Annotations and comments

Eric the Bish has posted 55 annotations/comments since 9 July 2020.

The most recent first…


Third Reading

About Saturday 16 February 1660/61

Eric the Bish  •  Link

“… work extraordinary …”
I believe that “extraordinary” here means not that he did his work in an extraordinarily effective manner, but that he did work “extra” (outside) the work which he “ordinarily” did. The equivalent in today’s Royal Navy is “Additional Duties” pay, for example a warfare officer teaching GCSE maths and English.

About Sunday 10 February 1660/61

Eric the Bish  •  Link

“God forgive me”: a breach of Pepys’ internal moral code rather than (or as well as) divine commandment? Is the failing simply the frittering away of time which could have been better employed, or the nature of these French romances? I wonder if anyone has collected, categorised and analysed the self-confessed failings which prompt this plea.

About Sunday 3 February 1660/61

Eric the Bish  •  Link

Weapons in church: I suspect Pepys brought his sword in with him. Today it’s a no-no: I took the wedding of a Royal Marines officer and the groom’s sword - and those of his fellow officers who made a sword arch outside the church - were left (guarded) in the porch during the service. Equally, at military funerals the rifles used to fire a salute at the graveside are not brought into the church.

But in Pepys’ time; well we do know of (somewhat elaborate) sword rests inside some City churches; the oldest of which predates the great fire - it is in the vibrant parish church of Saint Helens Bishopsgate (come early to get a seat!). So it was clearly not seen as completely inappropriate. And in any case, casually calling into a few churches as Pepys on occasion does, there would be considerable inconvenience in having to remove a sword, and have it looked after securely… so I suspect Pepys simply took his sword in with him.

About Saturday 19 January 1660/61

Eric the Bish  •  Link


My beloved and learned fellow readers.

I enjoy reading your interesting annotations: they help my understanding and increase the pleasure of reading this fascinating document. But a heartfelt plea to a very few within our diverse and. eclectic community: no more spoilers please. None. Zero. Nada. Also, writing a spoiler but adding “[SPOILER]” doesn’t make it ok: it merely adds to the spoil.

So please, pretty please with sugar on top, NO MORE SPOILERS!

With my very best wishes to you all.

Eric the Bish.

About Thursday 17 January 1660/61

Eric the Bish  •  Link

Gun salutes .

The 13 gun salute will have been in honour of her husband: 13 guns for an admiral. The earlier five gun salute seems to have been a personal and unofficial compliment to her.

The Royal Navy today has an entire chapter of “BRd 2” devoted to the topic: the firing of gun salutes is tightly organised and controlled. It was not so in Samuel Pepys’ day: look back to Tuesday 22 May 1660 for the firing of wild and exuberant gun salutes around the fleet upon the return of the king.

About Tuesday 15 January 1660/61

Eric the Bish  •  Link

Rope making. Splices in a long rope are points of weakness, but as yet nobody had invented a way to make rope by a continuous process - so the longest rope you could make was the length of your ropewalk. The nation with the world’s longest ropewalks will have the best (longest) ropes, and her warships a technological edge over others.

About Sunday 30 December 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

“… calling in at many churches in my way“.

Not to attend worship as such, but I guess simply to take the theological and liturgical temperature and see how well the new services and culture are taking root. What are the clergy wearing? About what are they preaching? Are they preaching intelligently and engagingly? This is Pepys being his eclectically curious self. It would allow him to judge the statements of others who pontificate about “how things are“ against his own observations.

About Wednesday 26 December 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

The tide is strong enough that I believe Pepys would only ever have travelled with the tide, or at slack water. He would have made no progress against the tide. With a good water taxi and at the strongest part of a spring tide he might make seven or eight miles an hour: both quicker and (depending how much risk you want to take shooting the bridges) safer than travelling ashore.

I feel there’s a piece of neat research, which someone may already have done, to map the tide times for the relevant days to the journeys described in the diary.

About Monday 17 December 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

> … continued …

I have been looking at the National Archives catalogue, to see if there is a record of the inevitable Courts Martial, and sadly I cannot find it. However, since those who sat on the court were fellow naval officers with an understanding of the vicissitudes of the sea and weather, Captain Stokes is unlikely to have been found to be at fault. Certainly Pepys gives no hint that Stoakes is in any way to blame. It is one of those four hazards which are still the seafarer’s lot: in the words of the naval hymn: “rock and tempest, fire and foe“.

About Monday 17 December 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

Raising the Assurance.

Playing around with ChatGPT suggests a draft of around four meters, a freeboard of between two and three meters and sufficient reserve buoyancy to stay afloat - just - when half full of water - she would therefore need to be lifted by around two meters to float: put another way, about 330 tonnes of water currently inside the ship have to be moved outside the ship.

But we have marvellous tides in England: some of the best in the world. The tidal range at Woolwich is enormous - six metres today and it’s not even a spring tide.

Assurance can’t be in more than about six meters charted depth because at some state of tide the main deck is above the water. I doubt she’d have been anchored less than three meters (this would risk grounding at low tide) … and since the unfortunate Captain Stoakes is able to search his cabin for his lost money she’s likely in about four to five meters charted depth. A competent captain: he’d anchored his ship a close in as was seamanlike; inadvertently choosing a great place to sink!

Speed was of the essence, with maybe as little as two of three hours a day when it’s daylight and the tide is low enough to do the preparation on site. They have to be quick, or tidal scour, which has already robbed Captain Stoakes of his clothes and money, will damage the ship or contents further, or settle her the more firmly into the seabed. Sounds like a prompt and thoroughly professional piece of marine salvage!

Just my speculation: if (as I guess would be the case) getting ropes under the ship was hard, either bolt the barges to the sides of the Assurance or secure some spare masts across the ship projecting either side so the barges pull up on them … attaching them firmly to some of the Assurance’s frames: the strong ‘ribs’ which are securely attached to the keel timber.

With everything in place, a single tide will lift her enough to have her floating independently - a pair of typical Thames barges have, between them, a lifting capacity of five or six hundred tonnes.

If she was alongside when she sank the salvage problem is different, not least as she’s probably in a little less depth: maybe as little as two or three metres charted depth. It might be possible simply to drain her at low tide, stop up the holes, and float off on the flood. Otherwise, or in addition, barges fore and aft might do the trick.

Either way, she would be a bit of a mess. Food and powder ruined … but sails, ropes, running gear and guns should be ok. Needing a lot of work, but nowhere near being a constructive total loss.

… continued … >

About Thursday 29 November 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

“I’m sure God had nothing to do with it.”

Pepys would surely have found this sentiment incomprehensible, but his faith does not fall neatly into 21st century categories.

In a sense, Samuel’s religion is straightforward. He is regular and frequent in his attendance at Sunday worship, but not in a legalistic sense: he has no difficulty with taking a Sunday off when work (or leisure!) require. He takes his brain with him into church, where he is aesthetically and intellectually critical, in the technical sense of that word, of what he sees and hears. He is deeply sensitive to the teaching of scripture, and this informs his troubled conscience at the moral lapses, which – no spoilers – may occur later on: he is no plaster saint, but a morally flawed human being. Like all of us. So the divine is part of the warp and weft of life.

This all leads to a sense of humility before God, even though Pepys values his own skills highly in the world of business, and senses – I think correctly – that he is doing a good job. He recognises that he has his position through good fortune as much as skill and ability, and he situates that good fortune in the hands of God.

There is also an identification of the King as having a divinely appointed role. Thus his desire to do well by the king is linked with his desire to do the right thing by God.

About Tuesday 30 October 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

I assume the Davis' family are not yet in residence for a search such as Pepys describes to take place. It sounds to me as though he’s trying to work out what is going on, rather than looking for missing belongings. What works are taking place to the house next door?

About Tuesday 10 July 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

Although the suit is black, it is not, at this date, black because “this is the colour of business”. It will be another hundred years or more before the great masculine renunciation (see “The Psychology of Clothes”, Flügel) when men put aside colourful clothes, leaving such frippery and adornment for women. It’s black because it looks good, although perhaps the availability of more brightly coloured silk was not great in immediately post-Puritan England.

About Sunday 8 July 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

“… a great flattering sermon, which I did not like that Clergy should meddle with matters of state“.

Above all Pepys loves excellence, and a “flattering“ sermon adds nothing in the huge transition the nation is going through. The role of the church is to speak truth to power, not to be sycophantic. Others may correct me, but I do not think Pepys is a secularist: surely his objection is not to the church being involved with the state but to it doing so in a slipshod, “meddling“ way!

About Tuesday 22 May 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

“… so many Dutch of all sorts came to see the ship till it was quite dark, that we could not pass by one another, which was a great trouble to us all.”

The difficulties of just moving around the ship - with little light, narrow passageways, a dangerously large store of gunpowder (some of which is being carried around the ship), a large crew, authorised passengers and now … tourists(!) - should not be underestimated.

About Thursday 10 May 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

I have worked on a flagship with the general and his staff on board. This all feels very familiar.

What a consummate Staff Officer, Samuel Pepys has turned out to be. A safe pair of hands who can be trusted with large volumes of correspondence, which will certainly not all be checked in detail before it is signed and sent out. And smaller matters, such as the ship for Pinckney and Saunderson, he deals with his own initiative. And he works until the job is done.

What he is not, apparently, is a Chief of Staff: the gatekeeper for access to, and authoritative spokesman for, his Principal. Have we had any indication as to who fulfils those necessary roles?

About Saturday 5 May 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

“… our parson did, in his prayer to-night, pray for the long life and happiness of our King and dread Soveraign, that may last as long as the sun and moon endureth.”

By happy coincidence, this appears on the morning of the Coronation of Charles III.

About Thursday 3 May 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives as an (obsolete) definition of bullet “a ball for a cannon or other piece of ordinance“. So these are proper cannonballs; quite capable of smashing Pepys’ boat, and taking the lives of two or three people with it; not mere ‘bullets’ as we think of them. With the general excitement; the chances of a partial misfire causing the ball to drop short; and the vagaries of aiming a non-rifled barrel, it must indeed have been an “interesting” experience!

About Tuesday 1 May 1660

Eric the Bish  •  Link

"HMS Nonesuch" (note the modern spelling) survives eternally in the Royal Navy in the pages of paper based training scenarios: “You are the Supply Officer of HMS Nonesuch. You are preparing for a royal visit in three days time, when the freezers break down, spoiling all the fresh food on board and flooding 2 deck …”. That sort of thing.