pepys: mad hatters and shitten fools

There was nothing quite like Samuel Pepys account of Restoration England. The charm of the diary lies not in the information it contains, but in its total unself-consciousness and its absolute frankness. In Pepys diary we had sex, scandals, fires, plagues, office politics, naval disasters and marital discords; he spare no one, including himself…

Sir Peter Lely (1618‑1680)
Portrait of an Unknown Woman
Date circa 1670-5
MediumOil on canvas —Read More:

…The trouble was not so much that men without experience were being appointed to executive posts but that there was no permanent civil service to sustain and advise them. Even William Coventry was not secretary to the Lord High Admiral, but private secretary to the Duke of York. The system was beginning to change, partly because of the emergence of men like Pepys, and it was a minor turning point when he took the Treasureship of Tangier from the incompetent dilettante Thomas Povey in 1665. Yet the Tangier Committee itself, appointed to manage this outpost, was Pepys’s despair, and he wrote after one meeting:

At the Committee for Tangier all the afternoon, where a sad consideration to see things of so great weight managed in so confused a manner as it is, so as I would not have the buying of an acre of land bought by the Duke of York and Mr. Coventry, for ought I see, being the only two that do anything like men; Prince Rupert do nothing but swear and laugh a little, with an oathe or two, and that’s all he do. Thence called my wife and home, and I late at my office, and so home to supper and to bed, pleased at my hopes of gains by to-day’s work, but very sad to think of the state of my health. (1664)

—Barbara Palmer, Charles II’s Mistress, 1660s. She became later the Duchess of Cleveland. Note the combination of colours which is so typical for women’s dress in the 1660s: blue with a yellowish brown.—Read More:

The Duke of York, despite a partiality for Scotsmen and Irishmen, remained his great hope; and his remark that James “do give himself up to business” is one of the highest compliments in his vocabulary. At the Tangier Committee on August 12, 1664, in an unusual outburst of rage, the Duke voiced Pepys own feelings exactly, “All the world rides us,” James shouted, “and I think we shall never ride anybody.” When he went to sea in the winter of 1664-65, on the outbreak of war with Holland, theeffects of his absence were felt at once. Even Privy Council committees were like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party:

We to a Committee of the Council to discourse concerning pressing of men; but, Lord! how they meet; never sit down: one comes, now another goes, then comes another; one complaining that nothing is done, another swearing that he hath been there these two hours and nobody come. At last it come to this, my Lord Annesly, says he, “I think we must be forced to get the King to come to every committee; for I do not see that we do any thing at any time but when he is here.” (1665)

—Rembrandt paints The Night Watch.—Read More:

It was the same in the spring, when Pepys and other members of the board warned the Treasury  there was no money to pay the fleet. The Lord Treasurer, the Earl of Southampton, lapsed into senile despair; but the young and ordinarily vigorous Lord Ashley, Chancellor of the Exchequer, was no better:

. But strange to see how they held up their hands crying, “What shall we do?” Says my Lord Treasurer, “Why, what means all this, Mr. Pepys? This is true, you say; but what would you have me to do? I have given all I can for my life. Why will not people lend their money? Why will they not trust the King as well as Oliver? Why do our prizes come to nothing, that yielded so much heretofore?” And this was all we could get, and went away without other answer, which is one of the saddest things that, at such a time as this, with the greatest action on foot that ever was in England, nothing should be minded, but let things go on of themselves do as well as they can. So home, vexed, and going to my Lady Batten’s, there found a great many women with her, in her chamber merry, my Lady Pen and her daughter, among others; where my Lady Pen flung me down upon t

ed, and herself and others, one after another, upon me, and very merry we were, and thence I home and called my wife with my Lady Pen to supper, and very merry as I could be, being vexed as I was. So home to bed. (1665)

It was the same at the Navy Board; the strain of war was undermining tempers, and Pepys was horrified when Sir George Carteret called Sir William Batten “a shitten fool.”

Pepys had even mellowed a little toward the King, though he retained a certain republican reserve. Charles went down to Woolrich in July, 1665, to inspect the docks with James. Gliding back up the river that evening in the royal barge, Pepys sat in the gloom by the steps to the upper deck, watching them talking:

…and away again to the King) and back again with him in the barge, hearing him and the Duke talk, and seeing and observing their manner of discourse. And God forgive me! though I admire them with all the duty possible, yet the more a man considers and observes them, the less he finds of difference between them and other men, though (blessed be God!) they are both princes of great nobleness and spirits.

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