Open main menu

Davis, Mary (DNB00)

DAVIS or DAVIES, MARY (fl. 1663–1669), actress, was one of the four leading women whom Sir William D'Avenant [q. v.], in virtue of the patent granted him by Charles II, 21 Aug. 1660, included in his theatrical company and boarded in his own house. Pepys says, 14 Jan. 1667–8: ‘It seems she is a bastard of Colonell Howard, my Lord Berkshire, and that he hath got her for the king.’ Downes [q. v.], speaking of a performance of D'Avenant's play the ‘Rivals’ (probably some five or six years before 1668), says: ‘All the women's parts admirably acted, chiefly Celia [should be Celania], a shepherdess, being mad for love, especially in singing several wild and mad songs, “My Lodgings it (sic) is on the Cold Ground,” &c. She performed that so charmingly that not long after it raised her from her bed on the cold ground to a bed royal’ (Roscius Anglicanus, 23–4). She also played Violinda in the ‘Stepmother’ of Sir Robert Stapylton, 1663; Anne of Burgundy in ‘Henry V,’ by the Earl of Orrery, 13 Aug. 1664; Aurelia in the ‘Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub,’ of Etherege, 1664; the Queen of Hungary in ‘Mustapha,’ by the Earl of Orrery, 3 April 1664–5; Mrs. Millisent in Dryden's ‘Sir Martin Mar-all,’ 16 Aug. 1667; and Gatty in ‘She would if she could,’ by Etherege, 6 Feb. 1668. These representations were all given in the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Pepys chronicles her doings with some assiduity. He states, 7 March 1666–7, that at the Duke's playhouse (Lincoln's Inn Fields) ‘little Miss Davis did dance a jigg after the end of the play, and there telling the next day's play, so that it come in by force only to please the company to see her dance in boy's clothes; and the truth is there is no comparison between Nell's [Nell Gwynn's] dancing the other day at the King's house in boy's clothes and this, this being infinitely beyond the other.’ On 5 Aug. 1667 he saw ‘Love Tricks, or the School of Compliments,’ by Shirley, and chronicles that ‘Miss Davis dancing in a shepherd's clothes did please us mightily.’ On 11 Jan. 1667–8 he says: ‘Knipp came and sat by us. … She tells me how Miss Davis is for certain going away from the Duke's house, the king being in love with her, and a house is taken for her and furnishing; and she hath a ring given her already worth 600l.’ Mrs. Pepys says, 14 Jan. 1667–8, that she is ‘the most impertinent slut in the world;’ and on the same date quoted the opinion of Mrs. Pierce, that ‘she is a most homely jade as ever she saw, though she dances beyond anything in the world.’ Her final departure from the stage is chronicled 31 May 1668: ‘I hear that Mrs. Davis is quite gone from the Duke of York's house, and Gosnell comes in her room.’ She had danced ‘her jigg’ at a performance at court a few nights previously, when the queen, it was supposed through displeasure, ‘would not stay to see it.’ On 15 Feb. 1668–9 she was living in Suffolk Street, and was the possessor of ‘a mighty pretty fine coach.’ An indignity put upon her by Nell Gwynn, who hearing she was to visit the king asked her to supper and mixed jalap with her sweetmeats, is first mentioned in a scandalous work entitled ‘Lives of the most Celebrated Beauties,’ 1715, in which it is stated that the king in consequence dismissed Mrs. Davis with a pension of 1,000l. a year. Burnet says that her reign at court was not long. By the king she had a daughter, Lady Mary Tudor, married to Francis Ratcliffe, second earl of Derwentwater, and was thus grandmother to James, earl of Derwentwater, executed in 1716 on Tower Hill. In ‘Epigrams of All Sorts made at Divers Times, &c.,’ by Richard Flecknoe, London, 1670, p. 43, is an epigram to Mrs. Davis on her excellent dancing, which begins:

Dear Mis, delight of all the nobler sort,
Pride of the stage, and darling of the Court,

and furnishes an exceptionally early instance of an unmarried woman being addressed, with no uncomplimentary intention, as Miss. Granger notices the existence of three portraits of Moll Davis, two of them by Lely and one by Kneller. One of these by Lely is now in the National Portrait Gallery. The head was engraved by G. Valck in 1678. In the other portrait by Lely she is represented as playing on a guitar. That by Kneller is said to be at ‘Billingbere in Berkshire, the seat of Richard Neville Neville,’ to be ‘in the painter's best manner,’ to present her with a black (attendant), and to have been ‘the property of Baptist May, who was privy purse to Charles’ (Biog. Hist. iv. 186, ed. 1775).

[Works cited; Genest's Account of the English Stage.]

J. K.