Monday 19 October 1663

Waked with a very high wind, and said to my wife, “I pray God I hear not of the death of any great person, this wind is so high!” fearing that the Queen might be dead.

So up; and going by coach with Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Minnes to St. James’s, they tell me that Sir W. Compton, who it is true had been a little sickly for a week or fortnight, but was very well upon Friday at night last at the Tangier Committee with us, was dead — died yesterday: at which I was most exceedingly surprised, he being, and so all the world saying that he was, one of the worthyest men and best officers of State now in England; and so in my conscience he was: of the best temper, valour, abilities of mind, integrity, birth, fine person, and diligence of any one man he hath left behind him in the three kingdoms; and yet not forty years old, or if so, that is all. I find the sober men of the Court troubled for him; and yet not so as to hinder or lessen their mirth, talking, laughing, and eating, drinking, and doing every thing else, just as if there was no such thing, which is as good an instance for me hereafter to judge of death, both as to the unavoidableness, suddenness, and little effect of it upon the spirits of others, let a man be never so high, or rich, or good; but that all die alike, no more matter being made of the death of one than another, and that even to die well, the praise of it is not considerable in the world, compared to the many in the world that know not nor make anything of it, nor perhaps to them (unless to one that like this poor gentleman, who is one of a thousand, there nobody speaking ill of him) that will speak ill of a man.

Coming to St. James’s, I hear that the Queen did sleep five hours pretty well to-night, and that she waked and gargled her mouth, and to sleep again; but that her pulse beats fast, beating twenty to the King’s or my Lady Suffolk’s eleven; but not so strong as it was. It seems she was so ill as to be shaved and pidgeons put to her feet, and to have the extreme unction given her by the priests, who were so long about it that the doctors were angry. The King, they all say; is most fondly disconsolate for her, and weeps by her, which makes her weep;1 which one this day told me he reckons a good sign, for that it carries away some rheume from the head.

This morning Captain Allen tells me how the famous Ned Mullins, by a slight fall, broke his leg at the ancle, which festered; and he had his leg cut off on Saturday, but so ill done, notwithstanding all the great chyrurgeons about the town at the doing of it, that they fear he will not live with it, which is very strange, besides the torment he was put to with it.

After being a little with the Duke, and being invited to dinner to my Lord Barkeley’s, and so, not knowing how to spend our time till noon, Sir W. Batten and I took coach, and to the Coffee-house in Cornhill;2 where much talk about the Turk’s proceedings, and that the plague is got to Amsterdam, brought by a ship from Argier; and it is also carried to Hambrough. The Duke says the King purposes to forbid any of their ships coming into the river. The Duke also told us of several Christian commanders (French) gone over to the Turks to serve them; and upon inquiry I find that the King of France do by this aspire to the Empire, and so to get the Crown of Spayne also upon the death of the King, which is very probable, it seems. Back to St. James’s, and there dined with my Lord Barkeley and his lady, where Sir G. Carteret, Sir W. Batten, and myself, with two gentlemen more; my Lady, and one of the ladies of honour to the Duchesse (no handsome woman, but a most excellent hand). A fine French dinner, and so we after dinner broke up and to Creed’s new lodgings in Axe-yard, which I like very well and so with him to White Hall and walked up and down in the galleries with good discourse, and anon Mr. Coventry and Povy, sad for the loss of one of our number we sat down as a Committee for Tangier and did some business and so broke up, and I down with Mr. Coventry and in his chamber discoursing of business of the office and Sir J. Minnes and Sir W. Batten’s carriage, when he most ingeniously tells me how they have carried themselves to him in forbearing to speak the other day to the Duke what they know they have so largely at other times said to him, and I told him what I am put to about the bargain for masts. I perceive he thinks of it all and will remember it. Thence took up my wife at Mrs. Harper’s where she and Jane were, and so called at the New Exchange for some things for her, and then at Tom’s went up and saw his house now it is finished, and indeed it is very handsome, but he not within and so home and to my office; and then to supper and to bed.

41 Annotations

Terry F  •  Link

"I pray God I hear not of the death of any great person, this wind is so high!"

"An ill wind blows no good" is a saw that lives still; but I haven't heard it connected with hearing "of the death of any great person." Was this the usual 17th century view (the mortality rate having been so much higher)? OR is this just Pepys's concern about the Queen's dire health.

MissAnn  •  Link

"... let a man be never so high, or rich, or good; but that all die alike, no more matter being made of the death of one than another ..." - what would our Sam have made of the outpouring of grief for Princess Diana and, crikey, our own Steve Irwin?

Todd Bernhardt  •  Link

"when he most ingeniously tells me how they have carried themselves to him in forbearing to speak the other day to the Duke what they know they have so largely at other times said to him"

Could anyone help me parse this?

Lots of death and foreboding in today's entry ... Sam's thoughts behind Compton's death will further engender a work-hard-play-hard attitude, I predict...

Cactus Wren  •  Link

"pidgeons put to her feet"?

Okay, I want to know about the pigeons.

Terry F  •  Link

"pidgeons put to her feet"

L&M say this was a medieval remedy for fevers and other illnesses.

Terry F  •  Link

Pigeons in Donne's "DEVOTIONS VPON Emergent Occasions and seuerall steps in my Sicknes." (1621)

XII. Spirante columba supposita pedibus, revocantur ad ima vapores.

They apply pigeons, to draw the vapours from the head...

What ill air that I could have met in the street, what channel, what shambles, what dunghill, what vault, could have hurt me so much as these homebred vapours? What fugitive, what almsman of any foreign state, can do so much harm as a detractor, a libeller, a scornful jester at home? For as they that write of poisons, and of creatures naturally disposed to the ruin of man, do as well mention the flea as the
viper [170] , because the flea, though he kill none, he does all the harm he can; so even these libellous and licentious jesters utter the venom they have, though sometimes virtue, and always power, be a good pigeon to draw this vapour from the head and from doing any deadly harm there."

Todd Bernhardt  •  Link

"because the flea, though he kill none..."

If they only knew...
("and that the plague is got to Amsterdam, brought by a ship from Argier; and it is also carried to Hambrough")

martin  •  Link

"when he most ingeniously tells me how they have carried themselves to him in forbearing to speak the other day to the Duke what they know they have so largely at other times said to him"

What I take this to mean is that Mr Coventry informs Pepys in private that Batten and Minnes have come to him (Coventry) and complained about some dealings of Pepys (re masts?), and said, in effect 'we don't like to go to the Duke with this' although that hasn't stopped them in the past. I'm not making things any clearer am I?

jeannine  •  Link

"pidgeons put to her feet"?

(Spoiler after diary ends) In addition to the background in the article Todd refers to, Tomalin refers to this folk custom when she describes Elizabeth's illness and death, "Elizabeth's struggle lasted for three weeks. Two desperate remedies for severe illness were to cut off the hair and to put pigeons at the patient's feet, and both had been used for the queen in 1663. She had recovered, but if they were tried in Elizabeth's case they did her no good." (p 276).

The association to pigeons as a means to prevent death must have survived beyond the Restoration as it also pops up in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights in regards to Catherine Linton, although these pigeons were just the feathers and had not been slaughtered for the occasion:
"she seemed to find childish diversion in pulling the feathers from the rents she had just made, and ranging them on the sheet according to their different species: her mind had strayed to other associations.

'That's a turkey's,' she murmured to herself; 'and this is a wild duck's; and this is a pigeon's. Ah, they put pigeons' feathers in the pillows - no wonder I couldn't die! Let me take care to throw it on the floor when I lie down." Chapter XII

Pedro  •  Link

"pidgeons put to her feet"?

Jeannine will correct me if I am wrong, but at this stage of the Queens illness she is in the hands of her Portuguese attendants and Catholic priests. In this case maybe it is worth looking at this from a Catholic point of view?

A quick search in Portuguese says that the Pidgeon is the symbol for the third person of the Trinity. Also a symbol of the soul as it evolves through space after death.

This could then just be a preparation for imminent death and not for any miraculous cure?

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"but that her pulse beats fast"
What unit of time? obviously not by the minute.

Douglas Robertson  •  Link

"when he most ingeniously tells me..."

I lean toward the following reading:

" they [Penn and Batten] have carried themselves to him [Coventry] in forbearing to speak the other day [October 12 (the date of their last meeting with the Duke)] to the Duke what [regarding the selling of places?] they know they have so largely at other times said to him [Coventry], and I told him what I am put to about the bargain for masts [new topic]."

Bradford  •  Link

At a ratio of 11 to 20, the Queen's pulse is almost twice that of the King. Posture makes a difference: one assumes hers was taken lying down. Much depends on the age and health of the subject; but today a standing pulse of 72 is pretty ordinary, and when one lies down it can fall to 60, a beat per second. At 11::20, that would give her 109, which is pretty darn fast but "not so strong as it was." Whether Pepys means the rapidity of heartbeats, or the sensation of the pulse, is hard to say---and would mean different things were it taken over the heart, or in the wrist, or at some other pulse-point.
Is there is a doctor in the house to comment further?
The notion that unusual conditions in the weather or the heavens (comets, &c.) could reflect the ill-health or demise of great personages on earth might still be hanging around; the idea certainly crops up in Shakespeare.

A. De Araujo  •  Link

I am a Medical Doctor,MD; I need the help of a Historian; how did they measure the heart beat or pulse at the time? It could not be beats per minute as it is nowadays because 20 is bradycardia not tachycardia as she is supposed to have; did the doctors have a watch? or was the pulse measured in relation to a supposedly healthy person?

James in Illinois  •  Link

It might make good sense, in the absence of easily-available watches, to have someone take a pulse of a healthy person, while the physician takes that of the patient. When the physician has counted to 20, he would say "Stop" and get the count from the other person. This doesn't provide a true pulse rate, but the comparative pulse rate would indicate if the pulse was very fast or very slow.

Terry F  •  Link

"I told him what I am put to about the bargain for masts."

"New topic"? or riposte = explaining the back-story of the feud with Penn and Batten over the contracts for masts.

Ruben  •  Link

In the Middle Ages Medicine was preserved better in the Arab world than in the West. Knowledge from the Greek and Roman medicine passed from the Arab and Jewish doctors to the West, specially at the University of Salerno, Italy and through Spain. The method to check the pulse was very complicated and a lot of information derived from this part of the examination. Doctors lernt to check the pulse with 3 fingers and the procedure took many steps. The most proximal finger detected the frequency of the pulse (today this is the only thing we check), then by pressing gradually the artery till the second finger could not detect the wave a coarse blood pressure could be measured. A 3 finger was used, but I do not remember why. Doctors also lernt to detect changes in the form of the pulse wave, something we do today with complicated paraphernalia.
Pulse was an important diagnostic tool, as it gave information about the heart and some of its valves. I know of a cardiologist that just for the fun of it would tell the pulse and systolic blood presure of the patient by just checking the radial pulse and when we checked it with modern instruments his results where nearly as good as with the instruments.

Douglas Robertson  •  Link

"New topic"? Not entirely: that is, I gather that Sam's complaint pertains to Minnes and Batten, but I doubt that Coventry's preceding account of their duplicity had anything to do with Sam or the contracts. If it had, the point for making this fact explicit would have come much earlier in the sentence, probably right after "discoursing of."

Terry F  •  Link

Batten's a competitor for sure, as Papy's's Warren bettered Batten's man Winter over masts - which I take to be the root of the hostility discussed with with Mr. Coventry - but whether Penn or Mennes seems to be a matter for discussion. Methinks Penn's the one. Other views?

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Birds as a symbol of the soul

George Herbert's "Easter Wings" (from The Temple, 1633)

With thee
Oh let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

Famously the poem is shaped as as wings, for a complete text, a reproduction of the first printed text and early Mss see:-

Michael Robinson  •  Link

a good pigeon to draw this vapour from the head

"The fact that Donne was given pigeon to draw vapour from his head suggests that his doctor's thought he was suffering from an excess of either the phlegmatic humour, or 'pure' melancholy, or both. (Elyot, Sir Thomas The Castle of Health, London [1639] 1641 21a) Pigeon posessing 'hot and moist' qualities, was an excellent antidote for the cold and dry excesses of melancholic and phlegmatic humours (Cogan, Thomas The Haven of Health London, 1584, 161, p. 134). However the method and the application of the pigeon to Donne's feet as a poultice is unusual. Medical tracts suggested pigeon was to be eaten. Simpson records another incident of pigeon poultice, by Pepys, later in the century."

from Anthony Raspa's "Commentary" on the Devotions: Oxford: OUP, 1987 p. 162

Perhaps, with the Queen who is fevered, the Doctor's in a similar way are attemting to draw the humours rising in vapours from the stomach away from the head.

Terry F  •  Link

Michael, fabulous!

jeannine  •  Link


Thanks -the poem was really quite interesting and rather creative in it's presentation for the time too.

Lea  •  Link

Another annotation about pigeons...

"A broadsheet of Remedies Against the Plague told how the rump of a cock, pullet, or chicken should be bared and held to the plague-sore until the creature died; this should be repeated 'so long as any doe die,' for when all the poison is 'drawn foorth' the bird will live; 'This Medicine is necessarie to driue the venome from the heart' (reproduced in F.P. Wilson, The Plague (1927), opp. p. 8)." This is from John Russell Brown's notes on The Duchess of Malfi 2.1.38-40 ("I would sooner eat a dead pigeon, taken from the soles of the feet of one sick of the plague, than kiss one of you fasting"). No date is given for the broadsheet; presumably it's reasonably contemporary with Webster's play (published in 1612).

Peter  •  Link

After the problems Sam has had recently with his bodily functions I totally misinterpreted his opening sentence. I thought his descriptions had started to become fanciful and (dare I say it?) overblown.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Sam as Calpurnia, foreseeing the death of a great one...

Lurker  •  Link

Peter: Glad I wasn't the only one who wasn't initally sure!

laura k  •  Link

which is as good an instance for me hereafter to judge of death

The first part of this entry is a beautiful meditation on mortality. From "...and so in my conscience he was" to "that will speak ill of a man". Impressive.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

to judge of death ...

Donne's "Holy Sonnet X," circa 1610: -

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, 5
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, 10
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Anointing of the sick is what the sacrament of extreme unction is now known as. It is one of the sacraments of the Church.(there are either 2, 7 or 9 depending on which strand of the tradition you are following)A sacrament is an outward sign of something sacred. In Christianity, a sacrament is commonly defined as having been instituted by Jesus and consisting of a visible sign of invisible grace. Christianity is divided as to the number and operation of sacraments.
In extreme unction, a sick or dying person is anointed on eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, feet, and sometimes, in the case of men, the loins, by a priest while he recites absolutions for sins committed. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that through the sacrament the sick and dying receive remission of sins, health of soul, and, if God wills, health of body. The sacrament may be shortened, and it may be given conditionally, as when there is doubt as to whether the recipient is living or as to whether s/he is baptized. Anointing of the sick is given only to persons seriously ill and in danger of death from internal causes; hence, it is not given before operations or in battle before attack. Anointing of the sick, the last confession, and the viaticum [Lat.,=provision for a journey], collectively are known as the Last Rites. In the Roman Catholic Church, Communion is given to the dying by a priest. Catholics are obliged to receive the viaticum if they are able and to procure it for others.
The chief biblical text for anointing of the sick is James 5:14-15. In the Eastern churches it is normally given by three priests, and it may be given to the healthy to prevent sickness; it is not so widely used in the Eastern churches as in the West.

Kevin Peter  •  Link

So it was recorded that Charles II was grieving over a dying Catherine: a surprising show of attachment for someone who previously didn't seem to care much for her. Ironically, she would outlive him.

It is also interesting to see how the Bourbons are already lusting over the throne of Spain. Louis XIV would probably have made France much more powerful if he was able to get control of Spain and significantly weaken the Habsburgs at the same time. The Bourbons would eventually get control of the Spanish throne (and are still there to this day), but it wasn't until around 40 years later following the War of the Spanish Succession. Poor Louis was too old by then to enjoy it for long.

Anne Virtue  •  Link

Since I first found Sammy's diary many years ago, I've pondered on the "pigeons on the feet" entries, and I would like to thank all of you for your comments.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"the torment [Edward Molins] was put to with [the amputation of his leg]."

Edward Molins ('the ancientest surgeon of St Thomas's') had died by the 23rd. Amputations (usually for gangrene) were done without anaesthesia, very quickly, and with the co-operation of several strong men who pinioned the patient. (Per L&M footnote)

Matt Newton  •  Link

I take it that the pigeons would have been dead?

Bill  •  Link

“It seems she was so ill as to be shaved and pidgeons put to her feet, and to have the extreme unction given her by the priests, who were so long about it that the doctors were angry.”

"I have heard they put on the Queen's head, when shee was sick, a nightcap of some sort of precious relick to recover her, and gave her extreme unction; and that my Lord Aubignie told her she must impute her recoverie to these. Shee answered not, but rather to the prayers of her husband."—Ward's Diary, p. 98.
---Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, the diary deciphered by J. Smith. 1854.

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