbet….

King Charles II – by John Michael Wright – Public domain

His law to ban coffee houses was passed on the 29th of December 1675 – set to become active from the 10th of January 1676…. The law was so unpopular, including among members of his own government, that he finally backed down and the law was withdrawn on the 8th of January….