Moll Davis

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Moll Davis, portrait after Sir Peter Lely, circa 1665-1670

Mary "Moll" Davis (ca. 1648 – 1708) was a seventeenth-century entertainer and courtesan, singer and actress who became one of the many mistresses of King Charles II of England.

Early life, theatre career[edit]

Davis was born around 1648 in Westminster and was said by Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, to be "a bastard of Collonell Howard, my Lord Barkeshire" - probably meaning Thomas Howard, third Earl of Berkshire.[1]

During the early 1660s she was an actress in the 'Duke's Theatre Company' and boarded with the company's manager, Sir William Davenant.[2]

She became a popular singer, dancer and comedian, but the wife of Pepys called her "the most impertinent slut in the world".[3]

Royal mistress[edit]

Davis met King Charles II in a theatre or coffee-house in about 1667.

She flaunted the wealth she acquired from her association with Charles, and gained a reputation for vulgarity and greed. She showed off her "mighty pretty fine coach" (Pepys:[4]) and a ring worth £600, in those days a vast sum. [5]

Davis gave up the stage in 1668 and in 1669 had a daughter by Charles, Lady Mary Tudor, who became famous in her own right. Later, Charles dismissed Davis, possibly due to some chicanery by Nell Gwynne, a major rival for the King's affections. [5] Davis did not leave empty-handed however: Charles awarded her an annual pension for life of £1,000. In January, 1667–68, Pepys notes that the King had furnished a house for Moll Davis, the actress, "in Suffolke Street most richly, which is a most infinite shame." At the time this street belonged to James Howard, 3rd Earl of Suffolk and 3rd Lord de Walden, a nephew of Thomas Howard, Moll's natural father. Mary Davis is given in the rate books for 1672-3 but not earlier. [6]

As a celebrated actress and society lady, she was the subject of portraits by the fashionable artist, Sir Peter Lely. [7]

House in St James's Square[edit]

In October 1673, Davis bought a new house in St James's Square from trustees for Edward Shaw, paying £1800.[8] 'Madam Davis' first appears in the ratebook for the year 1675 and last appears in 1687.[8] This house (which was surveyed by John Soane in 1799) was almost square and had three storeys, each with four evenly-spaced windows, all dressed with a wide architrave and cornice.[8] The staircase hall was south of a large room in front, and two smaller rooms and a secondary staircase at the rear. There was a massive cross-wall, containing the fireplaces of the back rooms.[8] It would now have been Number 22, St James's Square, if it had survived.[8] It was demolished in 1847 to make way for a new club house for the Army and Navy Club, having survived longer than any other of the other original houses in the square.[8]

Marriage[edit]

In December 1686, Davis married the French musician and composer James Paisible (c. 1656-1721), a member of James II's private musick.

Sir George Etherege wrote scornfully of the marriage: "Mrs Davies has given proof of the great passion she always had for music, and Monsieur Peasible has another bass to thrum than that he played so well upon".[9]

The Paisibles joined James's court in exile at St Germain-en-Laye, but in 1693 returned to England, where Paisible became composer to Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Princess Anne, heir to the throne.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pepys, 9.24
  2. ^ Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson, Davis [Davies; married name Paisible], Mary [Moll] (c.1651–1708), actress and royal mistress in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  3. ^ Samuel Pepys Diary 1668 - complete
  4. ^ Samuel Pepys Diary February 1669
  5. ^ a b The Mistresses of Charles II: by Brenda Ralph Lewis at Britannia.com
  6. ^ 'Suffolk Street and Suffolk Place', Survey of London: volume 20: St Martin-in-the-Fields, pt III: Trafalgar Square & Neighbourhood (1940), pp. 89-94. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=68418 Date accessed: 26 May 2010.
  7. ^ "Madame Davis". Grosvenor Prints. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f 'St James's Square: Army and Navy Club', in Survey of London, volumes 29 and 30 (St James Westminster, Part 1 (1960) pp. 180-186, online at St James's Square: Army and Navy Club at british-history.ac.uk(accessed 18 January 2008)
  9. ^ Etherege, Sir George, Letters of Sir George Etherege, ed. Bracher, p. 118
  10. ^ Lasocki, David, Paisible, James [Jacques] (c.1656–1721), composer and recorder player in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004)