Thursday 16th August 2007

Reviewed by Jeannine Kerwin

[Disclaimer: The publishers sent me a free copy of the book, which I passed on to Jeannine to review; we were under no obligation to say something good about it! Phil.]

'The Plot Against Pepys' coverThis magnificent piece of work by Long and Long explores the outlandish charges of treason brought against Sam during the Popish Plots, and then brilliantly unfolds the mysteries, men and motives fabricating those accusations. This true story is based on a vast collection of facts, letters and notes from widely diverse and seemingly unrelated sources, which have been analyzed and synthesized to reveal an amazingly intricate network of lies, fraud, forgeries, espionage, swindles, etc. directed to bring about the downfall of Sam as a step towards destroying the Duke of York. The narrative style moves through the complex intrigues in a fashion that is highly readable and thoroughly engaging.

The year is 1678 and the horrific news of the murder of Edmund Berry Godfrey has caused panic in England. An oddly mysterious stranger who meets the description of a suspect in the murder moving through town calls himself “Godfrey” which arouses suspicion. When that man slips out of town via the port of Gravesend, Sam, acting outside of his naval capacity and in his role as Justice of the Peace for Kent, finds himself investigating that man, who is later found out to be John Scott. A search of Scott’s belongings raises suspicions as among his possessions is a document which Sam himself had written for Parliament, detailing the costs and strengths of England’s army and navy. A warrant for Scott is issued to arrest him once he steps foot back onto English soil. What Sam has no way of knowing is that he has now crossed paths with a very vengeful narcissistic scam artist who is linked to the Duke of Buckingham and other perpetrators of the larger Popish Plots. Sam has become an unwitting target of the Plot.

First Sam’s clerk, Sam Atkins is arrested on phony charges surrounding Godfrey’s murder with the hopes that he would be intimidated by the charges and persuaded to incriminate Pepys. While Atkins refuses to bend to pressure, Pepys sets out to defend his clerk and finds a solid alibi for him on the night of the murder. Atkins is freed. The first step towards Sam is sidestepped, but not for long. The ante is upped and Sam Pepys and Sir Anthony Deane are targeted and arrested shortly thereafter.

The charges against Pepys and Deane include providing information to the French (treason), piracy, and in Pepys’ case, being a Catholic. Sam’s accuser on the treason charges is none other than the mystery man, John Scott. The piracy charge (more directed toward Deane) is brought by Captain Moore and the accusations of being a Catholic come from a former servant of Sam’s, John James. After his arrest, Sam is imprisoned and left to unravel the mysteries of the men behind the charges and their motives for bringing them forward. From his cell, Sam is left to rely on his network of friends, professional and political contacts (many of whom must work undercover so as not to be associated with an accused traitor), and (something of a delight to the daily readers of the Diary) his brother-in-law Balty. Sam, focusing on the treason charge which could cost him his life, sets his “spies” on divergent paths to ferret out the man behind the charges. This probe reveals an incredibly fascinating, yet highly self-aggrandizing power hungry accuser. John Scott emerges as a despised double-crossing scam artist who, luckily for Sam, has left a path of vengeance seeking victims behind in his wake. The life of John Scott, his incredibly profuse scams and movements throughout many different countries, is incredibly detailed and tracked. These two men, only a year apart in age and both from simple backgrounds are amazing contrasts, pitted against each other in a fight for Sam’s life. Like watching a game of chess with changing strategies and movements, Sam reveals the fruition of his maturity and detail-oriented analytical abilities which are incredibly challenged by Scott’s unprecedented ego and cunningly scheming mind.

Long and Long introduce myriad of people and details, lay out the connections and then beautifully draw it all together to make perfect sense. It was helpful for me to have a pad and pen by my side while reading to note the different people that Sam interacts with during his discovery process in order to keep them all straight. In many ways this book resembles an intricately crafted spy novel. It should be noted that James Long (the father of the team) has written historical novels before. As the details unfold I found myself astonished by Scott’s sly character and kept having to remind myself that he was a “real person”. His exploits brings credence to the saying that truth is stranger than fiction.

To see our “hero” Sam enduring this situation as a mature adult was also noteworthy. During the years of the Diary we see him as he is growing, becoming aware of the politics around him, making mistakes, forming friendships and “learning the ropes”. The plot brings to light details of the adult he has become and someone who has clearly grown in the ranks of the Navy, politics, court life, etc. to be an astute “player” as opposed to an observer. He also taps into an incredible network of connections including the Duke of York, a Secretary of State, French Embassy contacts, MPs, government espionage experts, Dutch investigators, wealthy merchants, and assorted ‘lifetime’ diplomats with a wealth of their own connections on loan to Sam. Most heartwarming, to me, was to see the devoted support he received from Will Hewer who had come a long way from the days that Sam scolded him in the Diary for his immature errant behavior.

The authors infer to, but do not include, the actual letters of instruction that Sam wrote to his vast connections during this time. Sam’s instructions to Balty during his investigative research in Paris are found in Helen Heath’s The Letters of Samuel Pepys and His Family Circle. The only thing that I wholeheartedly share in bemoaning along with the authors is that none of Balty’s letters to Sam during his time in Paris are known to exist. We can only wonder at the missing melodrama that must have added to Sam’s stress during this time!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Hopefully as others read it they can add their annotations and commentary to share with our fellow Pepysians.

The book is published today by Faber and Faber in the UK, in hardback (480 pages). It is available at Amazon.co.uk for £8.98 at the time of writing.

11 Comments

Terry F   Link to this

Jeannine, Thanks very much for the review. Your reminder that TPAP is not fiction was necessary, I think. *Its* plot is reminiscent of what Dumas did with earlier parts of the 17th century! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandre_Dumas%2C...

Bradford   Link to this

How fascinating that life, like a thrifty novelist, not only develops the character of Will Hewer but, nearly a decade after his sister's death, reveals that Balthasar St.-Michel was more than an energetic scapegrace, faithful to his doubting brother-in-law. Long and Long ought to quote Jeannine on the back when the paperback comes out. Merci mille fois, Madame!

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

Interesting, too, that this is the same Scott who is causing trouble in the Colonies during the time of the Diary ... see Michael Robinson's informative annotation at:

http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1664/08/18/#c17...

Sounds like quite a character!

Thanks for the excellent summary, Jeannine. The authors should thank you, too, given that I just ordered my own copy on the strength of your review!

Jesse   Link to this

Darn you Jeannine - another book to insert in the queue :)

I'm wondering how it was that Scott, an apparently obvious "double-crossing scam artist" is able to successfully level charges against Pepys in the first place.

jeannine   Link to this

How Scott "is able to successfully level charges against Pepys in the first place"...Jesse- (little spoiler here) Scott had backers in HIGH places...but you'll have to read to see they mystery unfold!

Pedro   Link to this

Scott...causing trouble in the Colonies.

Adding to Michael's annotation it is interesting to note that Scott reappeared in England in 1660 on behalf of some respectable New Englanders and was introduced to Joseph Williamson.

(For his background see...)

http://www.pepysdiary.com/encyclopedia/5908/

Williamson took a keen interest in matters colonial, and aside from this, one of Scott's more legitimate talents was as a cartographer...Scott was soon back in America. (He returned to England in 1667)

(Info from Intelligence and Espionage in the Reign of Charles II by Marshall)

Could it be that he was the ideal man for causing trouble?

Pedro   Link to this

Scott had backers in HIGH places

In his book "Intelligence and Espionage in the Reign of Charles II", Marshall says a lot about Scott and the Popish Plot. Here is a little background for Scott...

He worked as a spy for various governments in the early 1670's before he attracted notoriety in the Plots.

He was a man who made espionage part of his life and flitted in and out of various intelligence systems for some 40 years. He was talented in many ways and he could be something of a gentleman as well as a wit. He was intelligent and wrote poetry and not above classical learning. Scott even played the role of a lover.

Yet at the same time there was a darker side...In this we find the foul-mouthed drunken misanthrope, rouge and coward, a man who few, if any, could trust, and those that did were often singularly disappointed.

John Scott   Link to this

If you wish to learn the truth about Colonel John Scott read Lilian Mowrer "The Indomitable John Scott, Citizen of Long Island 1632-1704". New York, 1961.

"Scott's evil repute has rested on depositions which Samuel Pepys obtained, but never used, to blacken John.... the depositions against Scott were made by malevolenty inventive witnesses whose evidence would have had little chance of acceptance even in the notorious English Restoration courts..."

That he was a loyal subject of Charles II is of no doubt. He was as straightforward and honest as most men of his day.

(But then I'm, as you will have guessed, proud of my exciting kinsman!)

Bradford   Link to this

In a short review in the 12 October 2007 "Times Literary Supplement," Beth Lynch (a Restoration specialist) gives good marks to the Longs' book. Following a brief synopsis, she concludes, "In its complex twists, coincidences and villainies, set against a backdrop of politico-religious events, their narrative is as compelling as any work of fiction, and stranger than most. . . . That every detail---from dialogue to the weather---is teased from a documentary source attests to the authors' meticulousness and integrity," though "the detail, or cursoriness, of many episodes reflects the amount of surviving evidence rather than an event's intrinsic significance." But "the sheer momentum" of the story triumphs over any reservations, and "The Plot Against Pepys" proves "a fascinating snapshot of human nature in history, and a thumping good yarn."

Paul Dyson   Link to this

A very enjoyable post-Christmas read. It's interesting to see that two of the key factors in Sam's survival in 1679-80 were his meticulous working at the details and his management of other people who were assisting him, traits which we can see developing in the diary pages. Another striking feature is the relative arbitrariness of the judicial process in that age, not that such is unknown today.

JWB   Link to this

A "Whig history" in the Butterfield sense,e.g. Chapt. Habeas Corpus,in which the villains are Whigs.
Two takeaways:a) Jas II's dog named Mumper
b)But for Carteret, New Jersey would have been named New Albania.

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