For this part of my A Little History Series I am focussing on influential and incredible woman of History, for this part we will be have a look at two completely different, but yet two incredible woman of British History . One was a Kings favorite Mistress, a strong and fiery woman who did what ever she could to keep a roof over her head and the other was a courageous nurse on the front line, tending both sides who sacrificed her very life to look after her patient’s. So let me introduce you to Nell and Edith.
Eleanor “Nell” Gwyn
Nell was the long-term mistress to King Charles II and is reputed to be his favorite as she was said to the less greedy of his thirteen mistresses and his pet name for her was ” Pretty, Witty Nell”. Nell’s story is one of rags to riches, she started out in life living very modestly even though the early part of her life is a bit questionable and as is her parentage.
On her mother’s death she soon after moved to London and became an Orange seller in the Kings 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 Harts Mistress; who she called “Charles the First” and was then she was passed to Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, whom she dubbed “Charles the Second,” and finally the King, calling him her “Charles the Third”
Nell was one of Thirteen where the King was concerned but as I have said previously it is said that she was his favorite, but that didn’t make life easy for Nell as she she soon made her enemies from Charles other Mistresses such as Lady Castlemaine.
The rivalry between Nell, Lady Castlemaine, Frances Stuart, Louise de Keroualle, Lucy Walters, Moll Davis and sundry others made the King’s life difficult at times!
Nell was not greedy and grasping like her rivals, but did receive a house near Pall Mall and when she first knew the King, she asked for just £500 a year!
King Charles gave her a pension of £4000 a year from rents in Ireland and later another £5000 a year out of the Secret Service Fund.
Towards the end of 1669 Nell withdrew from the stage because she was pregnant. The child was a boy who she called Charles Beauclerk however her other son James Beauclerk, born two years later, died. Her sons surnames was pronounced Bo-Clare, Charles was later to be given the title of Earl of Burford and later Duke of St.Albans.
Unlike Charles’ other mistresses, Nell never received a title herself, but by using clever tactics she obtained a title for her son.
“Come here you little bastard” she is reputed to have said to her small son in the Kings presence. The King was horrified, but as Nell asked, “what should she call him, was not bastard true?” The King immediately made him Duke of St. Albans!
On Kings Charles death bed, Charles insisted that his heir and next in line to the throne James, look after “Pretty, Witty Nell”
Nell survived Charles by only two years and was only in her thirties when she died. She became a legend, the only royal mistress in English history to provoke popular affection.
“Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore”
This Nell’s cheeky retort to the masses pushing around her coach in the mistaken belief that it was that of the Duchess of Portsmouth, the Catholic Louise de Keroualle.
Edith Cavell was a British nurse during the First World War. She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without distinction and in helping over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.
Edith Louisa Cavell was born in Swardeston, a small village in Norfolk where her father was the Reverend, She had 3 younger siblings.
Edith moved to Belgium, where she worked as a Governess and she was soon fluent in French. She returned to Swardeston when her father became very unwell and Edith assisted with nursing him back to health. This act is what probably inspired Edith to become a nurse. She trained at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, under Eva Lückes. Edith wasn’t always the best student, Eva described her as unpunctual and not a nurse that could be relied on! However, Edith’s intentions were good!
“At a time like this, I am more needed than ever.”
In 1907, after completing her nurse training and completing a number of roles in hospitals in the UK, Edith was invited back to Brussels to nurse a sick child. Despite Eva’s comments, Edith’s skills were soon recognised and she was invited to be Matron of the first Nursing School in Belgium.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Edith was in Norwich. “At a time like this, I am more needed than ever” were the words of Edith before she set off for the Frontline in Belgium.
Edith cared for all the wounded, regardless of nationality. She was greatly criticised by many at the time for assisting the German and Austrian soldiers, when they were fighting against the British. Edith soon began to work with others to smuggle the Allied soldiers that she was caring for, out of the hospital and into neutral Holland.
After a lengthy investigation, the suspicions of the German Officials grew and Edith, along with others, was arrested. She knew of the implications in being involved with the underground, so Edith kept it a secret from many of her nurses.
When interrogated by the Officials, Edith provided all of the details surrounding the underground and she was sent to trial with 35 others. Most were sentenced to hard labour. Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage.
“I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me. This I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” Edith Cavell, 1915.