The King's Favorite: A Novel of Nell Gwyn and King Charles II
Readers' Guide/Questions for Discussion
- Nell believed her experience as an actress prepared her for her role as a royal mistress. Do you agree? How do you think her days on the stage could have helped, or hurt her?
- Religion and politics were tightly intertwined in Restoration England. Do you think that Nell helped or hurt her position by so boldly proclaiming herself the “Protestant Whore”?
- As one of the first women permitted to act on the English stage, Nell achieved a form of celebrity rare for women in her time. How did this clash with traditional roles of women at the time?
- Once Nell gave birth to the king’s son, she virtually retired from the stage. However, other actress of the time continued to perform throughout their lives, some having careers lasting twenty or thirty years. Do you think Nell made the right choice becoming a full-time royal mistress?
- Though the future of the English succession depended on Charles fathering a male heir, he refused to “put aside” his barren wife Catherine of Braganza in favor of a more fertile queen, much as his ancestor Henry VIII repeatedly did. Why do you think he refused?
- By using humor, Nell could often say politically charged things to Charles that others could not. Do you think she was as much a court jester as a royal mistress? Why?
- By becoming an actress, Nell pursued one of the few financially rewarding (if still disreputable) careers open to English women in the 17th century. Do you think this was a “good” time to be a woman, or not?
- Both the Plague and the pox were major public health issues in London during Nell’s life. How do you think these diseases affected English history?
- While Nell did have many female friends, she’s most known as a “man’s woman” on account of her close friendships with so many of the prominent gentlemen wits of her time like Rochester, Buckingham, Killigrew, and Buckhurst. These relationships seem to have been so affectionate that many historians assume that she also had sex with all the members of the “Merry Gang” –– which she steadfastly denied. What do you think?
- Nell was never as opportunistic as the other royal mistresses, and therefore ended up in a much more precarious financial situation at the king’s death. Was she a romantic idealist in her love for Charles, or haplessly foolish not to take advantage of her place as his mistress?