Samuel Pepys

The English diarist and public official Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) kept a diary that provides a graphic account of English social life and conditions during the early period of the Restoration.

Samuel Pepys was born on Feb. 23, 1633, in London. His father was a tailor. Pepys was sent to school first at Huntingdon and later to St. Paul's in London. In June 1650 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, but he transferred to Magdalene College the following October and graduated in 1653.

In 1655 Pepys married Elizabeth St. Michel, the young daughter of a Huguenot exile. The couple was apparently supported at first by Pepys's cousin Sir Edward Montagu, later the Earl of Sandwich, whose service Pepys entered. In 1660 Pepys accompanied Montagu as secretary on the voyage that returned Charles II to England. That same year Pepys was appointed clerk of the acts at the Navy Office. This appointment was significant because Pepys was to serve the navy in some capacity for the greater part of his life, working to improve its efficiency and to ensure its integrity.

In 1662 Pepys was appointed one of the commissioners for Tangier, which was then occupied by the English; 3 years later he was named treasurer. When the Dutch War broke out in 1665, he was appointed surveyor general of the Victualing Office in addition to his regular duties for the navy, and he remained at his post throughout the Great Plague of 1665 although most inhabitants left London. Pepys saved the Navy Office from the Great Fire of 1666 by having the buildings around it destroyed. When the Dutch War ended in 1668, the Duke of York entrusted Pepys with the task of acquitting the navy of mismanagement.

Pepys's appearance before Parliament evidently whetted his own aspirations for a seat. He was elected to Parliament in 1673 and again in 1679. In 1673 the King transferred Pepys from the Navy Office to the secretaryship of the Admiralty. At the time of the Popish Plot in 1678, Whig opponents of the Duke of York accused Pepys of giving naval secrets to the French. Pepys resigned his office and was imprisoned in the Tower in 1679, but the charges against him were unfounded, and Pepys was vindicated and freed in 1680.

Pepys's wife had died in 1669. His principal companions since then had been such men of taste and knowledge as John Evelyn, Christopher Wren, and John Dryden. In 1684 Pepys was elected president of the Royal Society. That same year he was also restored to the secretaryship of the Admiralty, retaining the post until the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

After Pepys retired from public life in 1689, he led a relatively quiet life. He published his Memoirs … of the Royal Navy in 1690. He corresponded with friends and acted as consultant to the navy. He died on May 26, 1703.

Pepys is remembered today for the diary he kept for 9 1/ 2 years in the 1660s. In his diary, written in cipher, Pepys recorded both the significant and trivial events of his public and private worlds. Together with his impressions of his own domestic situation, he recorded his thoughts about Charles II, the Great Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of 1666, the Restoration theater, the King's mistresses, the Dutch War, and the Duke of York. Failing eyesight caused him to discontinue the diary while still a young man, but its intimate record of his daily life and of the early Restoration remains both interesting and historically valuable.

Pepys's diary was not transcribed and published until 1825. The first virtually complete edition was issued between 1893 and 1899, edited by H. B. Wheatley.


Further Reading on Samuel Pepys

The definitive study of Pepys is Cecil Emden, Pepys Himself (1963). Earlier biographies include Arthur Ponsonby, Samuel Pepys (1928), and Arthur Bryant, Samuel Pepys (3 vols., 1933-1939). Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Pepys' Diary and the New Science (1965), offers some discussion of the place of Pepys and the Royal Society in the history of ideas. The definitive edition of Pepys's diary is The Diary of Samuel Pepys (11 vols., 1970-83, new ed. 1996) edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews.

Additional Biography Sources

Bradford, Gamaliel, Samuel Pepys, New York: Haskell House, 1975.

Kirk, Clara Marburg, Mr. Pepys and Mr. Evelyn, Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1974.

Lubbock, Percy, Samuel Pepy, Folcroft, Pa. Folcroft Library Editions, 1974; Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1977.

Meynell, Esther, Samuel Pepys: administrator, observer, gossip, New York: Haskell House, 1976.

Ollard, Richard Lawrence, Pepys: a biography, Oxford Oxfordshire; New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Tanner, J. R. (Joseph Robson), Samuel Pepys and the Royal Navy, Philadelphia: R. West, 1977.

Taylor, Ivan E. (Ivan Earle), Samuel Pepys, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989.

Wheatley, Henry Benjamin, Samuel Pepys and the world he lived in, New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1975.