Guest Post: August 1660 in Charles II's England by Gillian Bagwell

Passages to the Past is pleased to bring you a fascinating guest post by Gillian Bagwell...

Gillian Bagwell is the author of the upcoming novel The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who rose from the streets to become one of London’s most beloved actresses and the life-long mistress of King Charles II.

This is the fourth in a series of monthly articles chronicling the events from May 1660 through January 1661, in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Restoration of the English monarchy, the reopening of the playhouses, which had been closed for eighteen years under Cromwell, and the first appearance of an actress on the English stage, in contrast to the old practice of boys playing women’s roles.

For further information about the articles and Gillian’s books, please visit her website,

AUGUST, 1660

In August 1660, the third month of Charles II’s active reign, there was still much business to be done.

With the return of the King and his courtiers had come a return of dueling. In mid-August, the King forbade the hot-blooded young cavaliers to challenge or cause to be challenged any person or persons, to carry or accept any challenge, or to fight or act as a second in a duel. Given the number of high-profile duels in the next several years, the law seems to have widely ignored, despite the fact that anyone who broke it would be barred from holding office in the King’s service as well as facing legal penalties.

Throughout August, both houses of Parliament continued their debate about the Bill of Indemnity. By the end of the month they had finally hashed out the details, and the King went to the House of Lords to give his assent. The final bill offered a general pardon for all crimes or treasons against Charles I or Charles II or the royal house during the wars and Commonwealth, excluding thirty regicides – those who had been directly responsible for the trial and execution of Charles I - and the two masked executioners (whose identities were never proved). Another thirty-one people were excepted from the pardon in some form.

Charles at the same time confirmed all acts of civil justice since 1642, when the civil war had begun; restricted interest rates; declared his birthday, May 29, a day of thanksgiving; and introduced a poll tax for the purpose of disbanding and paying off the Army.

Now that Charles was a real King, his younger sister Henrietta Anne, known as Minette, became a hot matrimonial prospect, and their cousin King Louis XIV of France and his mother Anne of Austria asked for Minette’s hand in marriage for Louis’s younger brother.
Henriette Anne "Minette"
Major business accomplished, the King agreed that both Houses of Parliament could adjourn from September 8 to November 6, but urged them to deal with raising money for disbanding the Army and settling the Navy’s debts before they left town.

The States of Holland gave Charles a gilded yacht, and he went off to have a look at it below London Bridge by 5 a.m. on August 15. Diarist Samuel Pepys commented that “The King do tire all his people that are about him with early rising since he came.”

Charles was having work done on the Cockpit, the theatre at Whitehall Palace, but it was not yet complete. In August, he had rope dancers perform in the Hall, which lay between the Banqueting House and the Thames, abutting on the passage leading to Whitehall Stairs, the landing stage on the river. Sandwiched between the guard chamber and the chapel, The Hall was probably a very old part of the palace. Richard Burbage and the Queen’s Men had performed there for Queen Elizabeth, and both James I and Charles I used it for performances of masques and plays. For the rope dancers’ performance, timbers to fasten the ropes to were put into the walls, and seats were erected. Much later, in 1665, the Hall was substantially improved and succeeded the Cockpit as the primary theatre at the Palace. On August 16, “A Prologue to the King” was performed at Court. The British Library has the manuscript of a play dated August 8, but which may not have been performed, entitled “A Tragi-Comedy. Relating to our latter Times. Beginning at the Death of King Charles the First. And ending with the happy Restaurant of King Charles the Second. Written by a Person of Quality.” “Restaurant” presumably meaning the same as restoration, unless Charles was trying to raise money by running a tavern!

Execution of King Charles I
Performances were continuing at the public theatres, the Red Bull in St. John Street in Clerkenwell, the Salisbury Court between Fleet Street and the river, and the Cockpit in Drury Lane, not far from the current site of the Theatre Royal. Pepys tried unsuccessfully to get done with work so he could see the show at the Red Bull on August 3, but “took coach and went to see whether it was done or no, and I found it done,” it presumably having undergone some improvements. On August 18 he saw John Fletcher’s “The Loyal Subject” at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, “where one Kinaston, a boy, acted the Duke’s sister, but made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life, only her voice not very good. After the play done, we three went to drink, and by Captain Ferrers’ means, Kinaston and another that acted Archas, the General, came and drank with us.”

Pepys as usual found much to interest and entertain himself. On August 1 he went with friends “to drink at a bottle beer house in the Strand, and after staying there a while … I took boat and homewards went, and in Fish Street bought a Lobster, and as I had bought it I met with Winter and Mr. Delabarr, and there with a piece of sturgeon of theirs we went to the Sun Tavern in the street and ate them. Late home and to bed.” On Saturday, August 4, he “went and bespoke some linen of Betty Lane in the Hall,” (Betty was one of his regular dalliances) “and after that to the Trumpet, where I sat and talked with her, &c. At night, it being very rainy, and it thundering and lightning exceedingly, I took coach at the Trumpet door.” He does not record Mrs. Pepys’s reaction when he came home late from his “&c” with Betty Lane. The average temperature for the month was 16˚C/61˚F. On August 5, at Westminster Stairs, Pepys saw “a fray between Mynheer Clinke, a Dutchman … and a waterman, which made good sport. On August 10 he saw “a fine foot-race three times round the Park between an Irishman and Crow, that was once my Lord Claypoole’s footman.” On August 30, he noted “This the first day that ever I saw my wife wear black patches since we were married!“ The newly fashionable little silk patches, in the shapes of suns, moons, stars, animals, etc., were pasted onto the face as ornaments.

Another big event was the return of the annual Bartholomew Fair from August 23 to September 6. The Fair had been held at Smithfield for two weeks beginning on St. Bartholomew’s Day (August 24) every year since 1133, and continued until 1855. The fair had originally been held to sell cattle and cloth, under the auspices of the Priory of St. Bartholomew the Great (a nearby street is still named Cloth Fair), but over the centuries it developed into an enormous festival featuring livestock and goods of all kinds as well as entertainments including “drolls,” or short versions of long plays, freak shows, puppets, acrobats, dancing bears and monkeys, rope-walkers and rope-dancers, athletic contests, cockfights, and in later years a sort of Ferris wheel. Of course it also attracted quack doctors, astrologists, fortune-tellers, hucksters of all kinds, pickpockets, and prostitutes, and as Peter Ackroyd states in London, the Biography, “There was a complete erasure of ordinary social distinctions. One of the complaints against it lay in the fact that apprentice and lord might be enjoying the same entertainments, or betting at the same gaming tables.”

Card tricks at Bartholomew Fair
The fair had continued during Cromwell’s rule, but was undoubtedly a lot more unhinged in the year of the Restoration.

Sources and further reading:


The Diary of Samuel Pepys


1660: The Year of Restoration, Patrick Morrah (Beacon Press, 1960)

The Commonwealth and Restoration Stage, Leslie Hotson, (Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1928)

London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd (Nan A. Talese, 2000)

The London Stage, 1660-1800, A Calendar of Plays, Entertainments, and Afterpieces Together with Casts, Box-Receipts, and Contemporary Comment, Part I, 1660-1700, ed. William Van Lennep et al. (Southern Illinois University Press, 1963)

Pepys’s Diary, Volume I, selected and edited by Robert Latham (Folio Society, 1996)

The Restoration Court Stage, Eleanore Boswell (Benjamin Blom, 1932)


The Darling Strumpet
by Gillian Bagwell

Release Date:  January 4, 2011

SYNOPSIS:  A vivid and richly detailed historical novel that puts the reader smack in the tumultuous world of seventeenth century London. Based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who rose from the streets to become one of London's most beloved actresses and the life-long mistress of the King, the book opens on May 29, 1660, when the exiled King Charles II rides into London on his thirtieth birthday to reclaim his throne after the death of Oliver Cromwell. Among the celebratory crowds is ten-year-old runaway Nell Gwynn, determined to create a better life for herself and to become someone to be reckoned with.

Thank you Gillian for an outstanding and informative guest post!  I for one can not wait to get my hands on The Darling Strumpet!



  1. I read a wonderful book on Nell Gwyn but of course the name escapes me...
    I love the Restoration period.

    ps: I just found out I won The Jewel of St. Petersburg so you can pull my entries.

  2. I will definitely be reading this one! There is no such thing as too much Charles II! :-)

  3. Minette's hair looks like it has a life of its own!

  4. Quite an active scene. Fairs and gatherings such as were described here, serve as a good distraction to the masses. It gave them a good place to let off steam. They were also a great way for
    people to meet and business to be done.
    Thank you for such a detailed and informative post.

  5. Very interesting! I have really been wanting to read more about Charles II.

  6. Very interesing! I have been wanting to read more about Charles II. I'm going to have to read this book and also, Amy, refer back to that wonderful list you posted about Charles II!

  7. I would love to get my hands on this. I am just right now reading GH Royal Escape.

  8. I am really enjoying this series of posts, and I am definitely looking forward to reading the book!

  9. Wow! I am blown away by this post. So informative. The Restoration is something I have very little, if anything, about. I look forward to your book. Excellent post.


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