The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys the historical crime debut from the BAFTA nominated historian and film maker Jack Jewers is published today, 4th August. My thanks to Funmi of MidasPR for the extract to share.
It is the summer of 1669 and England is in dire straits.
The treasury’s coffers are bare and tensions with the powerful Dutch Republic are boiling over. And now, an investigator sent by the King to look into corruption at the Royal Navy has been brutally murdered. Loathe to leave the pleasures of London, Samuel Pepys is sent dragging his feet to Portsmouth to find the truth about what happened.
Aided by his faithful assistant, Will Hewer, he soon exposes the killer. But has he got the right person? The truth may be much more sinister. And if the mystery isn’t solved in time, then England could be thrown into a war that would have devastating consequences . . .
The diaries of Samuel Pepys have enthralled readers for centuries with their audacious wit, gripping detail, and racy assignations. Pepys stopped writing at the age of 36. Or did he? This action-packed historical thriller, described as “Bridgerton meets Sherlock” imagine what might have happened next.
Samuel Pepys Diary has enthralled readers for centuries with its audacious wit, gripping detail, and indecent assignations. Pepys stopped writing at the age of 36. Or did he? This action-packed historical thriller imagines what might have happened next.
The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys by Jack Jewers picks up a week after Pepys’ last diary entry, and follows Pepys on a mission to investigate the death of a Crown agent in Portsmouth – the home of the Royal Navy. Events spiral out of control, embroiling Pepys in a deadly plot that reaches higher than he ever could have imagined. And along the way he is forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about who he is and what he really believes…
Jack Jewers reimagines one of Britain’s greatest historical figures through a 21st century lens. Readers will love how Pepys not only turns detective but must confront his own prejudices along the way. What better allies for one of history’s most infamous womanizers than a secret society of dangerous outlaws, made up entirely of women?
I could hear the crowd long before I saw it.
The public jetty at the Palace Stairs was closed to allow for the royal barges, so I had the boatman take us to the Privy Steps instead. It was further, but I knew the back ways through the west wing of the palace.
Will and I had barely stepped out onto the landing stage when a guardsman came forward to question us, but luckily the fellow recognised me and waved us straight through.
We hurried into the palace grounds. It was already hot, despite the early hour, the sun blazing in a cloudless sky. Sweat stung my eyes and I tried in vain to loosen the ill-fitting collar that cut into my neck.
I cursed myself once again. Today was set to be the grandest Water Triumph since the time of the old king. Representatives of all the foreign courts were to process down the river from White Hall Palace, to be met by His Majesty at Greenwich, where a new ambassador was to be admitted into court.
My job was to greet the ambassadors at their arrival and see them safely to their barges. But to have been bestowed with such a task, and not only to be late, by Christ, but to have forgotten until I saw those ships at Rotherhithe dock …
How in God’s name could I have been so stupid?
We passed under a wide stone arch and immediately turned down a curved passage lined with neat, timber-framed apartments. At the end of this lay the covered space of the Stone Gallery. All we had to do was cross this and we’d be in the Privy Garden. The designated meeting point was just beyond.
It was then that I heard the roar. Two or three hundred people, or so it sounded, cheering and applauding.
‘Oh Lord, Sam, are they already here?’
I listened intently. ‘I think not. That sounded like something else.
We may yet make it.’
Entering the Privy Garden, we ran as fast as we could up the sloped ground. I barely noticed its neat box flower beds, bright with blooms, though the scent was heady in the warm air. As we passed the old sundial, I saw that the time was nearing half past seven. God be praised, they were running late.
A voice bellowed at us from up ahead. ‘Pepys. Damn and bugger you.’
I turned to Will in despair. ‘Oh, Christ. We are done.’
The Duke of Albemarle stepped out from under a stone arch at the top end of the garden. An expensive black wig hung down to the shoulders of his richly tailored coat of scarlet brocade. The old man’s bulky frame was raised even higher by a pair of fashionable tall-heeled boots.
‘Where in Christ’s name have you been?’ he rasped in that rough officer’s voice of his.
‘I am most deeply sorry, my Lord. In truth, we were caught in a most dreadful fire this last night, and only just escaped with our lives.’
‘We?’ He jabbed a finger at Will. ‘Who’s this?’ Will bowed deeply. ‘William Hewer, Your Grace.’
The duke continued without acknowledgement. ‘Fire? What fire?
I hesitated. ‘Southwark, my lord.’
He leaned forward and lowered his voice to a menacing purr. ‘Do you mean to tell me that you were late for the ambassadors’ triumph because you spent the night at some Southwark stew?’
I searched for the words but none came. My growing status, my reputation at court – all was now in jeopardy.
I felt like a fool.
The duke rose back to his full height. ‘No time now. You will get out there and you will do your job, Mr Pepys, and by God’s balls you will do it well. There is to be no mishap. None. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes, my Lord,’ I replied, trying hard not to stammer. ‘Then go.’
I started to move, but he grabbed my arm to stop me. His fingers dug deep into my flesh. To my surprise, his tone softened, as if he were worried about something.
‘Pepys, I must see you about another matter. Be at my office, tomorrow morning, at eight.’ He fixed me with piercing look. ‘Do not be late.’
We descended the wide stone staircase leading to the western end of the parade ground in Horse Guard’s Yard. A huge crowd had gathered, spilling out into St James’s Park, but there was no sign of the ambassadors.
I let out a sigh of relief. We were in time after all.
As we hurried to join the rest of the delegation at the eastern end of the yard, I could see what the cheering had been about. A troupe of acrobats had just finished an impromptu show. Two small boys were making their way through the crowd with caps held out, collecting money. Now the crowd were restless for the main event to begin.
‘Good luck,’ said Will, as I hurried over to take my place in the line.
There was a fit of coughing from somewhere across the yard. I turned to see the duke, now mounted on horseback, spitting out a great globule of phlegm onto the parade ground.
I strained my eyes, staring down the road towards Charing Cross. For a long time, I could see nothing. And then, slowly, figures began to take shape out of the shimmering heat.
At the head of the line was the delegation from Sweden. The prospective ambassador himself, the Baron Leijonbergh, rode out in front, mounted on an enormous steed. A small group of courtiers followed in his wake.
The Baron, a tall, handsome man of about thirty, wore a doublet of golden silk and the deep blue sash of a royal officer. He steered his horse into the yard and took the last stretch at a dashing canter, eliciting a further cheer from the crowd. Albemarle bade him welcome with a courtly bow.
Next came the Spanish, four men in short coats of rich satin, topped with neck ruffs in the old fashion. A group of young ladies waved flirtatiously and one of the men doffed his cap, eliciting whoops of delight in return.
On and on they came. Next were the Poles with their long blue robes and enormous mustachios. Then the Russians, in their brown fur habits, which must have been unbearable in the heat.
Then came the French.
Oh Lord, what a sight they were! I had heard that fashions at the court of King Louis had reached the height of extravagance, but nothing prepared me for this. All the men wore loose-fitting shirts that puffed out around the arms, tied with lengths of brightly coloured ribbon. Great tassels hung down from their embroidered silk waistcoats, and they wore stockings of pearl-white satin underneath pantalooned breeches.
They looked ridiculous.
When, at last, all the delegations were assembled in the yard, it was time for me to do my part. I looked over to the duke, who gave me a curt nod of approval.
Taking a deep breath, I walked up to Baron Leijonbergh and bowed. He looked me up and down. I hoped he was sizing up my importance rather than wondering why I was wearing a suit of clothes a good three inches too tight.
‘Your Excellency, if you would care to follow me?’
He hesitated briefly, and I remembered that, until his credentials had been formally accepted by the king, the correct form of address was simply ‘my Lord’. I cursed inwardly. Little tests of etiquette such as this are how men of breeding judge others.
‘Please. Lead the way.’
I led the Baron and his retinue towards the Palace Gate, which opened out directly onto a wide avenue leading down to the Palace Steps. We walked in a loose procession down towards the river, where the royal barges were waiting. The short route was lined with wealthy citizens of the city and officials of the King’s Council, who had come by special invitation to watch the procession from inside the Palace grounds.
When we reached the barges, I took my place among a line of aldermen. All that remained was for us to stand respectfully as the various delegations boarded.
It could not come soon enough. My feet hurt and I felt the stirrings of that pain in my groin again. Dear God. I hoped some doxy had not left me with the French pox.
There was a commotion near the jetty. I took a step forward, and to my surprise I saw the ambassadors from France and Spain jostling each other, chests puffed out, gesticulating angrily in the direction of the barges.
I looked around for the duke. He was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly, the ambassador from France shoved the ambassador from Spain in the chest. He staggered backwards, as his aides instantly drew their swords.
My first thought was that the French courtiers were in danger, unarmed and unprotected. But then they each withdrew a wheel lock pistol from their waistcoats, training them on their Spanish counterparts.
A murmur of alarm spread through the assembled crowd. An elderly grand dame let out a yelp of fright and stepped back too hastily, treading on her own skirts and falling backwards onto the cobbles.
Where in God’s name was Albemarle?
The men stood there, dangerously poised. The French ambassador grinned, knowing he held the upper hand.
I took a deep breath and stepped forward. ‘My Lords. What seems to be the trouble?’
Without taking his eyes off his counterpart, the Spanish ambassador spoke in thickly accented English. ‘Sir. I do not think we have been introduced.’
‘I am Samuel Pepys, Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, and aide to His Grace the Duke of Albemarle.’
‘I am the Caballero de Vatteville, Ambassador of His Majesty King Charles II of Spain to His Majesty King Charles II of England. And this French churl can kiss my arse.’
‘Je suis le Marquis de Croissy, Ambassadeur à la cour de Sa Majesté le Roi Charles depuis six ans et chaque année, cette vermine arrogante’ – at this, he spat on the ground – ‘me précède dans le cortège. Je ne ferai pas l’objet de cette humiliation la prochaine fois. Poussez-vous.’
The Caballero spoke to his compatriots. ‘So, this French petimetre complains that we have gone before him at every Water Triumph since he has been ambassador. Now he wants that we let him go first this time. What you say, boys?’
A Spanish courtier spat on the ground. One of the French men leaned right into his face.
The Caballero turned to me. ‘You see, Señor Pepys, how his Excellency the Marquis cares so little for your hospitality that neither he nor his men will even speak to you in your language. Or do you suppose he does not have much skill with the English?’
The Spaniards laughed. The marquis’ jaw clenched dangerously. ‘Monsieur le Marquis,’ I said, as diplomatically as I could. ‘If you will permit me to suggest a solution. Perhaps the Caballero and his men could travel first, at the rear.’ The Frenchman’s nostrils flared angrily. ‘And Your Excellency would like to travel on the next barge. At its head.’
The Frenchman considered this for a moment, then the plume on his cap quivered and he spoke, curt and tight-lipped. ‘Oui. C’est bon.’
I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Excellent. Sirs?’
The Caballero slowly drew back, his eyes still fixed on his rival. Then he turned to the crowd, doffed his cap, and jumped on board the waiting barge.
The Frenchmen put away their guns. As they waited to board the next boat, I tried to make conversation with the marquis.
‘My wife is French. At least, her father was. She has quite the fancy to visit. Perhaps Your Excellency might suggest some places to take her?’
Without even acknowledging me, the ambassador gestured to his men and they hopped onto the second barge.
And with that, my role in the procession was complete.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jack Jewers is a filmmaker and writer, passionate about history. His career has been spent telling stories across every form of media, and his body of work includes film, TV, and digital media. His films have been shown at dozens of international film festivals, including Cannes, New York, Marseille, Dublin, and London’s FrightFest, garnering multiple accolades, including an award from the Royal Television Society and a nomination from BAFTA Wales for Best Short Film. The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys is his first novel.
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