Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys books and biography


Samuel Pepys

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by J. Hayls.
Oil on canvas, 1666.
Born 23 February 1633
London, England
Died 26 May 1703
Clapham, England
Occupation Naval Administrator and Member of Parliament

Samuel Pepys, FRS (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament, famous chiefly for his comprehensive diary. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by hard work and his talent for administration to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under King James II. He was one of the first to apply methodical research and careful record keeping to the business of government, and his influence was important in the early development of the British Civil Service.

The detailed private diary that he kept during 1660–1669 was published after his death and is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a fascinating 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 pronounced /piːps/ (the same as the English word peeps).




Pepys was born in London on February 23, 1633, the second son of John Pepys (1601–1680), a tailor, and Margaret Pepys née Kite (d. 1667), daughter of a Whitechapel butcher. Samuel Pepys was baptised at St Bride's Church on March 3. His father's first cousin, Richard Pepys, was elected M.P. for Sudbury in 1640, and appointed Baron of the Exchequer on May 30, 1654, and Chief Justice of Ireland, on September 25, 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.[1] In 1651, he entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, taking his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1654. Sometime 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. In the same year, he married the fourteen-year-old Elisabeth Marchant de St Michel, a descendant of French Huguenot immigrants, first in a religious ceremony, on October 10, 1655, and later in a civil ceremony, on December 1, 1655, at St Margaret's, Westminster because religious ceremonies were not legally recognised under the Interregnum. The couple regularly celebrated the anniversary of the former date. On March 26, 1658 Pepys had a kidney stone removed in a dangerous, painful operation, the successful outcome of which he celebrated for several years. 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 January 1, 1660, Pepys began to keep a diary. In April and May of that year, 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 July 13. As secretary to the board, Pepys was entitled to a £350 annual salary plus the various gratuities and benefits 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 his superior colleagues: a fact that often annoyed Pepys, and provoked much harsh criticism 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 February 15, 1662 Pepys became a younger brother of Trinity House, and on April 30 he received the freedom of Portsmouth. He joined the Tangier committee in August 1662, 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. On February 21, 1665 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

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.[1]

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 that he could no longer keep his diary.

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

In 1673, he was promoted to Secretary to the Admiralty Commission and elected M.P. for Castle Rising, Norfolk. In 1676, he was elected as Master of Trinity House. At the beginning of 1679 Pepys was elected M.P. for Harwich. By May of that year, he was under attack from his political enemies. He resigned as Secretary to the Admiralty, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London on suspicion of treasonable correspondence with France. He was released in July, but proceedings against him were not dropped until June 1680.

In 1683, he was sent to Tangier to assist Lord Dartmouth with the evacuation of the British colony. After six months' service, he travelled back through Spain, returning to England on March 30, 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. From 1685 to 1688, he was active not only as Secretary for the Admiralty, but also as M.P. for Harwich. He was a loyal supporter of James II. 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.

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, then in the country though now very much part of greater London, where he lived until his death, on May 26, 1703. He had no children and bequeathed his estate to his nephew, John Jackson.

Interests and achievements

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

  • He was M.P. for Castle Rising, Norfolk, and for Harwich. Although also elected M.P. for Sandwich, he immediately withdrew when his election was contested. Most of these constituencies had connections with his relative Sir Edward Montagu.
  • Also through Montagu, he was involved in the administration of the short-lived British colony at Tangier. He was appointed to the Tangier Committee in 1662, when the colony was first founded, and became Treasurer in 1665. He resigned in 1679 but, in 1683, went out as secretary to Lord Dartmouth's expedition to evacuate and abandon the colony.
The first edition of Newton's Principia, bearing Pepys' name.
The first edition of Newton's Principia, bearing Pepys' name.
  • He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1665 and served as its President from December 1, 1684, to November 30, 1686. The frontispiece of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica was published in this period and, as a result, bears Pepys' name.
  • He was admitted as a Younger Brother of Trinity House in 1662, and as an Elder Brother in 1672. He served as Master from May 22, 1676, to August 26, 1689.
  • In 1673 he was involved with the establishment of the Royal Mathematical School at Christ's Hospital, which was to train 40 boys 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.

His contemporary and great friend 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 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. 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, at 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 [sic] be strictly reviewed and, where found requiring it, more nicely adjusted".

The Diary

Among the most important items in the Library are the original bound manuscripts of Pepys's diary. Although it is clear from the content that they were written as a purely personal record of his life and not for publication, there are indications that Pepys actively took steps to preserve them. Apart from the fact that he wrote his diary out in fair copy from rough notes, he also had the loose pages bound into six volumes, and 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 at which 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, apparently unaware that 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 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.

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

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 February 17, it is recorded, "[H]ere I drank wine upon necessity, being ill for the want of it." Propriety did not prevent him from engaging in a number of extra-marital liaisons with various women: these were chronicled in his diary, often in some detail, and generally using a cocktail of languages (English, French and Portuguese) when relating the intimate details. The most dramatic of these encounters was with Deborah Willet, a young woman engaged as a companion for Elizabeth 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.[2]

Citing poor eyesight, Samuel Pepys recorded the last entry in his diary on May 31, 1669. [3]

Disease of the stone

From a young age, Pepys suffered from stones in his urinary tract (a condition from which his mother also suffered) and 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 brave decision to undertake surgery: this cannot have been an easy option, because the operation was known to be especially painful and hazardous. Nevertheless, Pepys consulted Thomas Hollier, the surgeon; and, on March 26, 1658, the operation took place in a bedroom at the house of Pepys's cousin, Jane Turner.

The procedure, described by Pepys as being "cut of the stone", was conducted without the use of anaesthetics or antiseptics, and involved restraining the patient with ropes and four strong men; the surgeon then made an incision along the perineum (between the scrotum and the anus), about three inches (8 cm) long and deep enough to cut into the bladder. The stone was removed through this opening with pincers, which came from below, and which were assisted, from above, by a tool that had been inserted into the bladder through the penis. A detailed description of the procedure can be found in Claire Tomalin's biography, referenced below.

Pepys' stone was successfully removed and was described as being the size of a tennis ball (presumably a real tennis ball which is slightly smaller than a modern lawn tennis ball, but still an unusually large stone). However, he made a good recovery and resolved to hold a celebration on every anniversary of the operation. On Monday March 26, 1660, he wrote, in his diary,

This day it is two years since it pleased God that I was cut of the stone at Mrs. Turner's in Salisbury Court. And did resolve while I live to keep it a festival, as I did the last year at my house, and for ever to have Mrs. Turner and her company with me.

However, there were long-term effects from the operation. It has been speculated that the operation may have left him sterile; but there is no direct evidence for this, and he was childless before the operation, too. There are references in the Diary to pains in his bladder, whenever he caught cold; and the wound from the operation seems to have caused him problems in later life. In April 1700, Pepys wrote, to his nephew Jackson,

It has been my calamity for much the greatest part of this time to have been kept bedrid, under an evil so rarely known as to have had it matter of universal surprise and with little less general opinion of its dangerousness; namely, that the cicatrice of a wound occasioned upon my cutting of the stone, without hearing anything of it in all this time, should[,] after more than 40 years' perfect cure, break out again.

After Pepys' death, the post-mortem examination showed that his left kidney was completely ulcerated; seven stones, weighing four and a half ounces (130 g), also were found. His bladder was gangrenous, and the old wound was broken open again.


  • The phantom Pepys Island, alleged to be near South Georgia, was named after him in 1684, being first discovered during his tenure at the Admiralty.
  • Among his colleagues at the Navy Office 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.
  • The refectory building at the British Civil Service College has been named in his honour.
  • Composer Robert Steadman set a number of sections from the diary in a thirty-minute work for narrator, junior choir, and small orchestra, entitled Pepys' Diary, which was commissioned by the City of London Freemen's School.
  • There is a probability problem, called the "Newton–Pepys Problem", that arose out of correspondence between Newton and Pepys about whether one was more likely to roll a six with six dice or two sixes with twelve dice. (Eric W. Weisstein. Newton-Pepys Problem. From MathWorld—A Wolfram Web Resource.)
  • Pepys appears as a minor character in Neal Stephenson's trilogy The Baroque Cycle.
  • In December 2003 a weblog run by Phil Gyford that serialises the diary won an award in The Guardian's Best of British Blogs, in the specialist-blog category. (Pepys' blog wins an award).
  • A housing estate along the River Thames in Deptford bears his name.
  • A house in Addey and Stanhope School, Deptford, England, is named after Pepys.


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. Her book won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year award, and the judges called it a "rich, thoughtful and deeply satisfying" account that "unearth[s] 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. LCC DA447.P4 B8. 
  • 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. 

Editions of letters and other publications by Pepys

  • Pepys, Samuel (2004). C. S. Knighton (ed).: Pepys's later diaries. Stroud: Sutton. ISBN 0-7509-3656-8. 
  • Pepys, Samuel (2005). Guy de la Bedoyere (ed).: Particular friends : the correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, 2nd edition, Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 1-84383-134-1. 
  • Pepys, Samuel (2006). Guy de la Bedoyere (ed).: The letters of Samuel Pepys, 1656-1703. Woodbridge: Boydell. ISBN 1-84383-197-X. 

Web references

  • Seal, Jeremy (2003). The Wreck Detectives: Stirling Castle (English). Channel 4. Retrieved on 2006-06-06. (Some historical background on Pepys and the Royal Navy).

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.
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