Eleanor 'Nell' Gwyn is the best known Restoration actress. She started out as an orange-seller at Drury Lane theatre where her wit, looks and charm led to her becoming the mistress of the leading actor, Charles Hart, who trained her to perform. Described by Samuel Pepys as 'pretty, witty Nell', she was a talented singer and dancer and began appearing in plays in about 1665, soon becoming a leading comic actress. Charles II was a great fan of the theatre and of the actresses, several of whom became his lovers at one time or another.
Gwyn was the King's mistress from 1669 to his death in 1685. Several portraits were made of her and even more have been mistakenly identified as her. This engraving is after a portrait painted in about 1664 by the court painter Sir Peter Lely.