What happened to Deb Willet?

The Complete Diary


Late 1668 was a period of crisis for Sam Pepys and his wife. The maid his wife had insisted on having, Deb Willet, had attracted Pepys and he had taken advantage of her.

All the evidence is that he was genuinely fond of her, though by virtue of his position as head of the household she may have found it difficult to avoid his advances.

Read the build up to their discovery by his wife on October 25th 1668 in which the unabridged version says that he was found "with my main [hand] in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it, and the girl also."
His wife's ill temper towards him and his protestations to her on October 26th then her fury with him on October 27th.
He ends October with his sadness about the events of the month.

November opens with his great trouble of mind and the realisation they will have to dismiss Deb.
By November 8th Pepys wife is constantly in attendance to make sure he doesn't see Deb alone:

"The girle with us, but my wife troubled thereat to see her, and do tell me so, which troubles me, for I love the girle. At my chamber again to work all the afternoon till night, when Pelling comes, who wonders to find my wife so dull and melancholy, but God knows she hath too much cause."

Finally, on November 12th he is forced to discharge Deb, a task he carries out "with tears in my eyes".

However on the 14th, despite having been forbidden by his wife to see her, he gathers money together for her and admits to himself, "I cannot forget the girl.".

On November 18th he can resist no longer and goes in search of the girl, whom he has heard is staying with a Doctor Allbun. Finding her, he gives her money and kisses her.

After a short time of feeling that all is resolved, he is forced to admit that he did see her yesterday - at which his wife "swore by all that was good that she would slit the nose of this girle"

Finally it is only by agreeing to write on paper that Deb is a whore and he will never see her again that his wife is pacified.

Recent research has revealed that Deb continued to live in the same area as Pepys and married Jeremiah Wells, a theology graduate, in January 1670. Her husband corresponded with Pepys and helped Wells get a job as a ship's chaplain. While there is no evidence that Pepys returned to his mistress it would not be out of character.

Pepys' last written word about Deb in his diary (May 1669) that "by private vows last night in prayer to God Almighty cleared my mind for the present of the thoughts of going to Deb. at Greenwich..." suggests that "for the present" is far from being a permanent decision. The death of Mrs Pepys in late 1669 and the time that Wells spent at sea must make it quite likely that the affair continued to some extent.

Deb died in 1678 at the age of 27 and Jeremiah Wells died 18 months later. Pepys died in May 1703.