The King’s Favorite: A Novel of Nell Gwyn and King Charles II

Written by Susan Holloway Scott
Review by Ilysa Magnus

The story of the Oxford-born barmaid turned prostitute turned orange seller turned renowned actress – and, ultimately, the mistress and closest companion to Charles II – is one of legend. Scott takes this well-worn story and breathes life and spirit into it.

From a very early age, Nelly Gwyn has her heart and mind set on Charles. The fact that he is England’s monarch appears not to intimidate her, but then again, Nell is quite a rambunctious, clever and enticing creature, capturing the fancies of some in the king’s inner circle. Her earthy wisdom, saucy personality and hilarious wit – and outright determination and perseverance – attract everyone who comes in contact with her.

Nell’s story is an amazing one, and it is a fascinating evolutionary tale in Scott’s talented hands. What could have been a pedestrian retelling of the same old story is transformed into a first person, eyewitness account of life in 17th-century England and an insider’s look at the intrigues, passions and deceptions at Whitehall Palace.

What is communicated most effectively is the deep, abiding connection between Nell and Charles. Clearly, Charles relies on Nell as his best friend to counsel him in all things, both personal and political, and he respects her opinion and sage advice – certainly not what you’d expect between England’s king and a “common street whore.”

But then again, Scott does such a marvelous job of imbuing Nell with innate intelligence and a love of life that the reader just can’t help falling in love with her too.

A joyous and highly recommended novel.