The diary of John Evelyn

Regular posts from the diary of John Evelyn

Month: November 1643

Monday 16 November 1643

The next day to Beaumont, and the morrow to Paris, having taken our repast at St. Denis, two leagues from that great city. St. Denis is considerable only for its stately cathedral, and the dormitory of the French kings, there inhumed as ours at Westminster Abbey.

The treasury is esteemed one of the richest in Europe. The church was built by King Dagobert, but since much enlarged, being now 390 feet long, 100 in breadth, and 80 in height, without comprehending the cover: it has also a very high shaft of stone, and the gates are of brass. Here, while the monks conducted us, we were showed the ancient and modern sepulchers of their kings, beginning with the founder to Louis his son, with Charles Martel and Pepin, son and father of Charlemagne.

These lie in the choir, and without it are many more: among the rest that of Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France; in the chapel of Charles V., all his posterity; and near him the magnificent sepulcher of Francis I., with his children, wars, victories, and triumphs engraven in marble. In the nave of the church lies the catafalque, or hearse, of Louis XIII., Henry II., a noble tomb of Francis II., and Charles IX. Above are bodies of several Saints; below, under a state of black velvet, the late Louis XIII., father of this present monarch.

Every one of the ten chapels, or oratories, had some Saints in them; among the rest, one of the Holy Innocents. The treasury is kept in the sacristy above, in which are crosses of massy gold and silver, studded with precious stones, one of gold three feet high, set with sapphires, rubies, and great oriental pearls. Another given by Charles the Great, having a noble amethyst in the middle of it, stones and pearls of inestimable value.

Among the still more valuable relics are, a nail from our Savior’s Cross, in a box of gold full of precious stones; a crucifix of the true wood of the Cross, carved by Pope Clement III., enchased in a crystal covered with gold; a box in which is some of the Virgin’s hair; some of the linen in which our blessed Savior was wrapped at his nativity; in a huge reliquary, modeled like a church, some of our Savior’s blood, hair, clothes, linen with which he wiped the Apostles’ feet; with many other equally authentic toys, which the friar who conducted us would have us believe were authentic relics1.

Among the treasures is the crown of Charlemagne, his seven-foot high scepter and hand of justice, the agraffe of his royal mantle, beset with diamonds and rubies, his sword, belt, and spurs of gold; the crown of St. Louis, covered with precious stones, among which is one vast ruby, uncut, of inestimable value, weighing 300 carats (under which is set one of the thorns of our blessed Savior’s crown), his sword, seal, and hand of justice. The two crowns of Henry IV., his scepter, hand of justice, and spurs. The two crowns of his son Louis. In the cloak-royal of Anne of Bretagne is a very great and rare ruby. Divers books covered with solid plates of gold, and studded with precious stones. Two vases of beryl, two of agate, whereof one is esteemed for its bigness, color, and embossed carving, the best now to be seen: by a special favor I was permitted to take the measure and dimensions of it; the story is a Bacchanalia and sacrifice to Priapus; a very holy thing truly, and fit for a cloister! It is really antique, and the noblest jewel there2.

There is also a large gondola of chrysolite, a huge urn of porphyry, another of calcedon, a vase of onyx, the largest I had ever seen of that stone; two of crystal; a morsel of one of the waterpots in which our Savior did his first miracle; the effigies of the Queen of Saba, of Julius, Augustus, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, and others, upon sapphires, topazes, agates, and cornelians: that of the queen of Saba3 has a Moorish face; those of Julius and Nero on agates are rarely colored and cut. A cup in which Solomon was used to drink, and an Apollo on a great amethyst.

There lay in a window a mirror of a kind of stone said to have belonged to the poet Virgil. Charlemagne’s chessmen, full of Arabic characters. In the press next the door, the brass lantern full of crystals, said to have conducted Judas and his company to apprehend our blessed Savior. A fair unicorn’s horn, sent by a king of Persia, about seven feet long.

In another press (over which stands the picture in oil of their Orleans Amazon with her sword), the effigies of the late French kings in wax, like ours in Westminster, covered with their robes; with a world of other rarities. Having rewarded our courteous friar, we took horse for Paris, where we arrived about five in the afternoon. In the way were fair crosses of stone carved with fleur-de-lis4 at every furlong’s end, where they affirm St. Denis rested and laid down his head after martyrdom, carrying it from the place where this monastery is builded. We lay at Paris at the Ville de Venice; where, after I had something refreshed, I went to visit Sir Richard Browne, his Majesty’s Resident with the French king.

  1. See section on relics for a list of relics mentioned by Evelyn 

  2. Gray and Walpole also inspected this in their Grand Tour. “The glory of their collection was a vase of an entire onyx, measuring at least five inches over, three deep, and of great thickness. It is at least two thousand years old, the beauty of the stone and sculpture upon it (representing the mysteries of Bacchus) beyond expression admirable; we have dreamed of it ever since.” (Gray to West, Gosse’s Grays Works, 1884, i. 20). –AD 

  3. Or Sheba. AD 

  4. I can find no reference to these crosses. In the eighteenth century the local council removed the Fleur-de-lys (a symbol of French royalty) from the abbey as they were seen as a symbol of feudalism.  Perhaps these crosses and their symbols were defaced at the same time?  Sourced from “The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World”  By Ken Alder- GS 

Sunday 15 November 1643

The next day, we came to Abbeville, having passed all this way in continual expectation of the volunteers, as they call them. This town affords a good aspect toward the hill from whence we descended: nor does it deceive us; for it is handsomely built, and has many pleasant and useful streams passing through it, the main river being the Somme, which discharges itself into the sea at St. Valery, almost in view of the town. The principal church1 is a very handsome piece of Gothic architecture, and the ports and ramparts sweetly planted for defense and ornament. In the morning, they brought us choice of guns and pistols to sell at reasonable rates, and neatly made, being here a merchandise of great account, the town abounding in gunsmiths.

Hence we advanced to Beauvais, another town of good note, and having the first vineyards we had seen.

  1. The Cathedral of St. Vulfran -GS 

Saturday 14 November 1643

The next morning, in some danger of parties [Spanish] surprising us, we came to Montreuil, built on the summit of a most conspicuous hill, environed with fair and ample meadows; but all the suburbs had been from time to time ruined, and were now lately burnt by the Spanish inroads. This town is fortified with two very deep dry ditches; the walls about the bastions and citadel are a noble piece of masonry. The church is more glorious without than within; the market place large; but the inhabitants are miserably poor.

“Plan of Montreuil-sur-mer” author unknown (1717). From the Nation Library of France.


Friday 13 November 1643

The next day early, we arrived at Boulogne.

This is a double town, one part of it situate on a high rock, or downs; the other, called the lower town, is yet with a great declivity toward the sea; both of them defended by a strong castle, which stands on a notable eminence. Under the town runs the river, which is yet but an inconsiderable brook. Henry VIII., in the siege of this place is said to have used those great leathern guns which I have since beheld in the Tower of London, inscribed, “Non Marte opus est cui non deficit Mercurius1; if at least the history be true, which my Lord Herbert doubts2.

  1. Supposedly this translates as “We win by art when steel may not be struck”. My poor translation is “You don’t need war (Mars) when diplomacy (Mercury) is sufficient” -GS 

  2. [Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth, 1649, p. 516. But Lord Herbert speaks of “ Canon of Wood coloured like brasse.” Leathern guns, invented by Colonel Robert Scot (d. 1631), were, however, used by Gustavus Adolphus at the battle of Leipzig; and a leathern cannon is said to have been proved in the King’s Park, Edinburgh, as late as October, 1778. –AD

Thursday 12 November 1643

After dinner we took horse with the Messagere1, hoping to have arrived at Boulogne that night; but there fell so great a snow, accompanied with hail, rain, and sudden darkness, that we had much ado to gain the next village; and in this passage, being to cross a valley by a causeway, and a bridge built over a small river, the rain that had fallen making it an impetuous stream for near a quarter of a mile, my horse slipping had almost been the occasion of my perishing. We none of us went to bed; for the soldiers in those parts leaving little in the villages, we had enough to do to get ourselves dry, by morning, between the fire and the fresh straw.

  1. Probably the “Messagère” or postal messenger -GS 

Wednesday 11 November 1643

Having a reasonable good passage, though the weather was snowy and untoward enough, we came before Calais, where, as we went on shore, mistaking the tide, our shallop struck on the sands, with no little danger; but at length we got off.

“Harlem. State 2” by Wenceslaus Hollar (cicra 1644. Shows a Shallop style ship or Dutch sloop)

Calais is considered an extraordinary well-fortified place, in the old castle and new citadel regarding the sea. The haven consists of a long bank of sand, lying opposite to it. The market place and the church are remarkable things, besides those relics of our former dominion there. I remember there were engraven in stone, upon the front of an ancient dwelling which was showed us, these words in English—”God save the King,”1 together with the name of the architect and date. The walls of the town are substantial; but the situation toward the land is not pleasant, by reason of the marshes and low grounds about it.

“Caletum, sive Calesium, vulgo Cales” (Calais)- by Braun & Hogenberg, (1598) Source: & used with permission.

  1. Possibly the home of Mr Booth, a merchant of Calais.  He is described as “Mr Booth [in Calais] is my good friend, and will instruct you in all. On his house is engraved in stone, “God save ye King,” and is part of the English building when we had that town.” from the book  “Memoirs of Sir Benjamin Rudyerd, Knt” -GS 

Monday 9 November 1643

and two days after took boat at the Tower-wharf, which carried me as far as Sittingbourne, though not without danger, I being only in a pair of oars, exposed to a hideous storm: but it pleased God that we got in before the peril was considerable. From thence, I went by post to Dover, accompanied with one Mr. Thicknesse, a very dear friend of mine.

“Dover Castle” by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677) Circa 1642

Saturday 7 November 1643

I arrived at London on the 7th

Friday 6 November 1643

Lying by the way from Wotton at Sir Ralph Whitfield’s, at Blechingley (whither both my brothers had conducted me),