Archive for Samuel Pepys

“I think the Devil shits Dutchmen…”

Posted in History with tags , , on July 22, 2020 by telescoper

Just time for a short update on the aftermath of the Dutch Raid on the Medway as recounted by Samuel Pepys which I blogged about last month.

The Dutch fleet withdrew from the Medway in mid-June of 1667 (Old Calendar) but they did attempt further raids later that month and in early July. Fed by wild rumours about the intentions and whereabouts of the Dutch, London was a jittery place. Pepys summed up the mood in his Diary, ending with a quote which has become famous:

Pepys Tweets the Dutch Raid on the Medway

Posted in History with tags , , , , on June 13, 2020 by telescoper

The Dutch burn the English fleet at Gillingham

I couldn’t resist doing a quick post inspired by the fact that I follow the Twitter feed of Samuel Pepys, whereon excerpts from his famous diaries are posted as if live. The year currently being tweeted is 1667 and there is great excitement because of the Raid on the Medway in which a Dutch fleet sailed up the River Medway and destroyed many ships of the Royal Navy.

Much has been written about the background to this event (and, unsurprisingly, the version taught in Dutch schools is somewhat different than from the English side) so I’ll just post here how it panned out from the point of view of Samuel Pepys.

The first inkling of what was to come is on 3rd June (note the Old Style dates were still in use in England at the time of the events in question; add 10 days to get the New Style dates the Dutch and other European countries were using then):

That was almost a week before the battle commenced and although he was clearly apprehensive, for the next few days life for Pepys carried on pretty much as normal:

It was not until 8th June that we find

Even this news did not seem to concern him unduly, however

Later that day preparations were stepped up

(The Hope is the name given to the stretch of the Thames from Tilbury to the mouth of the Medway). Pepys was sceptical of the likely efficacy of the military commanders

The following day the sense of urgency increases

Later that day it seems to have dawned that Chatham might be the target:

Pepys is annoyed at the slow preparations:


On 10th June the Dutch land 800 marines and attack Sheerness, destroying Garrison Point Fort. Pepys does not know this yet when he writes:

It is only the following day that he realises Sheerness has fallen and the way is open for the Dutch to attack the Royal Navy at anchor in the Medway at Gillingham and Chatham:

Every available soldier being sent to defend Chatham, Pepys is worried that London itself is now very vulnerable:

Meanwhile, on the Medway, the only thing protecting the British fleet is the huge chain blocking the river. Pepys’s optimism about this was short-lived

It gets worse:

The flagship of the Royal Navy has been taken as a prize – the humiliation! There is now panic in London:

On 13th June, fearing all is lost and that London will be attacked, Pepys makes arrangements to send his money to the country:

That’s how things stood on 13th June 1667, with a Dutch/French invasion of England seemingly imminent and widespread unhappiness at the indolence and incompetence of those in charge.

On 14th June Pepys notes that many English sailors are either refusing to fight or even fighting on the Dutch side because they have not been paid for some time (receiving tickets in lieu of cash):

In the event, the Dutch withdrew on 14th June and there was no invasion by either them or the French, but over the next days and weeks there were lingering fears of other raids. A peace treaty was rapidly negotiated on very favourable terms to the Dutch and thus the Second Anglo Dutch War came to an end.

There was in the mind of Pepys and others the possibility of a popular uprising against the King for the ineptitude of the military response to this Raid. The monarchy had only been restored in 1660. Would it be swept away again so soon?

We know the answer to this question now, but nobody knew it then, which makes a contemporary accounts like that of Pepys so very fascinating. You get a real sense of the mixture of confusion and despair circulating at the time.

Why? You endeavoured to embroil me with weomen…

Posted in History with tags , on April 10, 2016 by telescoper

Here’s a post about an episode in the life of Sir Isaac Newton which I first came across when reading about Samuel Pepys. Many assume that Newton’s behaviour was a result of mental illness on his part, but that’s by no means clear. I can think of many possible reasons why he might have acted the way he did, including that he just found the behaviour of other people too perplexing…

Corpus Newtonicum

Why. It is a word that I frequently entertain when I study Isaac Newton. There is no scientist about whom so much is written, yet I feel that we only know so little about the man. Most Newton biographers provide us with detailed descriptions of his life and works, using the abundance of source materials available: Newton’s correspondence, descriptions by himself and others of various episodes of his life, Trinity College and Cambridge University attendance records, and so on. Every biographer, in his own way, tries to understand some of the more poignant moments in Newton’s life. Likewise, many struggle.

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The Joy of Pepys

Posted in Biographical, History with tags , , , , on May 3, 2013 by telescoper

Twitter is much maligned by those who don’t use it, and I’d be the first to admit that it has several million downsides, but every now and again you come across something truly wonderful which makes it worthwhile putting up with the dross. Here’s an example. Some time ago, a nameless genius came up with the idea of tweeting excerpts from the Diaries of Samuel Pepys.  Those of you on Twitter can follow Samuel Pepys by clicking here:

For those of you not familiar with Twitter, its main characteristic is that messages posted on it (“tweets”) are limited to 140 characters. To outsiders this seems to imply that all tweets are banal and pointless, but this is far from the case. The strict length limit forces a form of creativity that is both rare and wonderful. The stroke of genius in this case was to realize that the Pepys Diaries could be tweeted in chunks of the right size, in a manner that almost suggests they were designed for the purpose!

Pepys was a high-ranking naval administrator and Member of Parliament so he had detailed knowledge of the momentous political events of his period. He’s currently tweeting from May 1660 (near the start of the diaries), giving a vivid insight into the background to the Restoration of the Monarchy. Parliament should be recalled in a few days time, on May 8th…

Here is a selection of recent examples:

But it’s not just the fascinating political context that makes these tweets so interesting. They also give glimpses of everyday life in the 17th Century. Pepys was in poor health for much of his life, for example, and there are frequent references to various physicians and their quack remedies. He also manages to conjure up in just a few words the extraordinary atmosphere and energy of the London of the period, along with some of its excesses (especially drinking and fornication).

Following Pepys’ Twitter feed opens a window into 17th Century England, and what comes through it is both refreshing and illuminating. The reason I find this particularly delightful is something that I’ve blogged about before, so won’t repeat at length. I was a very late developer from an education point of view until I was helped with my reading and arithmetic by a wonderful old lady who lived next door. She encouraged me to read and, after a big struggle, I eventually got the hang of it. After a time I had caught up with the rest of the class in School and eventually managed to read just about every book the School had to offer, including the Diaries of Samuel Pepys which were for some reason on the shelves in Class 2 and which I was allowed to borrow. I don’t think anyone had read them before so nobody, including the teachers, knew how rude they were in places. The Restoration period was generally rather bawdy, and Pepys’ Diaries reflect that.

I had no idea at that time, of course, that less than ten years later I would be studying at Magdalene College, Cambridge, site of the Pepys Library where the orignal diaries are kept as well as the rest of Pepys’ own collection of rare books and music.