Samuel Pepys - A Brief Biography

The Complete Diary


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Particulars of his life by Henry B Wheatley 1893

Samuel Pepys was born on February 23rd 1633 in Salisbury Court off Fleet Street. His father, John, was a tailor, his mother Margaret Kite was sister of a Whitechapel butcher and Samuel was fifth in a line of eleven children.

The accepted pronunciation today of his curiously spelled name is PEEPS. Sam definitely pronounced his name PEEPS as do the descendents of his sister Paulina. However other branches of the family pronounce it PEPPIS.

The Pepyses were country people who, from the 13th century onwards had held land around Cottenham in Cambridgeshire, including the manor of Impington. In 1618 Paulina Pepys married a brother of the 1st Earl of Manchester, Sir Sydney Montagu, who in 1627 acquired the house and estate of Hinchingbrooke, near Huntingdon.

Robert Pepys of Brampton, served in the household of his relatives, the Montagus of Hinchingbrooke. Samuel was sent to Huntingdonshire in 1642 to live with his uncle, because of his health and fears of The Plague (from which several of his brothers died).The house where he lived still stands between Brampton and Hinchingbrooke (see left).

Samuel attended the Grammar School at Huntingdon, whose ex-pupils included not only Oliver Cromwell but also Edward Montagu, the young squire of Hinchingbrooke. Edward, 8 years older than Samuel, inherited the Hinchingbrooke estate from his father, Sir Sydney, in 1644.

Michael Wickes notes:
"The most famous of Huntingdon's medieval buildings was dedicated to John The Baptist. Part of this hospital for the poor, founded around 1160, still stands today as the building which houses the Cromwell Museum. ...the town acquired it to accomodate the Huntingdon Free School. was here that Oliver Cromwell and Samuel Pepys received their elementary education."The Free School later became Huntingdon Grammar School, the forerunner of the present Hinchingbrooke Comprehensive School."

Samuel Pepys returned to London after the civil war and entered St Paul's School. Here he was taught by Samuel Cromleholme (whom Pepys refers to as Crumlum in 9 entries in his diary).
"Samuel Pepys retained some affection for his old school and this and their joint interest in books brought them into fairly regular contact. They both frequented the bookshops around St Paul's and Pepys diary records regular visits to the school of which he became a benefactor." [History of Dorchester Free Grammar School]

In his diary of November 1st 1660 he recalled how he rejoiced in the execution of Charles I.

His future employer, Edward Montagu, a commander of the parliamentary army, fell out with the Parliamentary side over the execution and left politics for several years, re-emerging as a supporter of the King. Pepys meanwhile attended Magdalene College Cambridge, which today houses his Diary.

He took his bachelor's degree in 1654 and entered the service of Edward Montagu as his secretary and agent in London. By 1655 Pepys had married the fifteen year old daughter of a Huguenot exile, Elizabeth St Michel.

As Mountagu's responsibilities grew, so did Pepys', looking after the Montagu estate and business in London, during absences abroad on naval service and visiting Hinchingbrooke.

In March 1658 he underwent a dangerous operation for the removal of a bladder stone - the recovery from which he celebrated with a banquet for years afterwards.

The late 1650's were turbulent times in England, Oliver Cromwell having died in September 1658 and there being no real successor apart from his son Richard, who was no politician. There was therefore a great deal for Pepys to write about and this was doubtless one of the reasons for beginning his diary.

Pepys' vanity is usually given as the reason for his need to write a diary was . Being proud of his achievements, writing down events involving him gave him great pleasure; re-reading even more so.


His knowledge of shorthand, his political connections through Montagu (now Earl of Sandwich and First Lord of the Admiralty, having brought the King back from exile), and his subsequent government posts as one of the principal officers of the navy administration, gave him power and moderate wealth.

His love of order and efficiency made him a man of some importance and he proudly and successfully addressed the Commons on naval matters.His speech to the Commons on March 5th 1668. pleased him enormously.

By the time the diary ended in the spring of 1669, Pepys' professional success was well established. He was the acknowledged "right hand of the Navy"; master of an elegant household; owner of a coach and a pair of black horses; a man rich enough to retire and live "with comfort, if not in abundance."

He was also recovering from his wife's discovery in October 1668 of his affair with her companion, Deborah Willet (one of a series of dalliances with a variety of women), and was suffering so much from eye strain that he thought he was going blind. In November 1669 his wife Elizabeth died from a fever.

Because his Diary finishes in May 1669 this is the last we read of him in detail, however his life had only reached half way and much of his career lay ahead.

He took on many further adminstrative and advisory roles, became a member of Parliament (sitting for Castle Rising, Norfolk, 1673-9 and for Harwich in 1679 and 1685-7), serving as Master of Trinity House, gathering a collection of books and manuscripts, became President of the Royal Society in 1684 and had learned friends in many disciplines.

In 1679 he was forced to resign from the Admiralty and sent to the Tower on a charge of selling naval secrets to the French. The charge was subsequently dropped.

In 1685 Charles II died and was succeeded by the Duke of York as James II. Pepys helped to carry the canopy at the Coronation. He was again arrested, in 1690, on suspicion of Jacobite tendencies. Again the charges were dropped, although he was clearly more allied to James II, whom he had worked with and respected when he was at the admiralty, than the incoming William of Orange.

Pepys' Death.
In 1701 he was in failing health and moved in with the faithful Will Hewer in Clapham. He died in Clapham on May 26th 1703 and is buried at St Olave's.

Fellow Diarist John Evelyn alludes in his Diary to Pepys's death and the present to him of a suit of mourning. He speaks in very high terms of his friend:--

"1703, May 26th.

This day died Mr. Sam Pepys, a very worthy, industrious, and curious person, none in England exceeding him in knowledge of the navy, in which he had passed thro' all the most considerable offices, Clerk of the Acts and Secretary of the Admiralty, all which he performed with great integrity. When K. James II. went out of England, he laid down his office, and would serve no more, but withdrawing himselfe from all public affaires, he liv'd at Clapham with his partner Mr. Hewer, formerly his clerk, in a very noble and sweete place, where he enjoy'd the fruits of his labours in greate prosperity.
He was universally belov'd, hospitable, generous, learned in many things, skilfd in music, a very greate cherisher of learned men of whom he had the conversation . . . .
Mr. Pepys had been for neere 40 yeeres so much my particular friend that Mr. Jackson sent me compleat mourning, desiring me to be one to hold up the pall at his magnificent obsequies, but my indisposition hinder'd me from doing him this last office."

For us he is best known for his less than ten years of personal diaries, at once personal and historic, characterful and literary. A record of his times, of London in the 1660s

Pepys often visited Hinchingbrooke House in later life, and maintained many links with Huntingdonshire families. His parents were buried at Brampton, and his sister Pall was married in 1668 to John Jackson, a grazier from Ellington. Pepys mentioned his sister in his diary in May 1668 whilst he was at Brampton.

The diary text on this website is based on the shorthand manuscript in the Pepysian library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, transcribed by The Rev. Mynors Bright MA in 1885. It is published as electronic text by Project Gutenberg.
A revised and still copyright edition was published in 1970-1983 by Robert Latham and William Matthews - and this remains the most detailed and accurate version of the diary