350 Years Ago Pepys and the Easter of 1666

350 years ago, on the Easter of 1666, famous diarist Samuel Pepys recorded how he failed to join a Church of England service at the Chapel in Whitehall Palace as it was too crowded over the festive period. As a result, he visited a Catholic service held for Queen Catherine in St James’s Chapel.

While much hostility existed between Protestants and Catholics in the 17th century, Pepys was surprised at what he found at the Catholic service –the music was of a higher quality than that which he would later hear at a Protestant service at Whitehall Chapel.

Later, after attending the Whitehall service and witnessing King Charles II taking the sacrament, Pepys was prompted to comment that he saw ‘very little difference between the degree of the ceremonies used by [Protestants] in the administration thereof' [i.e. administration of the sacrament] and the way it was done 'in the Roman church’ – except the Protestant chapel wasn’t so ‘fine’ nor the procedure ‘so glorious’ as in the Catholic equivalent.

These records offer a glimpse into how, despite religious hostilities in Restoration London, the city provided opportunities for curious individuals to observe and compare devotional practices.

As scholars, including Dr Kate Loveman from the School of English, have noted, however, this entry is one of the points where Pepys's diary contradicts his later public statements - in 1674 when he was accused in Parliament of being a Catholic (an attempt to prevent him sitting as an MP), he dared ‘any man to prove, in his whole life’ that he had been ‘once at Mass’.