The Moderate Roundhead

seething lane

Picture via

I wonder what it was like having a roundhead live next door?

Samuel Pepys, that garrulous Naval clerk who confessed all to his diary for a decade in Restoration England, conveniently chooses to understate the fact that he played truant from school so that he could go and watch the Regicide of Charles I.

But come the Restoration he was an upstanding moderate, who lived, coincidentally, next to another upstanding moderate.

His next door neighbour was Sir William Penn; a roundhead who supported the return of Charles II. He was present on the Naseby, the ship owned by the Earl of Sandwich which was sent over to the Dutch Republic to fetch Charles II back home.

The goings on between the two households, the Pepys and the Penns, are constant cause for amusement in Pepys diaries. Sir William was a Commissioner of the Navy Board, and Pepys was its Clerk. They were thrown together at work, as at home, in Seething Lane.

And Pepys did not like Penn. He called him a ‘mean fellow’.

Pepys was not, himself, Mr Charm. He had his irascibilities and his eccentricities. These two neighbours must have been adversarial indeed. One entry (April 5, 1666) reads: “To the office, where the falsenesse and impertinencies of Sir W. Pen would make a man mad to think of.”

At home, too, relations did not run smoothly: “At night home, and up to the leads [roof], were contrary to expectation driven down again with a stinke by Sir W. Pen’s shying of a shitten pot in their house of office”, writes Pepys, frankly, in 1665.

Yet they had their moments of respect. Penn was a great tactician: he contributed to Naval history by contributing ot the first code of tactics ever written for the Navy. And one night, the two got talking about what could be learnt from the Four Day’s Battle ( part of the Anglo-Dutch War). And Pepys had to own that his neighbour knew his stuff. “He did talk very rationally to me,” the clerk recalls, “insomuch that I took more pleasure this night in hearing him discourse then I ever did in my life in anything that he said.”

Sometime in a long career ending in 1670, Penn managed to lend the King a not inconsiderable sum of money.

But he never collected: it was his son who was proffered a large tract of land in America, including today’s Pennsylvania and Delaware.

His son. William Penn. William the extrardinary, the visionary, the thinker, the Quaker, the founder of a state; William who had to be rescued from debtor’s jail, who died penniless a few miles away from where I write, in a little place called Twyford. And William, whose grave lies in the Jordan’s Meeting House cemetery, at a village called Chalfont St Giles, in a rather beautiful corner of England.

There could not have been a more different character from the irascible general who lived next door to Samuel Pepys.

Tomorrow, I shall jump in the old Merc and motor off in serach of more of the story of the man who gave Pennsylvalia its name.


25 thoughts on “The Moderate Roundhead

      1. I must say, Kate, that there’s not a lot to see in Pennsylvania, except, perhaps for the city of Philadelphia (I have never been there, actually, but I hear things), unless you are a fan of Little League Baseball. We settled in Williamsport (William Penn again?), which is the home of LLB and where the championships are played every year.

    1. You and me both, Roger; this is how I do my learning. I’ve never been to Pennsylvania. I’d have a few places I wanted to see after this little piece of research, though…

  1. I didn’t know that. I wondered if the Pennsylvania state had anything to do with West Country immigrants because there is an area of Exeter called thus. But maybe that’s a chicken and an egg situation anyway. If Penn was after himself rather than a hill, why did he choose sylvanus (wooded)? 🙂

      1. I have to look all this stuff up to write and then I forget about it straight afterwards, IE. I expect I’ll be asking you about him this time next week.

  2. Lovely. We lived in Cherry Hill . . . just cross the river from Philadelphia Pennsylvania, which gave us a chance to visit Dickens Pub, visit the Liberty Bell, and troll round Rittenhouse Square.

  3. I’d never heard of the first William Penn and had no idea he had any connection with Pepys. (I really ought to read the entire diary.) And I didn’t know William Penn the son died in poverty. That’s sad. What I find most interesting is that the naval tactician’s son was a Quaker. (Do you know anything about Pepys and the first Penn’s wife and daughter? If you know anything interesting, will you tell us?)

    1. I think the diary includes mention of atempted seductions, Kathy, but I believe the two had no truck with it. I must have a little ferret through the diary and find out more for you.
      Quakerism: for the younger Penn, it was a conversion. Amazing story.

  4. Very amazing, and an interesting read. and here we thought we had Penn all to ourselves. Isn’t it amazing there’s a whole length of life beyond the tidbits we know about a person?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s