GWYN, Eleanor ('Nell') (1651?-1687). Mistress of King Charles II.
Document Signed ('E.G.'), 1 page folio (neatly inlaid by the blank leaf), no place, no date [?1682]. A receipt for £250 from the pension allowed to her and her son by the king. Together with a treasury warrant for the pension, 23 August 1682.
A SIGNATURE OF EXTRAORDINARY RARITY
Oxford DNB records that 'The few letters by Nell in existence, though signed by herself E.G., were all written by others and undoubtedly she could barely write'. No such letters or other documents are recorded as having been seen on the market within about the last forty years.
The document is remarkably sparse for an official record of the period, containing only the barest details ('Receved then CCl ll' / Twoe hundred and fifty Pounds / EG' (autograph) and the signature of the witness, Thomas Humble. The accompanying warrant, however is more detailed:
'Mrs [i.e. 'Mistress'] Elianor Gwyn upon her Penc'on / Order is taken this xxiiith day of August 1682. By virtue of his Ma[jesties] L[ett]res of Privy Seale dated the xith of June 1679 That you deliver & pay of such his Mats. Treasure as remaines in your charge unto Mrs. Elianor Gwyn or her assignes the sume of Twelve hundred & fifty pounds upon the yearly sume of L(?)li [i.e. œ5000] towards the support of her selfe, and Charles Earle of Burford, for one Quarter of a yeare ended at Lady Day 1682. And these together with her or her assignes acquittance shalbe your discharge herein.'
This document is signed in the right-hand margin by four commissioners of the treasury: Laurence Hyde (bap. 1642, d. 1711, later first earl of Rochester); Sir John Ernle (1617?-1697, politician); Sidney Godolphin (1614-1712, later earl of Godolphin); and Sir Stephen Fox (1627-1716). At the foot are four certificates (one on the reverse) recording the payment of instalments of the pension, each signed by Robert Howard (1626-1698, playwright and politican).
Nell Gwyn was of course the most famous of Charles II's mistresses. ODNB neatly records her standing 'at the head of what was to be a long tradition of liaisons between royalty and actresses'. Bishop Burnet in his History called her the 'indiscreetest and wildest creature that ever was in court'. Her origins are somewhat obscure, and she is said variously to have been employed in raking cinders and selling herrings before graduating to oranges, the latter perhaps at the King's Theatre. She moved from the auditorium to the stage in about 1664, and Samuel pepys several times commented on her attractions. She appears to have become the king's mistress in 1668 or 1669. Her first child by Charles, born in mid-May 1670, Charles Beauclerk, later earl of Burford and first duke of St Albans, is mentioned specifially in the treasury warrant above as a participant in the royal pension. Her second son, James, born in 1671, was given the courtesy title of Lord Beauclerk.
The first image is of the document signed by Nell.
The image links to a larger or more detailed version.