‘Certainly this year of 1666 will be a great year of action, but what the consequence of it will be, God Knows,’(1) Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary at the beginning of the year.
The astrologers had been long predicting 1666 as a year of cataclysm yet there was no need to look to the Bible or the motion of the stars to recognise that the City was suffering. The scars of the plague year, 1665, were slow to heal and the contagion was now spreading out to the rest of the nation. Drought gripped the City during the summer and by August, St Mary’s on Fish Street was taking donations for prayers for rain.
In the early hours of Sunday, 2 September, six days after that meeting in the Churchyard, news reached England of another battle out to sea between the English Navy and the Dutch. The impetuous British Admiral, the King’s cousin, Prince Rupert, had attempted to engage the enemy off the French coast but as the Dutch ships hugged the coastline outside the port of Boulogne, a gust of wind attacked the British sails, cutting their lines and sending the fleet into disorder.
The storm then continued eastwards, hitting the coast of Kent and travelling up the Thames estuary until it arrived at London that night.