Inside Pepys' London

Inside Pepys' London

by Jonathan Bastable

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Overview

Journey to the seventeenth century and a dramatic period of political upheaval, plague, and fire, with this “vivid portrait of Restoration England” (History Today).
 
Inside Pepys’ London reveals a vivid picture of London at a critical point in history, as it was poised to become a major center of international commerce and culture. It provides accounts of all aspects of contemporary life, from the arts and entertainment, to politics and religion.
 
Samuel Papys was not a king or a famous general—yet his renowned diary makes him one of the most interesting characters in history. His life encompassed happenings of huge historical and human impact—the execution of Charles I and the Great Fire of London to name but two. This book takes Pepys’ diary, which he kept almost daily from 1660-1669, as its central resource, but also includes a range of other contemporary sources to provide a fascinating and vivid picture of the times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781446355275
Publisher: F+W Media
Publication date: 04/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 192,094
File size: 2 MB

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CHAPTER 1

Samuel Pepys and his World

It is more than 300 years since Samuel Pepys walked the streets of London. But if he were to come back today to the city where he was born, he would have no trouble getting his bearings. There are buildings enough that date back to his time, and the vast majority of street names are unchanged.

He might begin a tour of the modern city at the most enduring landmark of all -the Tower of London. The fortress is a thousand years old now, and it was venerably ancient then. Pepys would have walked under the shadow of its thick Norman battlements almost every day. He was just as familiar with the view of the Tower from the water. On hundreds of occasions he passed by Traitor's Gate as he was rowed up and down the River Thames on official business. He knew the inside of the Tower too: for a short, unhappy spell he was a political prisoner inside its walls.

Close by the Tower is the Church of All Hallows, from the spire of which Pepys looked out on the smoking debris of London after the Great Fire. The church itself was only slightly damaged, and is much as Pepys would remember it. After crossing Great Tower Street (stopping only to wonder at the endless river of traffic and the infernal din it makes) Pepys, or his ghost, would come to the foot of Seething Lane. This is the street where he lived during the ten years he kept his famed diary. His workplace, the Navy Office, was here too.

The home that Pepys knew has long since disappeared: the site is now occupied by a disappointingly anonymous office block. But halfway up the road the ethereal Pepys would be gratified to come across a bust of his own self, standing on a pedestal in a narrow urban garden. A little further on he would encounter another flattering surprise: the dead end he knew as Catherine Court, just down the road from his apartments, is now a cutthrough called Pepys Street.

Across the way from the site of the Navy Office stands Pepys's parish church, St Olave's. This is where Pepys worshipped most Sundays, and where he buried his wife Elizabeth. The memorial he had made for her is still there, to the north side of the altar. High on the wall of the church's south aisle, close to the spot where he was wont to sit in the Navy Office gallery, is a large plaque dedicated to Pepys himself. It was erected there more than a century ago by one of his Victorian editors. Like Elizabeth's monument, it takes the form of a life-sized carving of its subject's head. So the stone likenesses of man and wife gaze affectionately and eternally at each other across the empty pews.

As he wandered the streets close to his old office, Pepys would be pleased to see that this part of town is still dedicated to the sea and to nautical endeavour. The grand Edwardian massif of the Port of London Authority dominates the area; Trinity House, the organization that maintains Britain's lighthouses, is just around the corner. On Pepys Street there is a 1960s block called Mariner House, and the old pub nearby on Hart Street is called The Ship. All this would make Pepys feel very much at home: in many ways, he would be no stranger in today's London.

But there would be much that struck him as odd or baffling. Since he was intensely interested in money he would, for example, be intrigued by what has become of the national currency. In his day, and for generations after, the English pound was divided into 20 shillings and each shilling into 12 pennies. It follows that there were 240 pence in a pound, and that an old shilling is equivalent to 5p in modern-day terms.

The decimal currency would seem bizarre to Pepys, but he would be much more astonished by the devaluing effect of three centuries' inflation. The prices of everyday things would stagger him. In his day, a loaf of bread cost a penny. A domestic servant could expect to earn a pound a year; and Pepys, at the outset of his naval career in 1660, knew that he could live very comfortably on a government pay-packet of £250 pounds per annum. In fact he raked in much more than his official salary. By the end of the diary period he had savings in the region of £10,000, and could count himself a very wealthy man.

The altered state of the English language would fascinate Pepys as much as the changes in the English coinage. From a linguistic point of view, Pepys lived on the cusp of the modern era, when the norms of what we now think of as 'Standard English' were beginning to emerge. So while Pepys's writing is unquestionably modern, he does use some redundant forms. Among them are contracted adverbs such as 'mighty' ('I was mighty pleased ...'), which was a particular affectation of the time. The old third person singular of the verb to do -'doth' crops up often, as do obsolescent past tenses such as 'ketched' for 'caught' and 'durst' for 'dared'.

Pepys's orthography is unpredictable. Dr Johnson's English dictionary was still a century away, and in Pepys's day a man's spelling was almost as much a matter of personal idiosyncracy as his handwriting. Pepys habitually writes 'then' for 'than', and often spells the same word different ways in the space of a few lines. The rendering of proper names was particularly unstable. Pepys had an actress friend to whom he refers as Mrs Knipp or Mrs Knepp, apparently without knowing or caring which was right. And take Pepys's own surname, though Pepys always spelled it in the odd manner that we now know him by, his contemporaries noted it variously as Peps, Peyps, Peeps, Peypes and Pippis. No one, not even Pepys, could tell them they were wrong. Occasionally the spelling or meaning of a word in the diary, or in some other text, is so arcane or archaic that it is hard for a modern reader to understand. So in this book, any word that is likely to confuse is explained in square brackets at the point where it occurs.

But generally speaking, the English of the mid-17th century, even with its peculiar locutions and conventions, is not difficult for a 21st-century English-speaker to follow. Some of the people whose voices are heard in this book are naturally harder to make sense of than others. For example John Evelyn, the other great diarist of the Restoration period, is fond of forms of expression so extravagant and complex that they must occasionally have taxed his own contemporaries: he is not a straightforward writer. Pepys, on the other hand, wrote his diary in a style that is spontaneous, vivid, almost chatty. His words are generally a pleasure to read because his affability, his democratic instincts and his joie de vivre shine through in every paragraph.

Herein lies another reason that Pepys would be at home in our times: he is really not very different from the people who, centuries later, still crowd the streets he knew so well. He desperately wanted to succeed in life; he worried about his health; he argued with his wife though he loved her dearly; he liked a drink and sometimes drank too much; he did his best to live up to the standards he set for himself, and usually failed. This most important part of Pepys world -his interior world -is exactly like yours and mine. He provided posterity with the chance to share in it, and that is his unique achievement.

CHAPTER 2

The World Turned Upside Down

At the time of his birth, Samuel Pepys seemed destined for ordinariness. There was nothing in the least bit remarkable about the time or the circumstances of his arrival. His father, John, was a jobbing tailor who had done his apprenticeship in Cambridgeshire, and had come to work in London as a young man. It was in the city that he met and married Margaret Kite. She was from a family of butchers, and had been a washerwoman until her marriage. Now her job was managing the busy household and the almost annual round of childbirth. Sam was the fifth of her eleven children, most of whom-and this was depressingly normal -did not survive to adulthood.

The couple lived in tall tottering house at Salisbury Court, a ramshackle square located between Fleet Street and the slow, smelly highway of the River Thames. Salisbury Court had once been a bishop's palace -Salisbury House. Over the course of the previous century, the palace and the surrounding buildings had been subdivided and extended to make homes for artisans such as John Pepys. Sam was born above his father's cutting shop on 23 February 1633.

The 1630s were a brief interlude of relative quiet in England's history. The glorious, martial era of 'Good Queen Bess' had come to an end a generation before. Only a few very aged men could now remember how, as small boys, they heard the news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. As for the other great glory of the Elizabethan age, William Shakespeare, there were still a good few people around who could recall seeing him and his players fret and strut their hour upon the stage. But his unique genius was as yet unrecognized, and the stage itself -the Globe across the river in Southwark -had burned down 20 years before in the time of James I. The reigning monarch, Charles I, had been on the throne for eight years. He had been ruling without parliament for the past four, and this was the cause of grumbling discontent in political circles. But the kingdom was -albeit a little uneasily at peace.

The most exciting thing about the world of the young Samuel Pepys was the city in which he found himself. More than half a million people lived in London, by far the largest city in the kingdom. But though London was immense by contemporary standards, it was not so large that one person -one curious and streetwise boy -could not get to know its byways and bailiwicks in their entirety. It was an easy walk to the open fields of Islington and Hackney, a rather longer hike through the separate conurbation of Westminster and beyond that, to the little village of Chelsea. On the streets outside Pepys's father's house there were fascinating things to be seen: that new-fangled invention, the sedan chair; a sailor with a live and comical dodo tucked under his arm; the cock-fights in Shoe Lane; the fish-market at Billingsgate; the jugglers and the puppet-shows at St Bartholomew's Fair in Smithfield.

But the many pleasures and possibilities of metropolitan life were suddenly denied to the boy Samuel when, at around the age of nine, he was sent to live with his uncle Robert at Brampton in Cambridgeshire. It is not clear what prompted Samuel's parents to send him away. Perhaps it was anxiety brought on by the successive deaths of many siblings. Samuel was already troubled by pain in his kidneys - so possibly it was thought that removing him from the crowded streets and polluted air of London might do his health some good. Or maybe John and Margaret saw some spark of talent in their young son, and thought it might best be nurtured in the provincial homeland of the Pepyses, where they had one slightly distant but highly placed relative. Samuel's great aunt Paulina had in 1618 made an astonishingly good marriage to Sir Sidney Montagu, brother of the Earl of Manchester. The Montagus held estates in Cambridgeshire, and were socially and politically very well-connected both in the provinces and in London.

The Montagus were also patrons of the university at Cambridge, and it may have been that Samuel's educational prospects were at the forefront of his parents' mind when they packed him off to the flat, bleak fen country. Uncle Robert's house was a short hike from Huntingdon Grammar School, a good place of learning for a small boy like Samuel, whose main assets were his appetite for knowledge and his sharp mind. So it was that Sam Pepys joined his new classmates at Huntingdon Grammar in 1642. This was a momentous year in the life of the country, because the long-standing antagonism between king and parliament burst into flame that summer - and England went to war against itself.

For King or for Parliament

The conflict had been brewing for at least a decade. The king's insistence on 'personal rule' - without recourse to parliament allowed long-standing resentments to build up. Parliament was summoned as seldom as possible, and then only for the purpose of authorizing taxes. So when Charles called parliament in 1640, the members used the opportunity to air their grievances and to undermine Charles's autocratic methods. Many members of parliament were alarmed by Charles's flirtation with Catholicism; they, like the vast majority of the population, were staunchly Protestant or else fiercely Puritan, and were worried that the king was leading the country back into the embrace of Rome. To this extent the struggle between king and parliament was religious, but there was also a political element to it. Charles believed utterly in his divine right to rule: since he was king with God's blessing, it was at best impious and at worst downright blasphemous for his subjects to oppose him. Parliament and its supporters, on the other hand, were feeling their way towards a new definition of their role. They began to see themselves not so much as a committee of humble subjects at the beck and call of the monarch, but as sovereign representatives of the English people, charged to defend the people's ancient freedoms and rights.

The parliament summoned in the spring of 1640 flexed its muscle by refusing to vote the king any money until its grievances were addressed. Charles responded by dissolving it straight away, earning it the name of the Short Parliament. But the need to raise revenue did not go away; indeed it became more acute, and so a new parliament was called in the autumn. This one was here to stay, and so came to be called the Long Parliament. The make-up of the Long Parliament was even more radical than the one that had been dismissed six months before, and it had an eloquent and fiery spokesman in John Pym, a country squire who articulated brilliantly the role of parliament in English polity. He, perhaps more than any other individual, laid the foundations of modern parliamentary democracy. 'Parliament,' he said 'is the soul of the commonwealth.'

The newly assembled MPs knew they had the king in a financial stranglehold, and they used this circumstance to vote through some downright revolutionary reforms. The king's main advisers, the Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud, were impeached and imprisoned in the Tower; a bill was passed requiring the summoning of parliament every three years even without the initiative of the king; and the present parliament was not to be dismissed without its own consent. Little by little, they were dismantling the throne of England -or at least the authority that went with it. At the end of the year, Pym and his associates drew up the Grand Remonstrance, a long and rambling list of complaints against the king and his advisers going back to the beginning of the reign. The Remonstrance also demanded reform of the Anglican Church, and the right for parliament to appoint the king's ministers. The document was the subject of a long and angry debate in parliament, but it was passed with a narrow majority. One of the MPs who voted in favour of it was a former pupil of the school where Pepys had just begun his formal education; his name was Oliver Cromwell, and after the vote was passed he was heard to say that if it had been rejected, 'he would have sold all he had next morning and never have seen England more.'

The Grand Remonstrance set the ideological battle lines of the coming war. Those who were for it tended to support the roundheads (so called for the pudding-bowl haircuts favoured by militant Puritans); those who were against it rallied to the king. Charles's immediate response to it was to make conciliatory noises, while at the same time plotting to arrest the most radical parliamentarians. He decided that he would make the arrests in person. It was to be a pivotal moment in Charles's reign, and in British history.

On 4 January 1641, the king walked from Whitehall to Westminster at the head of his troops to take Pym and four of his associates. Pym and his comrades had received word that the king was on his way, and slipped out of the Commons to the watergate that led to the river. By the time the king arrived at Westminster Hall, they were in a boat en route to a safehouse in the City. Sir Ralph Verney was on the benches of the House of Commons when the king arrived.

A little after, the King came with all his guard, and all his pensioners, and two or three hundred soldiers and gentlemen. The King commanded the soldiers to stay in the hall and sent us word that he was at the door. The Speaker was commanded to sit still, with the mace lying before him, and then the King came to the door ... and commanded all that came with him -upon their lives -not to come in. So the doors were kept open, and the Earl of Roxburgh stood within the door, leaning upon it.

Then the King came upwards, towards the chair, with his hat off, and the Speaker stepped out to meet him. Then the King stepped up to his place and stood upon the step, but sat not down in the chair. And, after he had looked a great while, he told us he would not break our privileges, but treason had no privilege. He came for those five gentlemen, for he expected obedience yesterday and not an answer. Then he called Mr Pym and Mr Holles by name, and no answer was made. Then he asked the Speaker if they were here, or where they were.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Inside Pepys' London"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Bastable.
Excerpted by permission of F+W Media, Inc..
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Table of Contents

Samuel Pepys and his World,
THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN,
ARCHITECTS OF FORTUNE,
THE PLEASURES OF LOVE,
MISTER PEPYS ABROAD,
THE GREAT PLAGUE,
LONDON'S BURNING,
THE NEW LEARNING,
THE RIGHT HAND OF THE NAVY,
Chronology,
Sources,

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