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Eleanor “Nell” Gwynne had a troubled childhood in London: Her father left the family when she was young, and her mother drowned in a pond after a drinking binge.
Young Nell sold oranges to get by, but by the time she was 15, she’d also started working as an actress.
Famous playwright John Dryden wrote roles for her, and she proved to be a comedic talent.
With fame came wealthy men and eventually, Gwynne became a courtesan, cohabiting with members of the English nobility, including Charles Sackville, the sixth Earl of Dorset, and King Charles II.
Nell Gwynne’s main man was King Charles II, and she was his mistress exclusively from about 1670 until he died in 1685.
They had two sons, and Charles built her a mansion near Windsor Castle.
On his deathbed, Charles pleaded with his brother, James II, to “not let poor Nell starve.” James II carried out those wishes, providing for Nell Gwynne until her death two years later in 1687.