Margaret Hughes, first lady of the stage

8 December 2010

On this day, 8th December 1660, the beautious thirty year old actress Margaret Hughes stepped out on to the creaking boards of the Vere Street Theatre to play Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello and made theatre history as she became the first professional actress, bringing to an end years of a tradition which dictated that the female parts in plays should be played by boys.

Gorgeous Peg, with her long dark hair, sleepily sensual eyes and lovely face was as well known for her amorous escapades as her theatrics and after tumbling into bed with Charles II, Charles Sedley and other members of the more rakish court circle she settled down to become the adored mistress of Prince Rupert himself, who even presented her with his mother, Elizabeth of Bohemia’s prized pearl drop earrings.

He was no longer the unfeasibly hot young prince of the English Civil War but was still a handsome and, more to the point, very wealthy man in his middle age and the two were apparently very happy, with Margaret producing his daughter, Ruperta (hard not to typo this as Ribena) in 1673.

For an unorthodox but enchanting account of Margaret’s life, I’d definitely recommend The Vizard Mask by Diana Norman, which is a brilliant book.

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