Thursday 16th August 2007
[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.]
This 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.