Samuel Pepys

[peeps, peps, pee-pis, pep-is]
Samuel Pepys, FRS (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament, who is now most famous for his diary. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by patronage, hard work and his talent for administration, to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under King James II. His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the early professionalization of the Royal Navy.

The detailed private diary he kept during 1660-9 was first published in the nineteenth century, and is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.

His surname is usually , same as the word peeps, though it can also be pronounced "peps", or "peppis".

Origins, education and marriage

Pepys was born in London on 23 February 1633, of John Pepys (1601–1680), a tailor, and Margaret Pepys née Kite (d. 1667), daughter of a Whitechapel butcher. He was the fifth in a line of eleven children, but child mortality was high and he was soon the eldest. Samuel Pepys was baptised at St Bride's Church on 3 March. His father's first cousin, Richard Pepys, was elected M.P. for Sudbury in 1640, and appointed Baron of the Exchequer on 30 May 1654, and Chief Justice of Ireland, on 25 September 1655. In about 1644 Pepys attended Huntingdon Grammar School, before being educated at St Paul's School, London, circa 1646–1650. Samuel Pepys attended the execution of Charles I, in 1649. In 1650, he went to Cambridge, having received a grant from the Mercers Company. He was originally put down for Trinity Hall where one of his cousins was a fellow, however he transferred to Magdalene College, taking his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1654. Later that year, or in early 1655, he entered the household of another of his father's cousins, Sir Edward Montagu, who would later be made 1st Earl of Sandwich. He also married the fourteen-year-old Elisabeth Marchant de St Michel, a descendant of French Huguenot immigrants, first in a religious ceremony, on 10 October 1655, and later in a civil ceremony, on 1 December 1655, at St Margaret's, Westminster.

Disease of the stone

From a young age, Pepys suffered from kidney stones in his urinary tract - a condition from which his mother and brother John also later suffered. He was almost never without pain, as well as other symptoms, including blood in the urine. By the time of his marriage, the condition was very severe and probably had a serious effect on his ability to engage in sexual intercourse.

In 1657, Pepys took the decision to undertake surgery: this cannot have been an easy option, as the operation was known to be especially painful and hazardous. Nevertheless, Pepys consulted Thomas Hollier, a surgeon; and, on 26 March 1658, the operation took place in a bedroom at the house of Pepys's cousin, Jane Turner. Pepys' stone was successfully removed and he resolved to hold a celebration on every anniversary of the operation, which he did for several years. However, there were long-term effects from the operation: the incision on his bladder broke open again late in his life, and the procedure may have left him sterile - though there is no direct evidence for this, as he was childless before the operation.


In mid-1658 Pepys moved to Axe Yard near the modern Downing Street, and worked as a teller in the exchequer under George Downing.

On 1 January 1660, Pepys began to keep a diary. In April and May of that year - at this time, he was encountering problems with his wife - he accompanied Montagu's fleet to The Netherlands to bring Charles II back from exile. In June, the position of Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board was procured for Pepys, following the rise in fortunes of his patron, Montagu; the position was secured on 13 July. As secretary to the board, Pepys was entitled to a £350 annual salary plus the various gratuities and benefits-including bribes-that came with the job: he rejected an offer of £1000 for the position from a rival, and moved to official accommodation in Seething Lane in the City of London soon afterwards.

On the Navy Board, Pepys proved to be a more able and efficient worker than colleagues in higher positions: a fact that often annoyed Pepys, and provoked much harsh criticism in his diary. Among his colleagues was Admiral Sir William Penn, father of the William Penn who founded the Pennsylvania colony in what would become the United States. Pepys recorded his absolute dislike of him regularly in his diary.

Learning arithmetic from a private tutor, and using models of ships to make up for his lack of first-hand nautical experience, Pepys came to play a significant role in the board's activities. On 15 February 1662 Pepys was admitted as a Younger Brother of Trinity House, and on 30 April he received the freedom of Portsmouth. Through Montagu, he was involved in the administration of the short-lived English colony at Tangier. He joined the Tangier committee in August 1662 when the colony was first founded, and became its treasurer in 1665. In 1663 he independently negotiated a £3000 contract for Norwegian masts, demonstrating the freedom of action that his superior abilities allowed.

Pepys lived, worked, and wrote his diary through a number of significant historical events, among them the Second Dutch War (1665–1667), the Great Plague of London of 1665, and the Great Fire of London (1666). On several occasions in 1667 and 1668, he appeared before a select committee of Parliament to defend the record of the Navy Board and to argue for sufficient funds to maintain the fleet.

Throughout the period of the diary, his health, particularly his eyesight, suffered from the long hours he worked. At the end of May 1669, he reluctantly concluded that, for the sake of his eyes, he should completely stop writing and, from then on, only dictate to his clerks which meant he could no longer keep his diary.

Pepys and his wife took a holiday to France and the Low Countries in June–October 1669; on their return, Elisabeth fell ill and died on 10 November 1669. Pepys erected a monument to her in the church of St Olave's, Hart Street, in London.

Member of Parliament and Secretary to the Admiralty

In 1672 he became an Elder Brother of Trinity House and in the following year he was promoted to Secretary to the Admiralty Commission and elected M.P. for Castle Rising in Norfolk. In May 1676, he was elected as Master of Trinity House and served in this capacity to 1689.

In 1673 he was involved with the establishment of the Royal Mathematical School at Christ's Hospital, which was to train 40 boys annually in navigation, for the benefit of the Royal Navy and the British merchant navy. In 1675 he was appointed a Governor of Christ's Hospital, and for many years he took a close interest in its affairs. Among his papers are two detailed memoranda on the administration of the school. In 1699 after the successful conclusion of a seven-year campaign to get the master of the Mathematical School replaced by a man who knew more about the sea, he was rewarded for his service as a Governor by being made a Freeman of the City of London.

At the beginning of 1679 Pepys was elected M.P. for Harwich in Charles II's third parliament which formed part of the Cavalier Parliament. He was elected along with Anthony Dean, a Harwich alderman, to whom Pepys was patron. By May of that year, they were under attack from their political enemies. Pepys resigned as Secretary to the Admiralty, and they were imprisoned in the Tower of London on suspicion of treasonable correspondence with France, specifically leaking naval intelligence. The charges are believed to have been fabricated under the direction of the Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 2nd Earl of Shaftesbury. Pepys was accused, among other things, of being a papist. They were released in July, but proceedings against them were not dropped until June 1680.

Though he had resigned from the Tangier committee in 1679, in 1683 he was sent to Tangier to assist Lord Dartmouth with the evacuation and abandonment of the British colony. After six months' service, he travelled back through Spain, returning to England on 30 March 1684. In June 1684, once more in favour, he was appointed King's Secretary for the affairs of the Admiralty, a post that he retained after the death of Charles II (February 1685) and the accession of James II. The phantom Pepys Island, alleged to be near South Georgia, was named after him in 1684, having been first discovered during his tenure at the Admiralty.

From 1685 to 1688, he was active not only as Secretary for the Admiralty, but also as M.P. for Harwich. He had been elected M.P. for Sandwich, but was contested and immediately withdrew to Harwich. Pepys' patron was the future James II and Pepys was one of his loyal supporters. When James fled the country at the end of 1688, Pepys's career also came to an end. In January 1689, he was defeated in the parliamentary election at Harwich; in February, one week after the accession of William and Mary, he resigned his secretaryship.

Royal Society

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1665 and served as its President from 1 December 1684, to 30 November 1686. Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica was published during this period and its title-page bears Pepys' name. There is a probability problem, called the "Newton–Pepys Problem", that arose out of correspondence between Newton and Pepys about whether one is more likely to roll a six with six dice or two sixes with twelve dice.

As well as being one of the most important civil servants of his age, Pepys was a widely cultivated man, taking an interest in books, music, the theatre, and science. He served on a great many committees and public bodies.

He was passionately interested in music; and he composed, sang, and played, for pleasure. Both he and his wife took flageolet lessons from the master Thomas Greeting. He also taught his wife to sing, and paid for dancing lessons for her (although these stopped when he became jealous of the dancing master).


From May to July 1689, and again in June 1690, he was imprisoned on suspicion of Jacobitism, but no charges were ever successfully brought against him. After his release, he retired from public life, aged 57. Ten years later, in 1701, he moved out of London, to a house at Clapham owned by his friend William Hewer, known as 'Will,' who had begun his career working for Pepys in the admiralty. Clapham was then in the country though now very much part of Greater London, and Pepys lived there until his death, on 26 May 1703. He had no children and bequeathed his estate to his nephew, John Jackson. His former protege and friend Hewer acted as the executor of his estate.]]

His friend and fellow diarist John Evelyn remembered him as "universally beloved, hospitable, generous, learned in many things". Pepys's character is encapsulated in his Latin motto (which he borrowed from Cicero's De Republica vi.26) mens cujusque is est quisque, which can be translated as "Each man's mind is who he is" or, more poetically, "The mind is the man".

The Diary

Though it is clear from its content that it was written as a purely personal record of his life and not for publication, there are indications Pepys actively took steps to preserve the bound manuscripts of his diary. Apart from writing it out in fair copy from rough notes, he also had the loose pages bound into six volumes, catalogued them in his library with all his other books, and must have known that eventually someone would find them interesting.

The diary was written in one of the many standard forms of shorthand used in Pepys's time, in this case called Tachygraphy and devised by Thomas Shelton; but, by the time the college took an interest in the diary, it was thought to be ciphered. The Reverend John Smith was engaged to transcribe the diaries into plain English; and he laboured at this task for three years, from 1819 to 1822, unaware a key to the shorthand system was stored in Pepys's library a few shelves above the diary volumes. Smith's transcription - which is also kept in the Pepys Library - was the basis for the first published edition of the diary, released in two volumes in 1825.

A second transcription, done with the benefit of the key, but often less accurately, was completed in 1875 by Mynors Bright, and published in 1875–1879. Henry B. Wheatley, drawing on both his predecessors, produced a new edition in 1893–1899, revised in 1926, with extensive notes and an index. The complete and definitive edition, edited and transcribed by Robert Latham and William Matthews, was published in nine volumes, along with separate Companion and Index volumes, over the years 1970–1983. Various single-volume abridgements of this text are also available.

Pepys recorded his daily life for almost ten years in breathtaking honesty; the women he pursued, his friends, his dealings, are all laid out. His diary reveals his jealousies, insecurities, trivial concerns, and his fractious relationship with his wife. It is an important account of London in the 1660s. Included are his personal account of the restoration of the monarchy, the Great Plague of London of 1665, the Great Fire of London (1666), and the arrival of the Dutch fleet and other events of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667). The juxtaposition of his commentary on politics and national events, alongside the very personal, can be seen from the beginning. His opening paragraphs, written in January 1660, begin:

Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three. My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again.

The condition of the State was thus. Viz. the Rump, after being disturbed by my Lord Lambert, was lately returned to sit again. The officers of the army all forced to yield. Lawson lie[s] still in the River and Monke is with his army in Scotland. Only my Lord Lambert is not yet come in to the Parliament; nor is it expected that he will, without being forced to it.

His job required that he meet with many people to dispense monies and make contracts. He often laments over how he "lost his labour" having gone to some appointment at a coffee house or tavern, there to discover that the person he was seeking was not within. This was a constant frustration to Pepys.

The diary similarly gives a detailed account of Pepys's personal life. He liked wine and plays, and the company of other people. He also spent a great deal of time evaluating his fortune and his place in the world. He was always curious and often acted on that curiosity, as he acted upon almost all his impulses.

Periodically he would resolve to devote more time to hard work instead of leisure. For example, in his entry for New Year's Eve, 1661, he writes: "I have newly taken a solemn oath about abstaining from plays and wine ...". The following months reveal his lapses to the reader; by 17 February, it is recorded, "Here I drank wine upon necessity, being ill for the want of it." Propriety did not prevent him from engaging in a number of extramarital liaisons with various women: these were chronicled in his diary, often in some detail, and generally using a cocktail of languages (English, French and Spanish) when relating the intimate details. The most dramatic of these encounters was with Deborah Willet, a young woman engaged as a companion for Elisabeth Pepys. On 25 October 1668 Pepys was surprised by his wife whilst embracing Deborah Willet: he writes that his wife "coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con my hand sub su coats; and endeed I was with my main in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it and the girl also....". Following this event, he was characteristically filled with remorse but (equally characteristically) this did not prevent his continuing to pursue Willet when she had been dismissed from the Pepys household.

Citing poor eyesight, Samuel Pepys recorded the last entry in his diary on 31 May 1669.

The Pepys Library

Pepys was a lifelong bibliophile and carefully nurtured his large collection of books, manuscripts, and prints. At his death, there were more than 3,000 volumes, including the diary, all carefully catalogued and indexed; they form one of the most important surviving 17th century private libraries. The most important items in the Library are the original bound manuscripts of Pepys's diary but there are remarkable holdings of incunabula, manuscripts, and printed ballads. Pepys made detailed provisions in his will for the preservation of his book collection; and, when his nephew and heir, John Jackson, died, in 1723, it was transferred, intact, to the Pepys Library, a superb Georgian building standing in the grounds of Magdalene College, Cambridge, where it can still be seen. The bequest included all the original book cases and his elaborate instructions that "the placing as to heighth be strictly reviewed and, where found requiring it, more nicely adjusted".


The Diary
The complete and definitive edition of Pepys's diary by Robert Latham and William Matthews was published by Bell & Hyman, London, in 1970–1983. The Introduction in volume I provides a scholarly but readable account of "The Diarist", "The Diary" ("The Manuscript", "The Shorthand", and "The Text"), "History of Previous Editions", "The Diary as Literature", and "The Diary as History". The Companion provides a long series of detailed essays about Pepys and his world.

  • Volume I. Introduction and 1660. ISBN 0-7135-1551-1
  • Volume II. 1661. ISBN 0-7135-1552-X
  • Volume III. 1662. ISBN 0-7135-1553-8
  • Volume IV. 1663. ISBN 0-7135-1554-6
  • Volume V. 1664. ISBN 0-7135-1555-4
  • Volume VI. 1665. ISBN 0-7135-1556-2
  • Volume VII. 1666. ISBN 0-7135-1557-0
  • Volume VIII. 1667. ISBN 0-7135-1558-9
  • Volume IX. 1668–9. ISBN 0-7135-1559-7
  • Volume X. Companion. ISBN 0-7135-1993-2
  • Volume XI. Index. ISBN 0-7135-1994-0

Biographical studies
There are several detailed studies of Pepys' life available. Arthur Bryant published his three-volume study in 1933–1938, long before the definitive edition of the diary, but, thanks to Bryant's lively style, it is still of interest. In 1974 Richard Ollard produced a new biography that drew on Latham's and Matthew's work on the text, and benefited from the author's deep knowledge of Restoration politics. The most recent general study is by Claire Tomalin, which won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year award, the judges calling it a "rich, thoughtful and deeply satisfying" account that unearths "a wealth of material about the uncharted life of Samuel Pepys".

  • Bryant, Arthur (1933). Samuel Pepys (I: The man in the making. II: The years of peril. III: The saviour of the navy). Revised 1948. Reprinted 1934, 1961, etc., Cambridge: University Press.
  • Ollard, Richard (1984). Pepys: a biography. First published 1974, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-281466-4.
  • Tomalin, Claire (2002). Samuel Pepys: the unequalled self. London: Viking. ISBN 0-670-88568-1.
  • Trease, Geoffrey Samuel Pepys and his world. Norwich, Great Britain: Jorrold and Son Ltd.

Editions of letters and other publications by Pepys

  • (1893). The Diary of Samuel Pepys M.A. F.R.S.. London: George Bell & Sons.
  • Pepys, Samuel (2004). Pepys's later diaries. Stroud: Sutton.
  • Pepys, Samuel (2005). Particular friends: the correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. 2nd edition, Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer.
  • Pepys, Samuel (2006). The letters of Samuel Pepys, 1656-1703. Woodbridge: Boydell.

Web references

External links

Some of the older editions of the diary are available online:

There are also two encyclopedic sites about Pepys based on these free editions:

And other Pepys sites:

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