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Nell Gwyn and the Beauclerk family

Beauclerk family tree

The Beauclerk family tree prepared by my grandfather,

A. H. M. Maurice, from Debretts Peerage showing how the Montagus and Maurices married into the Beauclerk family

Nell Gwyn

Nell Gwyn (1650 - 1687)

A rags-to-riches Cinderella, at thirteen she was an orange seller at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane before becoming an actress, and then King Charles II’s mistress in 1668. Samuel Pepys called her "pretty, witty Nell". She was passing through the streets of Oxford, in her coach, when the mob mistaking her for her rival, the Catholic Duchess of Portsmouth, commenced hooting and loading her with every opprobrious epithet. Putting her head out of the coach window, "Good people", she said, smiling, "you are mistaken; I am the Protestant whore."

Nell bore Charles two sons and when the eldest was six years old, in the presence of the King, she said, "Come here, you little bastard, and say hello to your father." When the King protested, she replied, "Your Majesty has given me no other name by which to call him." Another story is that Nell grabbed the boy and hung him out of a window and threatened to drop him unless he was granted a peerage. The King quickly cried out "God save the Earl of Burford!" Charles Beauclerk was later created Duke of St Albans.

Obeying his brother's deathbed wish, "Let not poor Nelly starve," James II eventually paid most of her gambling debts and gave Nell a pension of 1500 pounds a year.

Eleanor ('Nell') Gwyn by Simon Verelst

oil on canvas, feigned oval, circa 1680 NPG 2496

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Diana Beauclerk

Lady Diana Beauclerk (1734 - 1808)

Born Lady Diana Spencer, she was known chiefly for the unhappiness of her first marriage to Viscount Bolingbroke who was notoriously unfaithful. She separated from her husband, but when she gave birth to an illegitimate daughter Bolingbroke petitioned for divorce on grounds of adultery. The petition required an act of parliament, which was passed in March 1768. Within two days she married Topham Beauclerk. Their circle of friends included Samuel Johnson, Georgiana Cavendish, Edward Gibbon, David Garrick, Charles Fox, James Boswell and Edmund Burke. Topham Beauclerk was known as a fashion trendsetter, a member of the Macaroni Club – travelled young men who wore long curls and carried spying glasses – but within ten years illness and laudanum dependency saw him morose, bad-tempered and infested with enough lice “to stock a parish.” Lady Diana supported herself as an illustrator and artist, her designs were used by Wedgwood, but she died in reduced circumstances.


By Joshua Reynolds -,

Public Domain,

Emily Stuart Montagu

Emily Stuart Montagu (1849 - 1940)

as described by Edward Beauclerk Maurice:

"Six weeks before I was born, in the evening of a long midsummer’s day, my father was brought home spread-eagled over a broken gate, dead of a terrible gunshot wound to the head... The clergyman had mistakenly supposed his parishioner, my grandmother, to be a meek and pious woman, an error he was never to repeat. He was astonished by the ferocity with which she defended her son’s right to rest in the church, and reluctantly gave way... My grandmother than decided she was in need of a house-keeping companion and that her daughter-in-law could fill this position. There would be no pay as such, but food for the young widow and her children would be provided, sparingly as it turned out, and even more sparingly, clothes... Grandmother did not believe in the classless society. Indeed, so convinced was she of her own social superiority that there was not one single person in that Somersetshire township who could justifiably be invited to take tea with her."

Adamson D. and Dewar P. B. The House of Nell Gwyn, the Fortunes of the Beauclerk Family 1670-1974, London: Kimber, 1975.

Hicks C. Improper Pursuits; The Scandalous Life Of Lady Di Beauclerk, London: Macmillan, 2001.

Maurice, E. B. The Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers: Coming of Age in the Arctic, London: Fourth Estate, 2004.
Parker D. Nell Gwyn, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2000.

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