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The Family Life of John Evelyn

A comparative study of John Evelyn's diary, using the analytic approach adopted by Alan Macfarlane,

in his The Family Life of Ralph Josselin


“Diaries link up the reader of to-day with the writer of the past with intimate threads and exhibit as nothing else can the unbroken consecutive flow of human endeavour, failure and hope.”Endnote


A fascination with diaries is no new thing. The great diaries of the seventeenth century—those of Pepys and Evelyn—have been familiar for nearly two hundred years now, and hundreds of lesser diaries survive, spanning the last four hundred years, many of which are of great interest to social and economic historians, as well as for their literary merit.


As long ago as the 1920s, in a couple of anthologies of diary writing, attempts were made to make generalizations about diaries and diary-writing—particularly by Lord Ponsonby, in the “Introduction on Diary Writing” in his English Diaries.


To begin with, Ponsonby explains the particular virtues of diaries, as opposed to autobiographical writings, by emphasizing their contemporaneity with the events described, their freshness and spontaneity, and their want of inhibition. Memoirs and reminiscences, even when written up chronologically, impose the wisdom of hindsight, and very often reimpose a self-censorship, with half an eye on the possibility of publication. He acknowledges, however, that the dividing line between diaries and memoirs—especially in their published versions—is often a hard one to draw; and that many diaries are only accessible in their published form.


Ponsonby also sees diaries as having attractions that are not present in letters, partly because letters rarely survive in such a coherent sequence as diaries, but chiefly because letters are always written to an immediate recipient reader, which as it were gives them joint authorship, and certainly brings in self-consciousness and a degree of restraint in the writing.


Ponsonby classifies diaries in two ways: i) according to whether their interest rests in the historical subject matter of which they treat or in the psychological light they cast on the personality of the diarist; ii) by dividing them into three categories according to the manner of their writing: the regular diary with only occasional breaks, the periodic diary written at intervals of days or perhaps months (these two categories often being combined), and the diary written up by the author in after years, either with a view to publication, or because the diarist considers that in retrospect a better composition may be produced by emendation and by the pruning away of indiscretions.


Ponsonby's rather Aristotelian analysis of diary writing was probably the most interesting approach until the late 1960s, when Professor Alan Macfarlane produced his The Family Life of Ralph Josselin, an Eighteenth Century Clergyman. Described by the author as a work of “historical anthropology”, the book is in fact the first serious attempt to analyse a diary in an objective manner, rather than by more conventional subjective means that owe more to literary criticism than to the methodology of science. The diary of Macfarlane's choice was that of the Rev. Ralph Josselin—at that time quite an obscure diarist, but one whose surviving diary is remarkably comprehensive in the subject matter the author describes. This is indeed so much the case that Macfarlane himself considers that only two other known diaries offer such a full record that they can be successfully subjected to the same analytic treatment, the diaries concerned being those of the Rev. Oliver Heywood, and of Samuel Pepys.Endnote


This present essay rather wilfully disregards Macfarlane's statement, by bypassing both Heywood and Pepys, and taking on the well-known diary of John Evelyn. This decision was taken for a number of reasons: the very scope which causes Macfarlane to recommend Heywood and Pepys actually puts them out of range for a sensible treatment within 10,000 words; the insufficiencies of Evelyn's diary, and the family historical material not included, tend to reduce the scale of the analysis; and—a personal motive—the present writer has an interest in Evelyn from a local history point of view, living in Deptford, not far from Evelyn's own home at Sayes Court. It should perhaps be said that Macfarlane himself concurs with the view that Evelyn's diary is suitable for a restricted study of this nature.Endnote


As a preliminary note, it might be worth recording the nature of Evelyn's diary in terms of Ponsonby's categorization. It is probably true that Evelyn's diary is, on balance, more of interest for its subject matter than for what it has to say about Evelyn, though that is not to say that there isn't a lot of Evelyn in the diary. One author of an Evelyn study considered that “When we come to realise what subjects were omitted, we are forced to conclude that he constantly bore in mind both propriety and posterity,”Endnote in withholding the more personal or sensitive areas of his life, particularly with regard to marital relations (but also, as with Josselin, topics such as toilet training, weaning methods, sleeping arrangements, &c.); the same author—W.G. Hiscock—concluded with the opinion that, on the whole, more could be learned of John Evelyn the man by a study of surviving correspondence—which happily is quite extensive—than from the diary. Unfortunately a comparison of this nature is beyond the scope of this essay.


As to Ponsonby's other classification, it is fairly clear that Evelyn's diary is principally of the third type, the diary written up in after years. The diary, as it has come down to us, exists in part in two versions: what Evelyn called the Kalendarium was written retrospectively in 1660 up to the end of Evelyn's. visit to Rome in 1645; then continued in 1660-4 from 1649-84, and is only from then a contemporary diary: the other version, the De Vita Propria, was written in 1697, and constitutes a revision or amplification of the Kalendarium, up to the year 1644. It is clear, though, that both versions are ultimately based on a true daily record kept by Evelyn. He describes himself how, in 1631, at the age of eleven, “[. . .] in imitation of what I had seene my Father do, I began to observe matters more punctualy, which I did use to set downe in a blanke Almanac”Endnote . Some of the original almanacs have survived, to corroborate this.


The limitations imposed on the extent of this study by the insufficient coverage of some aspects of life, in the diary itself, are such that it is not really possible to make the full analysis that Macfarlane made of Josselin's. Essentially the analysis is restricted to the fields covered by the middle two parts of Macfarlane's work, on “The life-cycle” and “The social world: family, kin and neighbours.” Unless otherwise stated, quotations are from the Kalendarium.


1.     Life-cycle

A.      Birth and childhood

Macfarlane adopts the social anthropologists' “life-cycle” approach to the presentation of biographical material, in which the analysis is focussed on the three basic facts of birth, marriage, and death. This approach is followed here.


John Evelyn married on 27 June 1647. He was 26 years and 8 months old, his bride Mary Browne was only about 12 years old (her date of birth remains obscure). Their union produced 8 live-born children in 17 years, of whom all except one predeceased their parents, and 3 died under a year old. The essential features of the parents’ and children's lives, are indicated in Table I below.


Table I. The vital statistics of John Evelyn's family

John Evelyn: born 31.10.1620, died 27.2.1706

         married, on 27.6.1647, to

Mary Browne: born c. 1635, died 1709





Date of birth

Interval between (months)

Date of marriage

Age at marriage (years/months)

Date of death

Age at death (years/months)










John Stansfield

















































1.      All dates are from the Diary, de Beer edition.

2.      The intervals are those between births, except in the first case, where it is between marriage and the first birth.

There is no indication in Evelyn's diary of the reaction of his parents to his own birth, as there is with Josselin. Evelyn, however, was neither the first child, nor the first son, of the family, so there was perhaps no special cause for remark. 

Evelyn himself greeted the arrival of his first child, Richard, with a certain reserve. One can perhaps read elation into the way he records the birth as having been “precisely at one a clock” (24.6.1652)—and indeed he notes the time of birth of every one of his children. On the ensuing Sunday he “gave God thanks for his Mercy to my Wife & family” (29.8.1652), a prayer he only once submits on a similar occasion, when in 1664 his wife gave birth to the second Richard of the name, after she had “ceased from bearing some yeares” (17.1.1664). But no enthusiastic “great joy and comfort” is recorded, as Josselin did.


This is not to say he didn't value children: when Dick has “an accesse of an Ague”, at the age of just eleven months, he is “greatly afflicted” (24.7.1653), and when Dick nearly choked to death on New Year's Eve 1654, it is clear that John & Mary Evelyn were practically beside themselves with distraction. Three of his children died in infancy: on the occasion of the first such death, Evelyn permits a personal comment, to the effect that the child, John Stansfield, was “as Lovely a babe as ever I beheld” (25.1.1654), and he fails to attend a manorial court two days later; but the two later infant deaths he seems to accept with resignation: “Gods holy will be don” (15.1.1658), “It pleased God to take-away my sonn . . . (26.3.1664). In the last case Evelyn's feelings are also tinged with bitterness by his suspicion that the nurse had overlain the baby; he also notes “our extreame sorrow, now again reduc’d to one” (26.3.1664), suggesting that, unlike Josselin, he did have an interest in perpetuating the family line. That this is so is confirmed at a much later date, after the death of his son John in 1699: “Leaving me one Grandson, now at Oxon, whom I beseech A. God to preserve, & be the remaining support of the Wotton family:” (24.3.1699)


The death of his first-born, at the tender age of five, distressed the Evelyns greatly, especially as the child had shown such tremendous promise—Richard Evelyn was evidently a child prodigy. Evelyn wrote at length of their “unexpressable griefe & affliction” at the loss of “the prettiest, and dearest Child, that ever parents had, being but 5 years & 3 days old in years but even at that tender age, a prodigie for Witt, & understanding; for beauty of body a very Angel, and for endowments of mind, of incredible & rare hopes” (27.1.1656). He tries to console himself, again, with the knowledge that Richard's death was by divine will: “. . . thus God having dressed up a Saint fit for himselfe, would not permit him longer with us, unworthy of the future fruites of this incomparable hopefull blossome; such a Child I never saw; for such a child I blesse God, in whose boosome he is: May I & mine become as this little child [. . .] Even so Lord Jesus, fiat Voluntas tua, Thou gavest him to us, thou hast taken him from us, blessed be the name of the Lord, That I had any thing acceptable to thee, was from thy Grace alone, since from me he had nothing but sinn; But that thou has pardon'd, blessed be my God for ever Amen: (27.1.1656); “Here ends the joy of my life, and for which I go even mourning to the grave:” (30.1.1656). This was no idle rhetoric—more than thirty years later, Evelyn is still remembering him with evident fondness (27.1.1689), counselling the father of another prodigy “. . . not to set his heart too much upon this Jewell [. . .] as I my selfe learn'd by sad experience in my most deare child Richard . . .”


Josselin's diary gives unusually complete information enabling the analysis of his wife's fertility, recording not just their children's dates of birth, but also the dates when his wife first thought she was pregnant, the date on which she started to wean her children, and listing all miscarriages, as well as births. Intelligent guesses can be made from this about the relationship between breast-feeding and conception, as well as the possible presence or absence of birth control. This is really not possible with Evelyn's diary. He rarely records Mary's pregnancy much before the confinement itself: he notes the fact when Mary confirms that she is (six months) pregnant with their first child (19.5.1652), and (four months) pregnant with their second (18.5.1653); but fails to notice it at all for all subsequent births. Weaning really doesn't come into the frame, as it is clear that the Evelyn children were put out to nurse.


There is no indication that the Evelyns attempted to limit the numbers of their offspring. Nothing at all is said of sexual relations between the partners. Mary suffered miscarriages in 1651, 1660, and 1666 (2.5.1651, 18.10.1660, 18.4.1666), but it is pretty clear that these were not deliberately induced—with the possible exception of the last, when Evelyn commented that Mary was “but young with Child.”


Very little is said of the processes of pregnancy and childbirth, as Mary Evelyn experienced them. Her first confinement was actually a miscarriage; Evelyn recorded that it made her “extreamely ill, proceeding from some Physick prescribd, not believing she was with Child” (2.5.1651). He noted that Mary was in labour 18½ hours with their fourth child, George (7.6.1657). On the 20th May 1669 he described returning home to find his wife in Labour, and being delivered within an hour—although it appears that this is within in an hour of his return, rather than an indication of the duration of labour. No further information is given on the subject. It cannot be determined from the diary whether midwives were employed, or whether neighbours were present, either as helpers or as witnesses.


Evelyn is more forthcoming on the subject when it comes to his daughter Susanna's experiences. He remarks on her pregnancy on the 12th November 1693, but this may not have led to a live birth. More informatively, we learn that in September 1694 “Hearing that my daughter Draper began to Complaine & be uneasy of her greate belly, we went on the 13th towards Deptford, hoping to get thither some competent time before there would be needed of a Midwife”; but they were met with the news that she had already given birth, “. . . after it seemes, a very sharp Conflict very well layd to all appearance, & so continuing without any unusual Accident for 2 or 3 days; but after that seized with a feavour, loosenesses, vapours & other evil symptoms which increased upon her to. that degree that on [. . .] the friday senight after, we had very little hopes of her life”; however, attended by two physicians, she recovered (13.9.1694). The following September Mary again goes to London, “to be at the Lying-in of my daughter” (7.9.1695), as she does in 1698 and 1704 (17.4.1696, 13.11.1704). Mary may have been present at other confinements, but this is not mentioned. Jane Josselin, too, one may note, was present at her daughters' confinementsEndnote.


Following the birth, Mary had to go through the ritual of churching; this took place after about a month (21.9.1652, 7.11.1653, 5.7.1657—not subsequently mentioned, but assumed to have taken place). This is in contrast to Jane Josselin, where the practice didn't agree with her Puritan husbandEndnote; Evelyn went out of his way to ensure an orthodox Church of England rite, choosing a minister he could rely on (7.11.1653).


The children's baptisms were evidently a significant social ritual. One function of the baptism was to endow the child with a name. Clearly, for Evelyn, these names always held significance. Richard's name was that of both John and Mary Evelyn's fathers, and it is no surprise that when the first child of the name died it was reused for the next boy born; one may legitimately conjecture that, had the Evelyns had another son after the second Richard died, in 1664, the name would have been used a third time. The second son took the name of Evelyn's maternal grandfather, including the family name Stansfield, “that name now quite extinct” (11.10.1653). The third son took Evelyn's own first name. The fourth son took Evelyn's paternal grandfather's name, George. The eldest daughter took her mother's name. Elizabeth was probably named after Evelyn's sister, who died as a young woman. The youngest child, Susanna, was named after Mary Evelyn's aunt Susan Hungerford, the child's godmother.


The period between birth and baptism varied between three and ten days; variations cannot be accounted for by either the sex of the child or the order of birth; the day of the week also appears to have little bearing—baptisms took place on six out of the seven days, only Friday being missed, and two each taking place on Monday and Wednesday. The intervals, in birth order, were 9, 6, 12, 3, 10, 7, 3, and 5 days, with a mean of 7 days. The variation, however, is considerably less than in Josselin's caseEndnote.


The baptism, as with Josselin, was a public event—that of his first child Richard took place in “the little drawing roome, next the Parlor in Says Court,” “many of my Relations & neighbours” were present (2.9.1652). Later baptisms may have been more private, as Evelyn only mentioned the child's susceptors, on subsequent occasions—but it may just be that he didn't record everyone present. No mention is made of any baptismal feast.


No reference is made to the babies' teething, their learning to walk and talk, or to status changes in their clothing.


Little is said about the children's upbringing in the early years. As with Josselin, children spent much of their time away from” home: Evelyn's son John “. . . had ben much brought up amongst Mr. Howards Children at Arundel house, 'til for feare of their perverting him, in the popish religion, I was forc'd to take him home” (3.7.1662); six-year-old Betty is left with Evelyn's intimate, friend Margaret Blagge in 1674 (20.5.1674). At the age of eight, Evelyn took on a private tutor for John, who became a lasting friend of the family, Evelyn eventually presenting him with the living of Wotton, as late as 1701. Dr Bohun lived in, at Sayes Court.


The prodigious ability of the first Richard has already been remarked upon—it is clear that he had been extensively exposed to English, Latin, French, Greek, Bible studies, and Mathematics, before his death at the age of five; much of this must have come from Evelyn himself: he notes (21.10.1655) “In the Afternoones I frequently stayd at home to Catechize & Instruct my Familie, those exercises universaly ceasing in the parish churches, so as people had no Principles, & grew very ignorant of even the common points of Christianity . . .“. Richard's ability was clearly exceptional, so little would be gained by noting here at what age he was able to read, and so on. Regrettably, Evelyn fails to record this sort of detail for his other children.

B.      Adolescence, marriage and death

The problems faced by parents in steering their children through puberty and adolescence were very different for Evelyn from what they were for Josselin. This is true in quantitative terms alone—Josselin saw seven of his children into their teens, Evelyn just four—without mentioning their very different economic situations.


Evelyn did not discuss the sexual development of his children any more than Josselin did. Macfarlane uses the age at which children left home as an indicator of the age of puberty—as leaving home could well have been seen as the best way of preventing the potential development of incestuous tensions. Table II below illustrates the process in Evelyn's family:


Table II. Movement of children away from home




Date of leaving

Age (Years/months)

Place/occupation to which bound




(died young)

John Stansfield



(died young)








(died young)




(died young)












Husband's home—marriage

It is clear from this that this indicator has little meaning for Evelyn's family. The only boy to reach puberty certainly spent these years away from the home, but in fact he didn't really finally leave Evelyn's household until the age of at least 25, when he married. All surviving daughters continued at home till they married, or in the case of Mary, till her death. 

The expense of marriage can only be stated for two of Evelyn's children, in view of Elizabeth's elopement. When John married, his bride brought £5000, in consideration of a settlement of £500 a year present maintenance, which was also to be her jointure, & £500 after the death of John and Mary Evelyn—though Evelyn expected this to be at least £1000 a year more in a few years (19.2.1660). Evelyn gave his daughter Susanna £4000, her jointure £500 a year (27.4.1693); notably, he recorded that he had to “sell some of his land in Deptford to raise the wherewithal” (21 & 28.9.1693).


Courtship, the suitability of spouses, and .the balance between parents and offspring in the decision-making process, are in varying degrees recorded explicitly in the diary, and are worth examining closely:


The first mention of his son's impending marriage is when Evelyn noted that “I went to see Sir John Stonehouse, with whom I was treating a Marriage, betweene my Sonn, & his Daughter in Law:” (27.11.1679). Only a month later, he meets Stonehouse again to give him the proposed details of the marriage settlement “on my Sonn, who now made his addresses to the Young Lady his Daughter in Law; . . .” (30.12.1679). This suggests that in fact, whoever had initiated the courtship, it was right from the start acceptable to both father and son. As no unsuccessful suits by or on behalf of John are noted, it is impossible to weigh the influence Evelyn exerted in this process—though doubtless, as his only male heir, Evelyn would have wanted to ensure the best match for his son.


Evelyn relates much more regarding his beloved daughter Mary: “There were now no lesse than foure Gent: of Quality offering to treate with me about Marriage; & I freely gave her her owne Choice, knowing she was discreete:” (14.3.1685). To one, Evelyn records that he had no objection, but that he had a physical blemish, which Mary found disagreeable; he says she would have married him in compliance with Evelyn's wishes, if he had so enjoined her, but he preferred to bow to her own judgement regarding her future happiness. Another suitor was clearly of a suitable standing, being a near heir to the Earl of Portland, but the courtship had only just begun at the time of Mary's death, so how this might have developed cannot be stated. The only serious contender was a Mr Wilbraham, from a noble family, to whom Mary was quite attracted, and to whom the Evelyns had no personal dislike—but here problems arose, for Wilbraham's “extreamely rich & sordid Fathers demands of Portion, I could by no meanes reach, without injury to the rest of my daughters, which this pious, & good natured Creature, would never have suffered, and so that match stood in suspense; . . .” (14.3.1665).


Evelyn's daughter Elizabeth shocked the family deeply, by eloping, at the age of 17, with a man barely, if at all, known to her parents, following a courtship conducted in secret. Evelyn wrote: “I was the more afflicted & <astonish'd> at it, in reguard, we had never given this Child the least cause to be thus dissobedient, and being now my Eldest, might reasonably have expected a double Blessing: [. . .] But so far it seemes, had her passion for this Young fellow made her forget her duty, and all that most Indulgent Parents expected from her, as not to consider the Consequence of her folly & dissobedience, 'til it was too late:” (27.7.1685). His response was to amend his will, “. . . as was reasonable; for though there may be a reconciliation upon her repentance, and that she has suffer'd for her folly; yet I must let her see what her undutifullnesse in this action, deprives her of; as to the provision she else might have expected; solicitous as she knew I was of bestowing her very worthily:” (2.8. 1685). Elizabeth very shortly thereafter died of smallpox, her parents once again lovingly attending her in her sickness—not forgiving her, but clearly unable to write her out of their affections the way they could out of their wills.


One unsuccessful bid was made for the hand of the youngest daughter, Susanna, prior to her marriage. Evelyn records that the suit was pressed by the prospective groom's father, treating directly with the father of the prospective bride—and no mention at all is made of Susanna's views on the subject, even as to whether she knew the man concerned. Evelyn found the father “obnoxious”, and was not at all happy with the financial provision proposed for his daughter, and the matter went no further (1.3. 1686). Much less is said of the successful suit of William Draper: Evelyn merely noted that proposals had been made—without stating by whom—and that he “embraced” them, and the marriage went ahead without further ado (19.2.1693).


There seem to have been no objections to suitors on geographical grounds—two of Mary's suitors came from Cheshire and Staffordshire.


Overall, it seems clear that Evelyn took a dominant role in securing suitable matches for his children, but interpreted his responsibility for doing the best he could for them as including deferring to their wishes as far as he possibly could.


The timescale in which courtship took place cannot really be determined from Evelyn's diary. Not counting Elizabeth's elopement, only two normal marriages took place: John married three months after Evelyn's first note of the match in the diary, and Susanna two months. In view of the much longer timescale revealed by Josselin's diary, it seems likely that much of the courtship process went unrecorded by Evelyn.


The wedding celebrations seem to have been rather more lavish than Josselin's, better attended, and more protracted. John's wedding included dinner and dancing on the day, and a formal reception of the couple at Evelyn's home a week later, the Evelyns being joined for dinner by the bride's relations. Similarly, when Susanna married, Evelyn noted: “Much of this Weeke spent in Ceremonie, receiving Visites and Entertainments of Relations” (27.4.1693). Evelyn himself, however, didn't attend the wedding celebrations of many relatives. Excluding his own progeny, the diary only affirms his presence at the weddings of his brother Richard in 1646 and his nephew John in 1681; an exception to this is when Sir Samuel Tuke, his wife's second cousin, “solemniz'd his Wedding night at my house with much companie” (9.6.1664).


As with Josselin, the evidence of his diary suggests that residence after marriage was “neolocal” in Evelyn's family.


Evelyn lived nearly thirteen years beyond the marriage of his youngest child, unlike Josselin, who survived the event just a few months. Evelyn, in fact, lived to such an advanced age that he survived the marriage of his eldest surviving grandchild, by over four months. There is no obvious sense in which Evelyn “retired”, although as with Josselin one could argue that “retirement” began with the wedding of his first child in 1680, and the consequent commencement of the process by which he would dispose of his estate. Similarly, Evelyn too did not finally assign the bulk of his estate until within a few months of his death.


Evelyn's attitudes to his ageing and death are occasionally revealed in his diary. On his 37th birthday he first recorded his prayer “Lord so teach me to number my dayes, that I may apply my heart to Wisedome:” (31.10.1657), a prayer to which he often returns on future birthdays. On his 60th birthday he treated the subject with some gravity: “I began a solemn survey of my whole Life, in order to the making, and confirming my peace with God, by an accurate Scrutinie of all my actions past, as far as I was able to call them to min'd: And oh, how difficult; & uncertaine, yet most necessarie work: The Lord be mercifull to me & accept me. Who can tell how oft he offendeth?” (31.10.1680). The day after, “I began, and spent this whole Weeke in examining my life, beging pardon for my faults, Assistance & blessing for the future, that I might in some sort be prepared for the time that now drew neere, & not have the greate work to begin, when one can worke no longer:” (1.11.1660). Following a protracted bout of ague in early 1682, the diary records: “After this warning & admonition, I now began to looke-over & methodize all my Writings, Accompts, Letters, Papers &c: Inventoried the goods &c of the house, & to put things into the best order I could; & also new made my Will: That growing now in yeares, I might have none of these secular things & Concernes, to distract me, whensoever it should please Almighty God to call me from this transitorie life:” (c. 7.2.1682). Two months later, he recorded that he found himself often getting sleepy in the afternoons, “which I formerly censured in some others, and believed impossible; . . .” (16.4.1682). As the years passed, he found himself nodding off during sermons, which always “surprised” him, and for which he continued to feel ashamed. On his 63rd birthday—the “greate Climacterical (31.10.1693), he recorded his thanks to God for allowing him to reach it, but like Josselin he didn't seem troubled by the date. At the age of 78, he recorded his prayer that God “blesse the remainder, of my life & now very old age with peace, & Charity, & assist me with his Grace to the End:” (28.6.1699). On his 80th birthday he found all his senses and faculties “tollerable” for “so greate an Age” (31.10.1700). At 82, he prayed “. . . that I may obtaine a Comfortable Departure, after so long a terme as has ben hitherto indulged me: Finding by many Infirmitys this yeare (especially nephritic pains) that I much decline:” (31.10.1702). The following year, the vicar, giving the lesson at Evelyn's home, made “pertinent Inferences, to prepare us for death & a future state: I gave him Thanks for his paines, and told him I tooke it kindly, as my Funerall Sermon:” (21.11.1703). Evelyn lived more than two years longer, but was clearly prepared for his death at any time.


As to the rituals associated with death, there are quite a number of funerals referred to in the diary, attended by Evelyn. Of sixteen funerals referred to, of which the interval between death and burial can be determined, the average (both mean and median) interval was approximately five days, but it varied between a single day and (apparently) 15 days. Evelyn doesn't especially describe funerals as an opportunity tor the release of emotion; this had certainly been a function for Josselin—especially his own sermonsEndnote; in some ways, the comparable release for Evelyn may have come actually from writing up his diary: he can be especially effusive on these occasions—one thinks especially of his grief-stricken outpouring on the occasion of the death of his daughter, Mary, in 1685.


On two occasions Evelyn records a post mortem taking place: at his own request, on the body of his young son, Richard (30.1.1656); and on that of his brother, Richard (6.3.1670).


The ritual of the burial itself is glimpsed from time to time. Interestingly, two of the burials Evelyn recorded—that of his father, in 1640, and his son Richard, in 1658—took place at night. He recorded that, following the post mortem on Richard, he had the body coffined in lead; when his son John died, in 1699, he too was put into lead, for the body to be transported to Surrey, for interment in the family vault. When his father in law Sir Richard Browne died in 1683, “I went not to Church, obeying the Custome of keeping at home 'til the Ceremonies of the Funerall were over:” (18.2.1663); as this is the only occasion on which Evelyn recorded this custom, it is not clear to what custom he refers. He doesn't seem to have stayed away from his mother-in-law's funeral, so it can't just be a matter of Browne not being Evelyn's own kin. Browne was buried in the churchyard, by explicit provision of his will, “. . . being much offended at the novel Costome of burying every body within the body of the Church & chancel, as a favour hertofore granted onely to Martyrs, & great Princes, this excesse of making Churches Charnel-houses being of ill & irreverent example, & prejudicial to the health of the living:” (18.2.1683).


On the occasion of Richard's burial Evelyn recorded that he distributed inscribed rings to all present. At his daughter Mary's funeral in 1685, the hearse was drawn by six horses, attended by six or seven six-horse coaches sent by sundry “noble persons”; about 60 rings were distributed, “besides other decenc<i>es” (16.3.1665). At that of his brother, Richard, “There were a greate number of Friends & gent: of the Country & innumerable people, about 20 Coaches of six-horses; . . .” (21.3.1670). His other brother, George, was “buried with extraordinary solemnity, rather as a Noble man, Than a privat Gent: There were I computed above 2000 people at the funerall, all the Gent of the County doing him the last honour:” (4.10.1699). Sir Richard Browne's funeral was attended by the entire fraternity of the Trinity Company, as well as assorted gentry.


Only the immediate family seem to have been present at his father's burial. At the burial of his first son, however, he was accompanied by “divers of my relations & neighbours” (30.1.1658). The next month, though baby George was buried in the apparent absence of other family members, Evelyn's brothers afterwards came to condole (15.2.1658). Evelyn himself was too grief-stricken to attend the burial of his daughter Mary (16.3.1665).


Evelyn actually gives his best picture of a funeral when he describes that of his dear friend Margaret Godolphin. The immediate family were too distraught to handle the affair, so Evelyn himself was given the “intire Care” of her funeral, down to the fees to the physicians. He himself closed the eyes of the corpse. He had her body, embalmed and wrapped in lead, with an inscribed brass plate attached. The six horse hearse was attended by two six horse carriages, and about thirty of the deceased's relations and servants. Accompanying the hearse were Margaret Godolphin's husband's three brothers and three sisters, Sidney Godolphin, the bereaved husband, himself being unfit for the occasion.


Margaret Godolphin's funeral is also the only one of which Evelyn records the cost: “This funerall, as private as it was, costing her deare husband not much lesse than 1000 pounds; . . .“ (17.9.1678).


It seems clear that, like Josselin, Evelyn was much more interested in and impressed by funerals than he was by baptisms or marriages; but also that he too was little influenced by memories of his relatives, once buried. The burial ritual was chiefly for the benefit of the survivors.




[This essay was submitted for the University of London Diploma in Genealogy and the History of the Family in 1991. The text as reproduced here appears incomplete, but is all that I've succeeded in locating. The dissertation also included one or two graphicsfamily trees, as I recallbut these too have disappeared.]


© Benjamin S. Beck, 2003–2016

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