Wednesday 25 April 1660

All the morning about my Lord’s character. Dined to-day with Captain Clerke on board the Speaker (a very brave ship) where was the Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral, and many other commanders.

After dinner home, not a little contented to see how I am treated, and with what respect made a fellow to the best commanders in the Fleet.

All the afternoon finishing of the character, which I did and gave it my Lord, it being very handsomely done and a very good one in itself, but that not truly Alphabetical.

Supped with Mr. Sheply, W. Howe, &c. in Mr. Pierce, the Purser’s cabin, where very merry, and so to bed. Captain Isham came hither to-day.

21 Annotations

First Reading

vincent  •  Link

Speaker: more guns than Swiftsure:
.......__---- len--___wd....-dp-----wt/tons---crew--guns
Speaker----106ft--34/4--16/4----691-----260----- 52
Swiftsure--106ft--36/0--14/8----559-----260----- 36

Vince  •  Link

I'm lost to what this 'character' is - its not a CV, its possibly a character description or reference... but why alphabetical or not as SP describes and why does my Lord require one?

DanSki  •  Link

"CHARACTER" - In this instance, it's a coded letter written by Pepys on behalf of Lord Montagu. See yesterday's annotations for more information.

DanSki  •  Link

...As for it's not being "truly Alphabetical," I guess we're talking about a cipher here: a code in which each "written" letter corresponds to a "true" letter, according to a predetermined code.

For instance , if a=z, b=y, c=x, d=w and so-on, "Samuel Pepys" becomes "Hznfvo Kvkh"

Perhaps Sam means the character he has didn't conform entirely with it's governing code, or that the code itself was flawed in some way.

DanSki  •  Link

Except that should read "Hznfvo Kvkbh". Sorry all... been at work all night.

Susanna  •  Link

Not Truly Alphabetical

It was a fairly common practice in Pepys' day to use characters that were not part of the standard alphabet in one's ciphers. In addition to a simple substitution scheme (where, for instance, a=l, b=m, c=n, etc.), other original, i.e., non-alphabetical, symbols might be used to replace common words such as 'and', 'the', 'with' etc. There would probably also be nulls (symbols that stood for nothing at all, designed to confuse the enemy cryptologist) and possibly also a dowbleth (a symbol indicating that the next character should be read as a double letter).

I hope for Pepys' sake that his cipher was a good one, although I doubt it was as cleverly nasty as the Great Cipher used by Louis XIV's spymasters, Antoine and Bonaventure Rossignol (father and son), which after their deaths (they had not passed its secrets on to anyone else) was not broken until the 1890s. (For more fascinating information about the history cryptography, I recommend "The Code Book: the Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography", by Simon Singh.)

Mary  •  Link

'After dinner, home.... '

See how comfortable and well settled Sam now feels on board the Naseby; not 'back to my quarters' or 'back to my ship' but 'home'.

Pauline  •  Link

‘After dinner, home.… ‘
And how much it is like his life moving about the streets of London and Westminster, meeting and eating and drinking--and then home. It took me aback that he could do this from ship to ship with such ease.

Eric Walla  •  Link

Even the ship-to-ship travels are not that much ...

... out of the norm considering how often he'd been rowed from place to place on the Thames. And the amount his current destinations roll with the waves could be likened to a few stiff drinks at the inn.

Eric Walla  •  Link

What I personally like best ...

... is how the ships seem to be as well equipped with musical instruments as with cannon!

Laura K  •  Link


How would a character be deciphered? If Sam was making up a code on the spot - a different code, presumably, for each character he created - would the recipient have to crack the code? What if they couldn't do it? And if it was a simple code to decipher, couldn't anyone who intercepted the letter do the same?

If this wasn't the case, how would it work? I can't imagine there was a code book or a key somewhere...?

DanSki  •  Link

I'm guessing, of course, but I would imagine Montagu would use the same code, with the key distibuted to a small number of confidantes. Either that, or a personal code agreed with each contact.

It seems unlikely that Sam is making up a new code each time he sends a letter, as this would surely take too long, although theoretically it would be possible to make subtle changes to previously used ciphers using nulls and dowbleths to create a new cipher.

If the key wasn't already held by the recipient, perhaps it was sent under separate cover?

vincent  •  Link

Encode/Decode: Maybe a book, that both do have? or even the King James Bible ? The place in the book (page, chapter or paragraph, offsets by date) to give the offset code letter? or inbedded in the the name of sender or receiver? maybe an ex. sigs type may remember the history of secret codes of the times. It must be off the secret list by now in the age of disclosure, no longer "in patent" or maybe it is still a monopoly of the powers to be:

Susanna  •  Link

Codes, Ciphers, and Breaking Them

It was probably, technically speaking, not a code but a cipher. Probably a simple substitution cipher, examples of which can be seen in many newspapers (mine calls it the "Cryptoquote"). These are broken by freqency analysis, as it's hard to conceal that some letters are used far more often than others. ("In this message, Z appears more often than any other letter. If this message is written in English, it probably is 'E'...")

Codes can be harder to break, but also require a more elaborate setup (making sure all the users have the codebook, which might be large or hard to hide), and may be less flexible. (For instance, what if you want to send a message that includes terms not in your codebook?)

The simple substitution ciphers of Pepys' day were vulnerable to frequency analysis. Codes would have been vulnerable to theft of the codebook. Both would have potentially been vulnerable to too much usage of the same code or cipher, which is probably why Pepys periodically has the job of coming up with new schemes.

Mary  •  Link

If we knew who this character was addressed to

it would make it easier to guess at the kind of code or cypher being used. If it is for Monck, for example, it would be reasonable to guess that he and Mountagu have a particular character agreed between them and reserved to them.

vincent  •  Link

"All the afternoon finishing of the character, which I did and gave it my Lord, it being very handsomely done and a very good one in itself, but that not truly "Alphabetical" "Very time consuming and has a few extra twists in it to fool the spies.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

"not a little contented to see how I am treated, and with what respect made a fellow to the best commanders in the Fleet"

It's not hard to imagine how those naval officers felt about having to "respect" a government bureaucrat who felt at "home" among them. Our Sam is indulging in a bit of self-deception, I think.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"not a little contented to see how I am treated, and with what respect made a fellow to the best commanders in the Fleet"

Pepys is now inside a different culture,, whose customs astonish him. He is a representative of the Admiral and is treated well -- above his rank.

Log in to post an annotation.

If you don't have an account, then register here.