pepys: royal ambivalence

Samuel Pepys’s diary: the long and the short and curlies of Restoration England in all its glories of sex, scandal,fires, plagues, naval disasters and marital discords. His diary spared no one, least of all, himself….

The general informality of government in this age had further unexpected results. On November 9,1664, Pepys went to Whitehall looking for Sir George Carteret, the navy treasurer, and found he was at a meeting of the Privy Council. Waiting outside, he was suddenly called in “and demanded by the king himself many questions, to which I did give him full answers.” He preened himself on his performance, but he was still startled when the King approached him six months later:

Thence to White Hall; where the King seeing me, did come to me, and calling me by name, did discourse with me about the ships in the River: and this is the first time that ever I knew the King did know me personally; so that hereafter I must not go thither, but with expectation to be questioned, and to be ready to give good answers.

—Procession of Charles II’s Restoration to the Throne, (thumbnail shows a detail, large version full) 1661. Dirk Stoop. The procession as it leaves the Tower of London for Westminster.—Read More:

But the more Pepys saw of the royal family, the more ambivalent his attitude became. This owed something to his upbringing and something to historical events. The assumptions of centuries had been shattered by the Great Rebellion, which culminated in the execution of Charles I, and young Pepys had been one of those standing outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall on that January day in 1649 when the king’s head had come off; he had even quoted the text, “The memory of the wicked shall rot.” Later he joined the famous Rota Club, which included notorious republicans, and he was a great admirer of Hobbes. As late as 1669 he was tactless enough to submit a paper to the Duke of York in which he mentioned “the rupture between the late King and Parliament.” ( James crossed out the phrase and substituted “the beginning of the late rebellion.”)

—Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale. ca. 1667. Peter Lely. Note the richness of the Duke’s shirt sleeves and the neckline and sleeves of the chemises which is seen underneath the Duchess’ dress.—Read More:

Moreover, King Charles was emphatically not his kind of man. True, they were both sensualists and lechers, but Pepys had been raised a strict Puritan, which Charles most certainly had not. In his diary Pepys continually invoked the name of god in a manner that cannot be dismissed as conventional. Like any good Puritan, he never forgot to give the Lord proper credit for material or pecuniary advancement; and his personal and public life was regulated by solemn vows, which he often broke, but as often prayerfully renewed.

Pepys had a deep prejudice against gambling, swearing and smut. When Lord Craven told a dirty joke at a government committee, he was profoundly shocked. “They made mirth,” he wrote, “but I and others were ashamed of it.”

Gilbert Soest (circa 1605‑1681)
Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk
Date circa 1670-75
MediumOil on canvas —Read More:


(see link at end)…The courts of Charles II and James II set and unbridled pace for the rest of the

try as Englishmen resumed betting where they had left off at the outbreak of revolution.

Abundant gambling earned for the period of a reputation of license and exceptional depravity. Courtiers viewed gambling as evidence of proper breeding and adopted the genteel sport of cockfighting as the most preferred game.

Encouraged by the aristocracy, the passion spread to all layers of society– even women joined the wagering crowds at court, much to the dismay of social critics inclined to defend female ‘Honour’.

A voice of reason during the age helped to mediate between gamblers and their critics. In The Compleat Gamester (1674), Charles Cotton argued that people needed recreation and suggested that each individual ought to pursue that pastime most enjoyable to him.

Cotton found gambling as useful as any other recreation, but warned that it presented pitfalls for the unwary.

One was immoderation. A bettor invited perpetual dissatisfaction by playing too hungrily for he could never win enough, and would always lose too much.

Moreover, excessive gambling brought the disreputation of being a gamester. Professional gamesters o cardsharps and cheaters, comprised another evil.

Those ‘rooks’, ‘wolves’, and ‘rogues’ endangered all that was honorable about gambling by turning the innocent pastime into a profession that profited from defeat and depravity.

Increasing concern about professional gamblers resulted in part from the swelling tanks of sharpers and cheaters, but it also grew out of a larger effort to regularize sport.

As bettors during the seventeenth century staked more and more money on horse races, cockfights, and card games, they sought to protect their wagers from irregular play and uncertain procedure by developing firm guidelines.

One historian notes that the regulation of games grew up not from noble motives of ‘fair play’, but to protect the financial investments of gamblers. Read More:

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