pepys: the not so merry monarchy

Samuel Pepys diaries. There is nothing quite like his account of Restoration England. London observed, London at work and London at play…

Pepys could listen avidly enough to accounts of the dissipated life at court. – of the amorous alarms and excursions, the untimely pregnancies, the timely abortions, the horrifying inroads of the pox. At the same time, he was dismayed that his natural superiors could not comport themselves better in the face of god and the public. As for Charles II’s own demeanor and conversation, these were the reverse of edifying. Pepys retails without comment a dialogue full of double entendres between the King and a pretty young Quaker girl who had brought him a petition:

This morning I stood by the King arguing with a pretty Quaker woman, that delivered to him a desire of hers in writing. The King showed her Sir J. Minnes, as a man the fittest for her quaking religion, saying that his beard was the stiffest thing about him, and again merrily said, looking upon the length of her paper, that if all she desired was of that length she might lose her desires; she modestly saying nothing till he begun seriously to discourse with her, arguing the truth of his spirit against hers;…( Jan,1664)

—In 1681 the King’s claim to supremacy in ecclesiastical matters was beginning to cause concern and 80 Episcopalian priests resigned in protest. Charles II died in 1685. He had been a secret (or at least private) Roman Catholic for 16 years and he was succeeded by his brother, James II and VII, who made no secret of his Roman Catholicism. The Scots Parliament refused to pass a Bill favouring the Roman Church and the King made the Bill an Act of Council and established the Jesuits at Holyrood anyway. Two years later an Indulgence granted freedom of public worship to all non-conformists – Roman Catholics, Presbyterians as well as Quakers.—Read More:

Where he could, Pepys blamed the young courtiers, “a company of sad, idle people,” who always rubbed his Puritanism the wrong way. But there were times when the King could not be excused- like that awful occasion when Sir William Petty, whom Pepys greatly admired, waited on Charles with a new design for a ship’s hull evolved by himself and other memebers of the Royal Society. His royal patron just laughed:

Thence to White Hall; where, in the Duke’s chamber, the King came and stayed an hour or two laughing at Sir W. Petty, who was there about his boat; and at Gresham College in general; at which poor Petty was, I perceive, at some loss; but did argue discreetly, and bear the unreasonable follies of the King’s objections and other bystanders with great discretion; and offered to take oddes against the King’s best boates; but the King would not lay, but cried him down with words only. Gresham College he mightily laughed at, for spending time only in weighing of ayre, and doing nothing else since they sat.(1664)

—By contrast, the early Whig historians loathed the man, whom they regarded as ‘the most criminal of all English Princes’, not just lazy but also actively dangerous, and whose reign they saw as ‘a disgrace to the history of our country’. Academic historians today, while far from endorsing such hyperbolic condemnations, remain at best sceptical about Charles and his accomplishments, pointing not only to the many problems of his reign but also to his less-than-endearing personality traits (meanness, cynicism, dishonesty and even sheer brutality). One of Charles’s recent academic biographers, Ronald Hutton, has admitted that he ended up disliking Charles intensely and found the whole process of working on such a man ‘genuinely depressing’. There were many who lived in the late seventeenth century whose feelings would have been even more negative than Hutton’s.
The story of Charles II’s reign is one of inexorable descent into crisis and then belated and sudden escape from it.—Read More:

Unfortunately, this levity and indifference extended to affairs of state, and Pepys was increasingly worried at the slovenly way in which the navy was managed, especially since a new war with Holland was imminent. His colleagues on the Navy Board were a constant trial; and when he complained to William  Coventry, the latter agreed, comparing Sir John Minnes, the controller, to a lapwing, “that all he did was to keep a flutter, to keepe others from the nest that they would find.” But an office was still a freehold, and unless a man was suspected of treason, it would be as difficult to remove him from his job as it would be to deprive him of his house or estate. Coventry told him that “all the King’s matters are done after the same rate…and even the Duke’s household matters,too,generally with corruption, but most indeed with neglect and indifferency.”

Sir Peter Lely (1618‑1680)
Two Ladies of the Lake Family
Date circa 1660
MediumOil on canvas —Read More:


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