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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Restoration Blues?

This year marks the 350th anniversary of both Samuel Pepys's diary and the restoration of the monarchy. While there has been a reasonable amount of attention on the former (including a BBC4 documentary and Benjamin Till's intriguing attempt to create a forty-part motet based on the diary), there's been almost no mention of the latter.  Now, it might well be the case that the royal family's determination to hit the self-destruct button at every conceivable opportunity during the last thirty years or so means that many people might be reluctant to celebrate the event that returned them to the British Isles, but that hardly seems to be good reason for simply ignoring what was undoubtedly one of the most important turning points in British history. Nevertheless, a quick glance at the websites of all of the major art galleries in London suggests that none of them are marking the Restoration in any way, despite its fundamental place in the history of British art, and there is a similar silence from the great museums. Sadly, the same is also true of the National Theatre, despite the Restoration's even more seminal role in the development of that medium - and, indeed, of the monarchy itself, whose own website currently contains no reference to the anniversary. The website of the historic royal palaces is still majoring on last year's Henry VIII anniversary, perhaps a sign that the Tudors are now seen as being much sexier than the far more interesting Stuarts - thanks presumably to the evils of the A-level History option choices, to films and TV programmes featuring unfeasibly thin Tudor characters enjoying equally unfeasible amounts of frenetic sex, and to the miserable failure of those of us working on the seventeenth century to provide a celeb-historian to equal David Starkey.

However, my 'branch' of naval history is bucking the trend to some extent. The last eighteen months or so have seen the publication of Richard Endsor's outstanding study of The Restoration Warship and my own book on Pepys's Navy, together with a new edition of Frank Fox's seminal study of The Four Days Battle of 1666. Last week saw the publication of a new edition of Pepys's only published work, the Memoires of the Royal Navy, with a new introduction by yours truly. On 17 April the Naval Dockyards Society's annual conference at the National Maritime Museum focuses on the seventeenth century navy, and on the Restoration period in particular, under the slightly tongue-in-cheek title Pepys and Chips: Dockyards, Naval Administration and Warfare in the 17th Century. (For those who don't know, 'chips' constituted the main perk of dockyard workers during this period. They were pieces of wood up to three feet long that were 'accidentally' left over during work on the ships; they could be carried out of the yard legitimately as long as they were carried on the shoulder, hence the expression.) The conference programme, available on the NDS website, contains papers by both young researchers and established authorities on the period, myself included, and promises to provide at least a partial corrective to the deafening silence about the Restoration among more august institutions! As usual, the papers will be published in due course in the NDS's well-received series of Transactions.

That reminds me - I'd better go and get on with preparing my paper... 

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