Samuel Pepys’s diary of the 1660’s, Restoration England at its baddest and bawdiest. Human nature has not changed that much…
Not until then did any member of the Navy Board think of going downriver. On Wednesday, June 12, 1666, the balloon went up; Pepys dared not take his wife in the same coach as himself, “being afraid at this busy time to be seen with a woman in a coach, as if I were idle.” But it was too late. On the next day the Dutch broke the chain across the Medway, burned the English fleet, and towed away the flagship, the Royal Charles.
The search for scapegoats began immediately. Commissioner Pett went straight to the Tower, and when Pepys was summoned to Whitehall to give evidence before the Privy Council:
it was pretty to see how people gazed upon me, that I thought myself obliged to…smile, lest they should think I was a prisoner, too.
Indeed, he thought he might well be, and before going to Whitehall, he gave his confidential clerk the closet key and directions on how to handle his personal finances.
he was safe enough, but public anger and resentment were certainly extreme. The Peace of Breda, which gave England many advantages, went almost unnoticed in the melee. Parliamentary inquiries went on into 1668 and 1669, but the chief minister, Clarendon, was dismissed as early as October, 1667, and sent into exile. The Duke of York, his son-in-law, tried to defend him, and found his interest crumbling, too. The revered William Coventry resigned, and as death or dismissal overtook Pepys’s other colleagues on the Navy Board, they were unfailingly replaced by nominees hostile to James, and therefore to Pepys.
But Pepys himself was inviolate; before Coventry left, he told the new Lord Keeper that “it would cost the King 10,000 before he hath made another as fit to serve him in the Navy.” In October and November, 1667, Pepys appeared three times before parliamentary committees to justify himself and the board. Finally, on March 5, 1668, he was summoned before the House of Commons itself. Fortified by half a pint of mulled sack at the “Dog” and a dram of brandy when he got to Westminster Hall, he entered a prejudiced house at noon and spoke until three, “without any hesitation or losse, but with full scope, and all my reason free about me.”
It was a remarkable performance, and he might have won a vote of confidence if he had not spoken so long that many memebers slipped out to dinner and came back half-drunk. As it was, everyone from the King on down plied him with “such eulogy as cannot be expressed.”
He was now a man of fame and on thebest of terms with the King and the Duke. On April 22, as he stepped onto a boat at Whitehall st, on his way to Parliament again, Charles and James were watching from the terrace, and:
The Duke of York called to me wither I was going? and I answered aloud, “To wait on our maisters at Westminster,” at which he and all the company laughed.