Annotations and comments

Sam Ursu has posted 14 annotations/comments since 23 April 2020.

The most recent first…


About Sunday 20 December 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

As noted, "striking topsails" is equivalent to bowing or taking the knee. It shows respect and obedience while, at the same time, making yourself vulnerable to an attack.

What's interesting is just how much the American colonists loathed this tradition. Hence:

"Historically, various countries have attempted to claim sovereignty over portions of the high seas and required that foreign ships passing through those seas salute the ships and forts of the coastal states by lowering their flags, taking in their sails, and so on. Over the centuries, such claims came to be rejected."

As such, American warships never struck topsails (or the modern equivalent - dipping the ensign flag) to any foreign warship. Much more on this here:

In other words, Pepys was making an illusion to France "bending the knee" to Britain.

About Thursday 26 November 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

Those tally sticks were probably the craziest monetary system ever devised. Literally every other form of money, including coins, cuneiform tablets, jade, beads, and cowry shells, were made out of durable materials while the tally sticks were made from willow wood and about as long as an adult's finger. Furthermore, the tally sticks were notched and notated before being split in half.

As such, they were subject to being destroyed or rendered useless by fire, dampness (rot), or simply rough handling. Charles Dickens himself wrote a rather hilarious piece about the tally sticks.

Whether bad luck or just karma, the last act of the tally sticks (after being in use for CENTURIES) was burning down the medieval palace of Winchester (which became the Parliament, and still is, today) when one of the Lords decided to burn the "two cartloads" of superfluous sticks in-house "instead of distributing them as firewood" to MPs. Since the fireplaces in Parliament were designed for burning coal, not wood, the flues caught on fire and bye-bye, Winchester.…

About Wednesday 25 November 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

A couple notes about the sembrador (Spanish for a person, and, by allusion, a machine, that sows seeds).

Even though animal-drawn plows (or ploughs) were commonplace in the England of Pepys' time, the actual sowing of seeds was still largely done by hand. A person would wear a bag of seeds over one shoulder with the pouch in front (not unlike a modern "messenger bag") and take measured strides, flinging seeds left with one step and right with the next.

Some gardeners even today remember an English old rhyme about this job: one for the rook (in some versions, it's a mouse), one for the crow, one to rot, and one to grow - referring to the fact that only about 1 in 4 seeds took root and grew into a harvestable crop with the traditional hand sowing method.

The "sembrador" and other seed propagation devices (today, they're usually called "seed drills") both keep the distribution of seeds far more even than hand sowing as well as help place the seeds at the correct depth. This led to a LOT more efficiency so that three-fourths of the seeds were no longer lost.

Pretty easy to see why Pepys et al were so excited about it!

About Thursday 19 November 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

"but I have the confidence to deny it to the perjury of myself"

The way I read this, he was saying that his promises about not seeing Deb again were TRUE because otherwise, he'd be perjuring himself because of the oath given to Hewer.

In other words, he's saying, "Bess, I might've lied to you before, but now that I swore an oath in front of a witness (Hewer), I'd be severely embarrassing myself if I end up breaking my word."

But my interpretation may be wrong...

About Monday 28 September 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

Sam clearly states that he was standing, and the candle was brought in to seal a letter, so the candle was probably sitting on a WRITING desk. Writing desks were usually sloped, so the candle could have been perched on the upper part of the desk.

Depending on how much time Sam was standing there or how long his periwig was, it seems perfectly feasible for it to catch fire, although the way he describes it makes it seem like it must've been over the flame for several minutes before anyone noticed. However, since the entire wig didn't catch on fire, it was probably more of a smoldering burn (and a rather horrific smell) than actually being set alight, even though it did make a "strange noise."

In 2004, a rabbinical ruling in New York caused several Orthodox women to burn their (real human hair) wigs. I had a look at some of the footage today, and it does seem that wigs do not burn particularly well.

About Friday 25 September 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

I think it's worth mentioning here that it would take another 150 years before an army (Napoleon's) figured out how to (partially) provision itself with durable foodstuffs instead of relying on foraging (and theft) during campaigns. Indeed, most ships in Pepys' time were reliant on frequent stopovers to replenish supplies.

Simply put, the long-distance navies and merchant fleets that England and Holland were putting together in the 17th century were extraordinarily complex in terms of logistics, especially in terms of provisioning. The fact that their ships COULD go weeks at sea without all the sailors dying (Spain's perennial Achilles' heel) was the very reason why they dominated the globe.

About Wednesday 23 September 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

Kievit seems to be something of an aristocratic, one-man PR machine in his day, which probably explains how he convinced Evelyn to go all-in on the brick-making scheme to build a permanent embankment on the Thames in central London.

During the First Anglo-Dutch War, a key admiral, Cornelis Tromp, had extraordinarily bad luck with the wind and ended up getting his ships separated from the rest of the fleet (St. James Day Battle). Seen as an Orangist (pro-monarchist), Tromp was "vilified in the press" so to speak, but Kievit's sister was married to Tromp, and Kievit put out an influential pamphlet defending his brother-in-law's actions.

Kievit then began fomenting a coup against the (Republican) De Witt brothers in Holland, which led to Kievit getting exiled to England. But this openly pro-monarchical stance led to his being embraced by the newly restored English King (Charles 2). Kievit's allies then murdered (and ate the roasted livers!) of the De Witt brothers in a coup that finally succeeded in putting a royal on the throne (William 3). And then Cornelis Tromp got his revenge by blasting the English in the second Dutch-English War.

Kievit seems like a really nasty piece of work, but you have to admire just how deftly he managed to stay on the right side of history. Everyone in both England and Holland seems to have known just what a blackguard he was (he fomented at LEAST four different coup attempts), but because he was always acting to support royal power, he enjoyed a pretty swanky life.

PS - The Fire of London and the First Anglo-Dutch War more or less bankrupted Charles 2, which is probably the main reason why the brick embankment on the Thames was never built during his lifetime, rather than some flim-flammery on Kievit's part.

About Wednesday 16 September 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

First, reading this from a modern perspective, it truly hurts to see Pepys navigating through a world in which the SLIGHTEST act of disrespect to a man could lead to a duel or other type of violent confrontation, but groping a woman is perfectly okay. And it's not just "okay" but somehow "justified" because she didn't "protest enough." Ugh.

Frankly, today's entry is nothing new, but it does show that rather nasty, predatory side of Pepys' that is often overlooked due to his erudition and the importance of the historical events that he eyewitnessed.

Secondly, while many HUMAN mothers died of childbirth during the 1600s, the same was definitely not true of dogs. Even today, human mothers usually die during childbirth due to a mix of a) poor hygiene and b) malnutrition. Neither of these would've been such a factor for dogs in the 17th century, believe it or not.

About Thursday 6 August 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

"(Pistoll bullet voideded by vrine)"

Are you telling me that a guy pissed out a friggin' bullet and nobody here has one thing to say about it? No documentary links? How could such a thing even happen? Astounding!

About Tuesday 14 April 1668

Sam Ursu  •  Link

Sorry to answer your query ten years later, but the reason oranges were as expensive as a theater play is because most oranges at that time were imported from places that were really far away (primarily Palestine during Sam's time).

The greenhouse wouldn't be invented until the Victorian period, so the only way to grow a tropical fruit like oranges in chilly Europe was by constantly pumping vast amounts of heat into a building, so only a few royals (most notably the King of France at Versaille) could afford to do it.

Note: often, the heat was chemical in nature caused by the breakdown of horse manure, so the "orangeries" were powered by tons of decomposing manure changed daily.

As for "orange girls," they were thought to be a half-step above prostitutes (and actresses). They would wear "skimpy" clothing and guys would win their favor by buying overpriced oranges roughly analogous to the modern practice of putting a dollar bill in the garter of a dancer at a strip club.

Orange girls sold oranges both outside the theater (before and after the show, as well as during intermissions) and inside it (during the play), sometimes in a "private" arrangement in a side room, but not always. One orange girl became the mistress of the King of England, which was pretty scandalous.

About Monday 22 April 1667

Sam Ursu  •  Link

Just wanted to add here that that brief aside about "Poleroone" (aka Pula Run, known today simply as "Run") is incredibly important, historically speaking.

In 1664, the Dutch formally swapped the island of Run (now part of Indonesia) for the island of Manhattan. The latter was renamed New York after the Duke of York (a familiar character in Pepys' diary) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Run was officially Britain's first overseas colony and thus marks the beginning of the British Empire.

The Dutch probably thought they got the best out of the Run/Manhattan deal because it consolidated their control over the Spice Islands (now known as the Moluccas in Indonesia), but it was the Brits who had the last laugh.

Britain and France transplanted the most valuable spice plants (nutmeg, clove, et al) to other islands, and soon the price of spices cratered. The ubiquity of spices then led to them no longer being seen as elite and luxury goods, further driving down demand.

Sugar, tea, coffee, and tobacco became the "hot" commodities, and the colonies where these were produced were firmly under British/French control, leaving the Dutch holding the bag.