John Evelyn, 1620 –1706, studied law, and then, at 22, joined the King's Army - for three days only. Fearing his support for the Royalist cause might prejudice the safety of his brother's estate at Wotton in Surrey, which was then in parliamentary territory, he decided to avoid the Civil War and go travelling.
He ended up in Paris, where he married Mary Browne, daughter of Charles I's French ambassador. He and his wife returned to England in 1652, where they took over his father-in-law's estate at Deptford. After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Evelyn was favoured by Charles II and James II and held various prestigious posts. He was connected with the Royal Mint, improving conditions for prisoners of war and the wounded, colonial affairs, and the Royal Society. Although he wrote many books (including one on trees).
Evelyn is most famous for his long and detailed diary which provides a rich and historically important record for much of the 17th century. Although Evelyn's diary covers over 50 years, and that of his friend Samuel Pepys covers only eight years, Pepys's diary is actually longer; and, unlike Pepys, Evelyn reveals very little about himself. The background to this particular extract was that Christmas celebrations had been banned by Cromwell and this is what ensued…
The Diary Christmas Day 1657
I went with my Wife to London to celebrate Christmas day. Mr. Gunning preaching in Excester Chapell on 7: Micha 2. Sermon Ended, as he was giving us the holy Sacrament, The Chapell was surrounded with Souldiers: All the Communicants and Assembly surpriz’d & kept Prisoners by them, some in the house, others carried away:
It fell to my share to be confined to a roome in the house, where yet were permitted to Dine with the master of it, the Countesse of Dorset, Lady Hatton & some others of quality who invited me: In the afternoone came Collonel Whaly, Goffe & others from Whitehall to examine us one by one, & some they committed to the Martial, some to Prison, some Committed: When I came before them they tooke my name & aboad, examined me, why contrarie to an Ordinance made that none should any longer observe the superstitious time of the Nativity (so esteem’d by them) I durst offend, & particularly be at Common prayers, which they told was but the Masse in English, & particularly pray for Charles stuard, for which we had no Scripture: I told them we did not pray for Cha: Steward but for all Christian Kings, Princes & Governors: The replied, in so doing we praied for the K. of Spaine too, who was their Enemie, & a Papist, with other frivolous & insnaring questions, with much threatning, & finding no colour to detaine me longer, with much pitty of my Ignorance, they dismiss’d me: These were men of high flight, and above Ordinances: & spake spitefull things of our B: Lords nativity: so I got home late the next day blessed be God: These wretched miscreants, held their muskets against us as we came up to receive the Sacred Elements, as if they would have shot us at the Altar, but yet suffering us to finish the Office of Communion, as perhaps not in their Instructions what they should do in case they found us in that Action