Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The Plot aginst Pepys. James Long and Ben Long. Faber and Faber Ltd. (2007)
A brilliant piece of historical research and a highly entertaining story. In 1679 Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Admiralty became entangled in the fit of national paranoia and savage politics known as the Popish Plot. The Popish Plot had it roots in the actions of a con man, Titus Oates, it quickly developed a independent life in the feverish context of the times. There was a genuine popular fear of Catholic terrorists operating in England, this was used by anti-Royal political forces as a weapon in their struggle. An accusation was virtually the equivalent of guilt, fighting against the charge was an extremely difficult and fraught process. The accusation of treason against Samuel Pepys, a well known and important supporter of the King, was an invaluable opportunity to strike against the King himself. Pepys found that he had to battle the accusation alone, the King did not dare interfere. The book tells the story of Pepys' fight against the charge and his accuser Colonel John Scott.
The story is a riveting one,Pepys was imprisoned and deserted by the King, he had to rely on staunch friends and contacts to do the investigative work. Pepys has to establish his complete innocence, not simply be found not guilty, he had to prove that the charges of selling Naval secrets to the French were untrue. At the same time he had to discover why a man he had never met had laid the charges against him. James Long and Ben Long follow the two threads of the story with great skill and a wealth of detail. The fraught efforts to find plausible evidence in France to establish his innocence, directed by Pepys from his prison cell are gripping. Even more extraordinary are the details of the life and exploits of James Scott. He was an adventurer in the fullest positive and negative senses of the word and it wonderful to have him rescued from obscurity.
The single most startling revelation in the book is the reason that James Scott laid the charges against Pepys and the Long's deliver the reveal with the flourish it utterly deserves. An enthralling story brilliantly told, a pleasure to read.