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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Good for Nelly!

I've been re-visiting Nell Gwyn recently, refurbishing a book I wrote about her some years ago - and once again amazed at the scale on which she lived: only maybe Elizabeth Taylor at her wealthiest could be compared. According to the account of Nell's silversmith, John Coques, she spent £1,700 on furnishing her bedroom alone He charged £1,135 2s. 1d for ornamenting her silver bedstead with eagles and crowns and cupids, and a satirical representation of a fellow actress' lover, an acrobat, dancing on a silver rope. The walls of one of the rooms (the bedroom, perhaps?) were entirely lined with mirrors. She clearly enjoyed silver for itself as well as for its value: she had excellent plate: silver bibelots stood about the house – sugar boxes, pepper and mustard pots, silver bottles, a gold hourglass - even the andirons in her fireplace were of silver. She had nothing against expensive jewellery, and once paid over £4,500 for a pearl necklace which had belonged to the actress Peg Hughes, sometime Prince Rupert’s mistress. She also commissioned a fine sedan chair, which cost £34 11s. – six hundred gilt and six hundred gilded nails must have almost covered the interior, leaving room however for five gold sprigs decorating the roof, a ‘rich gilt hasp’ for the door, and a glass window costing two pounds. To put this in context, the pound in 1670 would be the equivalent of over a hundred pounds today - so that pearl necklace would be worth at least half a million todfay, and probably much more. A canny lady.

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