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Sir William Coventry: Pepys’s Mentor

Bernard Pool introduces Secretary to James, Duke of York, 1660-7, and a Commissioner for the Navy.

The Duke of York ‘had a very able secretary about him... a man of great notions and eminent virtues... the best speaker in the House of Commons, and capable of bearing the chief ministry, as it was once thought he was very near it...’. It was thus that in his History of His Own Time, Gilbert Burnet wrote of William Coventry.

After serving in the Royalist forces in the final stages of the Civil War, Coventry had gone to the Continent, but seeing no prospect of further active service, had returned to England, where he lived quietly until shortly before the Restoration. Then, still in his early thirties, he joined two older brothers at the exiled Court at the Hague, and was appointed secretary to James, Duke of York. This was a post of great importance and influence, when, on Charles’s return to England on May 25th, 1660, James, already since childhood the titular Lord High Admiral, became in fact the head of the Navy, and Coventry his Permanent Secretary.

Under the Lord High Admiral, the civil administration of the Navy-the building and repair of ships, the purchase of stores and equipment, and the management of the Dockyards - was the responsibility of the reconstituted Navy Board, on which Samuel Pepys, through his first cousin once removed, Edward Montagu (Earl of Sandwich at the Restoration), obtained the post of Clerk of the Acts, the junior member of the Board.

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