"Pretty, witty" Nell Gwyn (1650-1687), a former orange seller and actress, in 1668 caught the attention of the king and managed to hold it for seventeen years.
NELL VS. LOUISE
Thought by many to be the wittiest of the King Charles's mistresses, Nell was always finding new ways to amuse the king (for instance, tying a fried fish to his line when he complained of not catching anything), and always outfoxing her key competition - the baby-faced but empty-headed aristocrat known as Louise de Querouaille, created duchess of Portsmouth by Charles II.
Nell, never created duchess of anything because of her exceedingly low birth, was pitiless with Louise. She mimicked Louise's French accent to perfection. Once, when Louise acidly remarked that Nell was dressed richly enough to be a queen, Nell retorted, "You are entirely right, Madam. And I am whore enough to be a duchess!"
On one occasion, the king invited Nell and Louise to dinner, and Louise was determined to prove her own wit. She pointed to the two chickens adorning the table and claimed that she could make them into three. "There's one," said the French mistress, "and there's two, and one and two makes three!"
Nell lifted one cooked bird onto her own plate and the other onto Charles's plate, and suggested that Louise eat the third.
The two women would eventually make a kind of peace. With the arrival of a new competitor - the devilishly lovely Hortense Mancini - Louise descended into a fit of melodramatic despair, and Nell expressed sympathy for her "weeping willow."
DEATH AND LEGACY
Before Charles II died in 1685, on his deathbed he begged his brother and successor, James II, to "let not poor Nelly starve." James obliged by paying off most of Nell's debts and allowing her a pension.
Nell suffered two strokes in the spring of 1687 and died in the fall, only two years after the death of her royal lover. She was 37 years old.
With the English public, Nell had been the most popular of the king's feminine menagerie; the people loved her as King Charles's vulgar, spunky, and Protestant whore (the hated Louise was Catholic).
During her tenure, Nell had displayed a number of admirable qualities besides her wit. She had an irrepressibly good nature. She put on no airs. In a harem full of women eager to deck themselves with diamonds, gowns, and pensioned titles at the expense of the state, Nell had showed neither greed nor presumption with her generous-to-a-fault lover.
Moreover, whereas the Lady Castlemaine was infamous for her infidelities, Nell remained loyal to Charles. After the king's death in 1685, a hopeful suitor approached Nell - her sad rebuff was that she would not "lay a dog where the deer had laid."