This is a massively readable biography about a key player in the dramas of restoration politics.
I knew Pepys wrote a diary and recorded the Great Fire of London; I knew he was involved as a civil servant with the navy. I had not realised how much he played a part in so many of the key historical events of his time.
He was the son of a London tailor. Fortunately his uncle lived in a farmhouse in Brampton near Edward Montagu, a prominent Huntingdon landowner from Hinchingbrooke House, who knew and fought with Oliver Cromwell. Through this connection Pepys was sponsored to go to St Pauls School (he truanted for the day to watch the execution of Charles I) and thence to Magdalen Cambridge. He then started working for Montagu who became an important naval admiral under the Commonwealth. After Cromwell (referred to regally as Oliver) died and the Commonwealth under his son Richard began to dissolve into factions, Montague changed sides with brilliant timing and Pepys travelled to Holland with him to pick up Charles II and James, Duke of York, to take them back to England. Montagu became the Earl of Sandwich and Pepys received a significant boost to his career and an important role in naval administration.
He worked hard with the navy for many years. Not only did he get a decent salary but he also received presents from the many people who sought naval contracts (though goodness knows why they wanted to do work for the navy because the typical Stuart court never paid its bills). His career did not suffer when the Dutch sailed down the Thames to the Medway and burnt the dockyards in 1667, exposing a scandalous inadequacy in Britain's preparedness during war. His first setback was when he became a member of parliament and was attacked for being a Catholic by Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (who was effectively Britain's first Prime Minister and inventor of the party system lisitng all MPs as either 'w' for worthy or 'v' for vile; Shaftesbury started the anti-Catholic, anti-Stuart Whig party and Pepys was a Tory). Though Pepys was not a Catholic he was tolerant and employed Catholics and his (now dead) wife was French and in the feverish atmosphere of Titus Oates and the Papist plot these were enough to have him thrown into the Tower (though acquitted at trial) and for him to lose his job. He spent five years in the wilderness (during which time he attended Charles II at Newmarket in an attempt to win a job back but only succeeded in taking down Charles's account of his escape after the Battle of Worcester including oak tree) before the Duke of York (who had been Britain's Lord High Admiral and as such respected Pepys's abilities) succeeded his brother as James II. Pepys then became, in effect, the Minister for the Navy. Of course James was forced into exile in three short years and Pepys once again lost his job (and briefly earned another spell in the Tower as a suspected Jacobite). He then retired.
As well as all this, he was a member of the Royal Society and mates with Hooke, Wren, Evelyn, Halley and Newton. He was President in 1684 when he commissioned the History of Fish that took all the Society's spare cash and meant that Principia had to be privately printed.
So Pepys had a fascinating life and Tomalin tells the story well.
As well as Montagu/ Sandwich Pepys's other early patron was George Carteret. Carteret had been de Carteret but changed his name on joining the Navy because it sounded too French. As governor of Jersey he had held it for Charles I during the Civil War; he later worked for the Commonwealth Navy and changed with perfect timing during the Restoration. He retired to 'Hawnes' which later became Haynes Park in Bedfordshire near Ampthill.
After his first wife died Pepys took a common law wife who lived in Woodhall near Hatfield.
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57