Samuel Pepys

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Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) was an English naval administrator and the author of a revealing diary.


Pepys was born on 23 February 1633, the son of a London tailor. He was brought up partly in London, and partly in Huntingdonshire, where his family had roots, and was educated at St Paul's School, London and Magdalene College, Cambridge. He entered the service of Edward Mountagu, a parliamentary politician and soldier, who in 1656, in addition to his other posts, was made a General-at-Sea. Pepys married Elizabeth St Michel, daughter of a Huguenot refugee, in 1655. He began to keep his diary on 1 January 1660, just before the Restoration in which Mountagu played a leading part, being created Earl of Sandwich by Charles II. Shortly afterwards, Pepys was made Clerk of the Acts in the Navy Board, which dealt with the navy's civil administration, responsible for ships, supplies and provisions. The most junior member of the Board, he had, by his enquiring habit of mind and attention to detail, made himself at the end of the diary period in 1669, the Board's most respected member and frequently its spokesman. Naturally a pleasure-loving man, with a particular devotion to music, he disciplined himself through a series of vows, and was encouraged in his attention to work by realising the reputation (and consequent income) which it brought him.[1] His wife, to whom he had been unfaithful, died in 1669 after he had given up the diary.[2]

In 1673 he was appointed Secretary of the Admiralty Commission, which took over the functions of the Lord High Admiral when the Duke of York was obliged to resign this office because of the Test Act. In this capacity he directed a programme of reform. In 1679 as part of the intrigues surrounding the Popish Plot he was obliged to resign and was for a short while imprisoned.[3] However, by 1683 the political situation had changed sufficiently for him to accompany a trip to Tangier to close down the British base there. This trip, his first extended experience of life in the navy, showed him the levels of indiscipline and incompetence among naval officers. Shortly after his return in 1684 Charles II took the Admiralty out of the hands of the Commissioners and into his own control, with Pepys his Secretary for Admiralty affairs. In this position of power he worked to enforce existing regulations, promulgate new ones, and re-create a seaworthy fleet. He was continued in this position by James II and VII, and his efforts were assisted by the increased income which the new parliament (of which he was a member) voted for the king. He succeeded in getting a special Commission for reconstructing, temporarily taking over the work of the Navy Board. He also made provision for training in navigation. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 he continued in office until February 1689, when he resigned.[4]

Pepys took a great interest in science, and was a member of the Royal Society, becoming its President in 1684. After his resignation as Admiralty Secretary, he took no part in political affairs, but continued with his musical and scientific interests. He was a friend of John Evelyn. He died on 26 May 1703, leaving his extensive library, which included an important collection of broadside ballads, to Magdalene College, Cambridge.

The Diary

The diary was written in shorthand January 1660 to May 1669, and occupies six volumes. It is at times extremely detailed, giving long accounts of important conversations, narrating Pepys's family business, his reactions to them, his views on colleagues, his admiration of certain women, his affairs with certain women, national news, and some of the business of the navy office, though this was mainly recorded elsewhere. It is uncertain why he kept it, and why he kept it in such detail, with so much personal input. The entries give a vivid picture of how things worked in central government in the early years of Charles II. The style makes for easy reading.

Following on the popular success of the publication of Evelyn's diary, a much shortened version of Pepys's diary was first published in 1825 by Richard Neville, Lord Braybrooke, using a transcription by John Smith. It was received with interest, and three expanded editions followed. From 1893 an edition by H B Wheatley, in eight volumes, still incomplete and in some ways defective, became the standard edition.[5] The current standard edition, a complete transcript with commentary and index, in 11 volumes, by Latham and Matthews, with contributing editors, was published 1970-1983.


  1. Latham, R and Matthews, W (eds). The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Introduction. Vol 1. Bell 1970
  2. Latham & Matthews. vol 10 Companion
  3. Latham and Matthews. Introduction
  4. Bryant, A. Samuel Pepys the Saviour of the Navy. Collins. 2nd ed 1949
  5. Latham & Matthews. Introduction