Pepys, Samuel (1633–1703), naval official and diarist
by C. S. Knighton

Pepys, Samuel (1633–1703), naval official and diarist, was born at the family home, Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, London, on 23 February 1633, the second son of John Pepys (1601–1680), tailor, and his wife, Margaret, née Kite (d. 1667), daughter of a Whitechapel butcher. He was the fifth of their eleven children, and the oldest to survive into adulthood. He was baptized on 3 March in St Bride's Church by James Palmer. Although his immediate background was urban and modest, Pepys's family came from Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, and he had landed connections there and in Huntingdonshire. Among these was his father's brother Robert, who owned an estate at Brampton, Huntingdonshire, which Pepys eventually inherited. Of more immediate importance was the marriage of John Pepys's aunt Paulina to Sir Sydney Montagu of Hinchingbrooke; their son Edward Mountagu (later earl of Sandwich), who was to have a large place in the Commonweath regime and a larger one in its overthrow, was the agent for Pepys's advancement into public service.

Pepys's childhood was only partially spent under his parents' roof. For a time he and his next brother, Tom, were sent to a nurse, Goody Lawrence, at Kingsland in the country just north of London. About 1644 he was living with his Huntingdonshire relations (probably at Brampton), because for a while he attended Huntingdon grammar school. He came away with an admiration for the school's favourite son, Oliver Cromwell, which he did not abandon despite his loyalty to the restored monarchy. His schooling was completed at St Paul's under its formidable high master John Langley. Pepys warmed more to the surmaster, Samuel Cromleholme, and was pained to see him degenerate into a comic drunk. From his schooldays Pepys kept a volume of Xenophon which he solemnly inscribed in Greek with his name and the date 1649—the year in which he was an approving spectator at the execution of Charles I.

St Paul's gave Pepys a leaving exhibition in 1650, and on 21 June he entered his name at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where his uncle John Pepys LLD was a fellow. Several members of the family had distinguished themselves in the law, and Samuel seemed to be headed in the same direction. But it was at Magdalene that he was admitted a sizar on 1 October, and where he took up residence on 5 March 1651. On 3 April he was advanced to a scholarship on the foundation of John Spendluffe. Perhaps an invitation came from the new master, John Sadler, a neighbour of the Pepyses in Salisbury Court; another influence may have been Samuel Morland, who became Pepys's tutor, and who knew the Montagus. Whatever the circumstances, it was a move which Pepys and the college only once had occasion to regret (when he was reprimanded for drunkenness in hall on the night of 20 October 1653). Pepys retained fond memories of the college beer and the ‘town tart’; he also made many lasting friendships. In the first year he kept with Robert Sawyer, a third-year man and a future attorney-general. Richard Cumberland, later bishop of Peterborough, had been a contemporary of Pepys at St Paul's, but it was at Magdalene that they became close friends. On 4 October 1653 Pepys was elected to a Smith scholarship. He took his BA in March 1654, recording his new status in a book of cabalistic hokum which had taken his fancy. After he left Cambridge Pepys regularly visited his old college; he proceeded MA on 26 June 1660.

Soon after coming down Pepys was found employment in the London household of Edward Mountagu, now a councillor of state in Cromwell's protectorate. Pepys's duties were at first trivial, but as Mountagu's professional and family life took him increasingly away from London, he became effectively his master's secretary. Nevertheless he was scarcely well enough placed to marry, which at the end of 1655, when still living in one room of Mountagu's Whitehall lodgings, he did. He had fallen in love with Elizabeth [see ], the fourteen-year-old daughter of Alexandre St Michel, an impoverished Frenchman who had briefly been gentleman carver to Henrietta Maria. Elizabeth brought the awkward legacy of a convent education, and a negative dowry of mendicant relatives, most notably her brother Balthasar (Balty). The marriage in St Margaret's, Westminster, on 1 December 1655 was a civil ceremony; they celebrated their anniversary on 10 October, probably the date of a preceding wedding according to prayer-book liturgy, which Pepys attended when he could. Before that anniversary had come for a second time, Pepys and Elizabeth had spent some time apart. This first crisis in their marriage was resolved; others would follow, but although childless they remained together until Elizabeth's death. On 26 March 1658 Pepys, who had long been in acute pain from a kidney stone, underwent a potentially lethal operation for its removal. The immediate problem was cured, but Pepys continued to suffer from genito-urinary disorders, which may have prevented him from fathering children. By the end of August that year the Pepyses had moved into a house of their own, in Axe Yard, close to the present Downing Street. Coincidentally at about the same time (before Cromwell died in September), Pepys acquired a part-time place as teller in the exchequer under George Downing, after whom the street would be named. For Pepys it was a first foothold in the public domain, but he continued to serve his original master. Mountagu was now a general-at-sea; in May 1659 Pepys took dispatches to him in the Baltic, and so unwittingly began his own thirty years of service to the navy.

Opening his account

It was certainly with some sense that his own life, as well as the nation's history, was at a pivotal point, that on 1 January 1660 Pepys began the diary which has made him famous. He opens with a self-conscious summary of his domestic circumstances and the political background; thereafter his writing takes on the structures and rhythms which are sustained for the nine and a half years which the diary fills. He had kept no previous journal, though his dispatches to Mountagu may have been his apprenticeship in reporting. A ‘Romance’ written at Cambridge (and destroyed along with other juvenilia in 1664) was the only previous literary effort he recalled (Pepys, Diary, 5.31). The extant manuscript of the diary is a fair copy, written up (in shorthand) every few days from a scribbled draft, collated with other private papers or printed sources to hand. Pepys undoubtedly improved on his text in this process, though without compromising the authenticity of the daily record. The result is properly acclaimed as an astonishingly vivid and disciplined exercise in self-analysis, a historical document of the first rank, and a literary classic. The diary is naturally the single most important source of knowledge about Pepys himself and his relationships, and his public reputation derives largely from the image he projects of himself during the diary years, 1660–69. As it happened these were all the years that remained of his married life, and the period in which his professional apprenticeship was completed.

Pepys had a rival for Sandwich's chief favour, John Creed, a man who shared many of Pepys's enthusiasms and with whom he maintained an uneasy friendship. Creed seemed more intellectually gifted, and had a larger social competence; but Pepys was the harder worker, and this was decisive. On 6 March Mountagu, who had been secretly negotiating for the return of Charles II, asked Pepys to go to sea with him as secretary. After a few days' thought Pepys accepted, and on 23 March, having put Elizabeth in a boarding house and bought some new clothes, he boarded the Swiftsure. With Mountagu he transferred to the Naseby when the fleet sailed to the Netherlands to bring back the king. Pepys contrived a place in the key documents of the Restoration by appending his counter-signature to the printed text of the king's declaration issued from Breda on 14 April. When the king came aboard the fleet on 23 May, Pepys heard him talk of his wartime escape; on the following day he was addressed by name by the duke of York.

Back home, Mountagu received the earldom of Sandwich and the Garter, and (on 2 June) promised Pepys that they would ‘rise together’ and he would in the mean time do him ‘all the good Jobbs’ he could (Pepys, Diary, 1.167). This pledge was promptly honoured with the post of clerk of the acts at the Navy Board, first mentioned by Sandwich on 18 June, and secured for Pepys by patent on 13 July. The board, which controlled most of the material needs and manpower of the navy, was reconstituted at the Restoration, and Pepys was obliged to settle a pension on his pre-war predecessor. The clerk was secretary to the board, with a salary of £350, the prospect of much larger income from gratuities, and an official house. Pepys sensibly rejected an offered £1000 buy-out from another suitor, and moved from Westminster to the much larger accommodation in Seething Lane, where he entertained his friends for the first time on 18 July. He had resigned his post in the exchequer in 28 June, but on 23 July he was sworn in as a clerk of the privy seal, an extra little ‘Jobb’ Sandwich had found for him; this he relinquished two years later. On 24 September Pepys was sworn in as ex officio justice of the peace for Middlesex, Kent, Essex, and Hampshire (the counties where the royal dockyards lay).

Learning the business of the navy

Pepys took up these responsibilities with only such knowledge of naval affairs as he had gathered from his two voyages in Mountagu's service; his principal colleagues at the Navy Board were men of incomparably greater experience: Sir George Carteret, the treasurer, who had held Jersey for the king; Sir John Mennes, the comptroller (from 1661), an unswerving servant of the crown on land and sea since the days of James I; Sir William Batten, the surveyor, whose loyalties had rather notably swerved during the civil war but whose seaworthiness was undoubted; and Sir William Penn, one of the heroes of the First Anglo-Dutch War and the conqueror of Jamaica. Carteret and Mennes had been ‘gentlemen’ captains, while Batten and Penn represented the alternative brand of ‘tarpaulins’, whose claim to naval command was based on experience rather than heredity and court connection. Pepys, who was neither a gentleman nor a tarpaulin, entered office with due deference to both sorts. He soon formed a prejudice (borrowed from Sandwich) against the ‘gentlemen’, and paradoxically perpetuated the notion of a division in the officer structure which in fact became blurred, not a little by his own efforts. Having been made welcome by his older colleagues, within a short time he came to despise most of them for what he considered their inefficiency and corruption. Batten, Penn, and Mennes would be the particular targets of venomous epithets which Pepys's most sympathetic biographers have found difficult to square with his pervading geniality. It is perfectly true that Mennes and the ‘Sir Williams’ were not well suited to the chores of bookkeeping and accountancy in which Pepys delighted, and he was soon able to outsmart them in points of detail. He made it his business very quickly to learn the multifaceted work which had fallen his way. He engaged a tutor to improve the arithmetic he needed to follow the international finance on which the naval supplies depended. He made himself expert in the weights and measures of the goods themselves, talking to dockyard storekeepers, carpenters, and boatswains, getting to know all the wonderful wheezes and scams which could turn the king's shilling into a pretty penny. All this he carefully noted in a series of interrelating records, of which his personal diary was one. A contract with Sir William Warren for £3000-worth of Norway masts (concluded 3 September 1663), which Pepys had single-handedly negotiated, was the point at which he effectively outran his seniors at the board. Of these only Carteret and William Coventry, who sat without portfolio, retained his respect. But Coventry, who was also the duke of York's secretary, was hostile to Sandwich; an awkwardness for Pepys, who feared (wrongly, as it happens) that his own position would be threatened if his original patron lost favour at court.

While Pepys was mastering his core career, his concerns and contacts helpfully proliferated. In 1661 Robert Pepys had died, leaving a life interest in the Brampton estate to Pepys's father, who retired there; but Pepys himself had the reversionary interest and from now on managed the property. On 15 February 1662 he was admitted a younger brother of Trinity House, and on 30 April he received the freedom of Portsmouth. In August Sandwich nominated him for the committee which had been set up to run Tangier, a part of Queen Catherine's dowry. The financing of the garrison rapidly became a muddle, for which the solution was to appoint Pepys as treasurer (20 March 1665). He had been appointed to the commission of the royal fishery by its charter of 8 April 1664. On 21 February 1665 he was elected FRS; while never more than an interested observer, he became known in learned circles. The Second Anglo-Dutch War which began in the following week had been dreaded by Pepys, and it could indeed have brought his ruin; in fact it was his maturing. With Penn at sea, Batten dying, and Mennes never much help, the work of supplying the fleet at war lay almost wholly with Pepys; he had become, as the duke of Albemarle told him in April 1665, ‘the right hand of the Navy here’ (that is, ashore), nobody else ‘taking any care of anything’ (Pepys, Diary, 6.89). At the outset of the war Pepys recommended a centralized victualling structure; his proposal was accepted and he was himself appointed surveyor-general of victualling, with a salary of £300 a year, on 27 October 1665. He adroitly disengaged himself from the scandal over prize-goods which disgraced Sandwich at the end of the year.

During the first months of the great plague which came in that same first year of the war, Pepys remained in London. On 18 August, following an order from the king, he and his staff were evacuated to Greenwich; Elizabeth was sent to the relative safety of Woolwich. During the great fire of September 1666, the first news of which he brought personally to the king, he evacuated what he could of his possessions (including the precious diary) to the country; in fact his house was saved. From its reporting of these two disasters to the metropolis in which he thrived, Pepys's diary has become a national monument. By 1667 the government had decided to abandon an unprofitable war, and Pepys approvingly helped to discharge the fleet. Now that the English would not meet them on the high seas, the Dutch became a threat to the mainland. Although Pepys and his colleagues recognized this well enough—‘all our care now being to fortify ourselfs against their invading us’ (Pepys, Diary, 8.115)—the defences in the Medway proved inadequate against the superb seamanship of the Dutch. Early on 12 June Pepys recorded Albemarle's assurance that ‘all is safe … the boom and Chaine being so fortified’ (ibid., 8.260–61); but within hours he heard that the chain had been breached at Gillingham, and that the Royal Charles had been towed away.

Grace under pressure

Pepys's immediate concern had been to get his wife, his father, and as much he could withdraw in gold coin, out of London. For as long as the Dutch remained in the river, he was virtually on active service. But it was already plain that the Navy Board, and its right-hand man, would face a formidable investigation unless the lynch mob got them first. Pepys came well enough through the first examination, held before a committee of the privy council on 19 June. As always he was armed with his files and letter-books, from which he could evidence the proper dispatch of orders and matériel. He sensed that the resident commissioner of Chatham, Peter Pett, was being targeted for blame, and was quick to follow the pack. Once the war ended in August, wider inquiries into its conduct were ordered by parliament. On 17 October the Commons appointed a committee of ‘miscarriages’. The first Pepys heard from them (20 October) was a request for lists of ships and commanders at the time of the controversial division of the fleet in 1666; he was glad that they were ‘after that business’ (Pepys, Diary, 8.489): operational foul-ups were not the Navy Board's responsibility. So the news that the committee was much concerned with allegations of cowardice after the battle of Lowestoft was also welcome; indeed, the issue conveniently embarrassed Penn as commander without reflecting on him and his colleagues as commissioners. The board did face questioning on the Medway disaster, but from their first appearance (25 October) they insisted that ‘Commissioner Pett was singly concerned in the executing of all orders at Chatham’ (ibid., 8.501), and this convenient fudge was accepted by the committee when it reported in February 1668. Their one major criticism of the board was over the payment of seamen by tickets, promissory notes which could be cashed only at the navy treasury in London. The system was certainly bad, but it was not (as the parliamentarians suspected) a massive fraud run by the navy officers. The technicalities were explained and justified by Pepys in a lengthy speech at the bar of the Commons on 5 March. It was a virtuoso performance, capped by the personal congratulations of the king and the duke as they walked in the park next day.

However, another and more powerful tribunal, the commissioners of accounts, had already set to work in the premises at Brooke House, Holborn, from which they took their name. They asked much more searchingly about how the parliamentary vote for the war had been spent, and that took the investigation to the centre of Pepys's domain. For almost two years the commission gathered evidence, issuing occasional reports.

Pepys's anxieties were interwoven with domestic crises. His sexual misconduct, so relentlessly chronicled in the diary, touched its lowest point in October 1668 when Elizabeth found him indecently engaged with her maid. The resulting quarrel was contained chiefly by the mediation of Pepys's clerk and lifelong friend, Will Hewer. By the middle of the following year Pepys's eyesight had become so poor that he feared imminent blindness; and with this terrible expectation (‘almost as much as to see myself go into my grave’) he ended his diary on 31 May 1669, never to resume it (Pepys, Diary, 9.565). He had asked for three or four months' leave, which the king personally allowed. His eyesight improved, and so did his relations with Elizabeth; in June they went for a prolonged holiday in the Low Countries and France. Pepys was given a heavy sightseeing schedule by John Evelyn, who was becoming a good friend. They returned on 20 October, but Elizabeth developed a fever (perhaps typhoid) and died on 10 November.

Pepys had been unable to campaign personally for the Commons seat of Aldeburgh, sought for him by the duke of York and the local magnate, the duke of Norfolk's heir; the burghers were not minded to have an absentee and allegedly papist member foisted on them, and Pepys lost the election. Meanwhile the Brooke House commissioners had submitted eighteen ‘Observations’ on the conduct of the Navy Board during the war. By 27 November Pepys had completed a weighty response to each observation, which he followed on 6 January 1670 with a ‘particular defence’ of his own role. The issues were debated in a series of special meetings of the privy council chaired by the king, who had smartly manoeuvred the inquiry into a forum he could control (3 January–21 February). Pepys kept a journal which is the main record of these proceedings, in which he appears to confound his critics in every particular. Maybe it was not quite as easy as Pepys's carefully structured narrative suggests, and more than once the king helped him along. When the eighteenth observation had been disposed of, a final attempt was made to catch Pepys out by producing a seaman's ticket payable in his name. Pepys flatly denied receiving the sum stated, and the king dismissed the idea that ‘one having so great trust … should descend to so poor a thing … in a matter of 7l. 10s.’ (Latham, Pepys and the Second Dutch War, 431). In the end Brooke House proved to be a mare's nest, and Pepys emerged secure.

Off duty

At about this time Pepys formed what became an enduring relationship with Mary, daughter of Daniel Skinner, a Mark Lane merchant whose business failed. Mary had been brought up by her aunt Elizabeth, wife of Sir Francis Boteler of Hatfield Woodhall, Hertfordshire, from whom in 1681 she received a handsome legacy. Although at first she maintained a separate establishment, she later became the accepted lady of Pepys's house. Why he did not make her his wife cannot be said; perhaps it was because her brother Daniel assisted Milton, and the family was therefore tainted with republicanism. She was nevertheless sometimes accorded the style of Mrs Pepys. How faithful Pepys may have been to her is impossible to say. Since he was never denounced for immorality by his political opponents, it may be supposed that any additional passions were as furtively and fleetingly satisfied as those of the diary era.

‘Music and women’, Pepys had written in 1666, ‘I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is’ (Pepys, Diary, 7.69–70). His delight in music abounds in the pages of the diary, and is also evidenced by books and manuscripts he collected. It even surfaced in his public career, in making a point to a fellow ‘understander of music’ at the Brooke House hearings (Latham, Pepys and the Second Dutch War, 369). The diary gives valuable information about the reintroduction of Anglican church music at the Restoration, and the general development of musical culture in Charles II's London. Pepys knew many of the court and other professional musicians of the capital, and was competent enough to share in their impromptu music-making. He had evidently just mastered sight-reading in January 1660, and subsequently had lessons to improve his technique. He sang at home, in coffee houses, and on one occasion as a deputy lay-vicar of Westminster Abbey. He could manage the lute (having his instrument upgraded as a theorbo in 1661), the viol, and the violin. In 1667 he acquired a flageolet and in the following year a recorder and a spinet. In learning to play these newly acquired instruments he was hampered by lack of knowledge of the gamut. It was only when, from 1673, he was able to employ a domestic musician (Cesare Morelli), that Pepys was provided with tablatures he could follow. Technical deficiency also impeded his aspirations to compose. He could sketch a melody well enough, but required professional help to supply the harmonization. When one of his distinguished teachers, William Child, was about to take the Oxford doctorate of music, Pepys had ‘a great mind’ to do the same (Pepys, Diary, 4.199); but the degree required an expertise which Pepys would never approach.

The theatre was Pepys's other great love. He had done some acting as a boy and in the 1660s he became an enthusiastic playgoer, though there remained on his conscience a puritan notion that all the stage was a vice. Naturally he enjoyed the spectacle and the social experience of the theatre, but he also had firm views on the linguistic and compositional requirements of a good play. He often found that a piece which read well played disappointingly. Yet on reading Othello, which he had admired on the stage, he found the structure much inferior to Samuel Tuke's Adventures of Five Houres, ‘for the variety and the most excellent continuance of the plot’ (Pepys, Diary, 4.8). In general he admired Shakespeare's tragedies and histories; his disparaging notices of the comedies (Midsummer night's dream: ‘inspid’; Twelfth Night: ‘silly’; ibid., 3.208; 4.6) have been smugly cited as evidence of poor judgement, but he probably saw them in adaptations which would horrify a modern audience.

The Admiralty and parliament

On 24 January 1672 Pepys was admitted elder brother of Trinity House. War with the Dutch was resumed in March. Sandwich was a casualty at Sole Bay, and Pepys was a banner-bearer at the funeral in Westminster Abbey; they had ceased to be close, and Pepys's career now had its own momentum. In January 1673 a fire which destroyed the Navy Office obliged Pepys to take temporary lodgings in Winchester Lane. When the Test Act compelled the duke of York to resign as lord high admiral the king appointed an Admiralty commission, and by 19 June Pepys was promoted to be its secretary. This meant much more money (£500 per annum and a great deal more in legitimate fees) and enhanced status. However, while still clerk of the acts Pepys had extended his influence outside the strict remit of the Navy Board; his old place there could be shared between his undistinguished younger brother John and his former clerk Tom Hayter, while his own new post rather confirmed him in a larger place he already effectively held. More significant was his move in January 1674 to Derby House, which became the Admiralty's first dedicated premises. Pepys thereby inaugurated an institution which only the matching dynamism of Mountbatten could terminate. The king took a controlling interest in the new Admiralty administration, and the rapport he had established with Pepys during the Brooke House hearings was further developed. The king had helped him win election to the Commons as member for Castle Rising (Norfolk) on 4 November 1673; this time he was able to campaign with his own purse (to near £700). But the support he again received from the duke of York and the Howard interest prompted the opposition to denounce him as a crypto-papist, and to seek to have his election quashed. MPs were told of popish furnishings in Pepys's house; it emerged that the details were fabricated by Shaftesbury, who backed down when he could not substantiate them. In fact Pepys never inclined to Rome, but he courted suspicion by collecting Catholic books and pictures (which, when cornered, he denied) and by attending Catholic services. This activity is now recognized as the result of aesthetic and intellectual curiosity, but coupled with his adherence to the duke it raised in his contemporaries authentic fears, which the opposition were to reactivate.

For now Pepys kept his seat, but he never became a parliamentarian, having already developed the permanent secretary's disdain for part-time legislators. He regarded his political allies, the tory squires, as blockheads; they found him a painful reminder of the schoolroom. Pepys secretly admired the superior intellect and competence of the opposition; he was not himself really a party man, and he had (in the wider sense) no constituency except the navy. He entered the Commons for professional rather than personal reasons; in 1668 he had formed the ‘great design, if I continue in the Navy … to be a Parliament-man’ (Pepys, Diary, 9.385). He knew well enough that a fine speech from the bar was no substitute for the influence he could exercise from the dispatch box. A navy minister, as already existed in France and the United Provinces, might counteract ‘the ignorance of our parliaments in matters marine’ and command confidence for the supply on which the service depended (Samuel Pepys's Naval Minutes, 356). In due course Pepys came to fill that role, and so occupies a significant place in the developing balance between executive and legislature. Nevertheless, during the parliaments of Charles II he sat on few committees, and rarely spoke on non-naval matters. Other institutions claimed him: in February 1676 he was made a governor of Christ's Hospital, and would do much to foster the Royal Mathematical School there as an academy for seamen. On 22 May 1676 he was elected master of Trinity House, and on 8 August 1677 the Clothworkers' Company chose him as its master.

The years 1676–7 saw the principal achievements of Pepys's first secretaryship. He devised regulations for midshipmen and volunteers (4 May 1676), for men and guns (3 November 1677), and for naval chaplains (15 December 1677). The establishment of an examination for lieutenants (18 December 1677) was central to the professionalization of the officer corps. His political triumph was in persuading the Commons to vote £600,000 over two years for the thirty new ships needed to compete with the French (23 February 1677). When the Cavalier Parliament was dissolved in January 1679 Pepys had no need to risk the expense and uncertainty of a contested election, and was returned for Harwich on the Admiralty ticket. He had already been labelled ‘vile’ by the opposition, who rightly saw him as the duke of York's continuing agent, and they resolved to destroy him. There was a failed attempt to fit up his clerk Samuel Atkins for the murder of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey: Pepys efficiently organized the defence, and Atkins was acquitted on 11 February. Pepys's position became precarious when the king was obliged to appoint a new and whig-dominated Admiralty commission on 21 April. A week later a Commons committee on naval miscarriages began to examine ‘all enormities’ and it was expected that Pepys was to be ‘pulled into pieces’ (Ormonde MSS, new ser., 4.507, 509).

On 20 May Pepys and the shipwright Sir Anthony Deane were charged with leaking naval secrets to the French; Pepys himself was again accused of popery. On the following day he resigned his secretaryship, and on the 22nd he and Deane were sent to the Tower. At once Pepys set his friends to gather evidence establishing his innocence and the unreliability of his accusers: these, it emerged, were his sacked butler, John James, and a footloose trickster, John Scott, whose previous dishonesties Pepys had exposed. In the event Pepys's defence dossier (ruefully called the ‘Book of Mornamont’ from Scott's imaginary castle) was not needed. Even in the prevailing anti-Catholic hysteria, the prosecution could not construct a case; Pepys and Deane, who had been bailed on 9 July, were eventually discharged on 30 June 1680.

In October Pepys attended the king at Newmarket, anticipating some reward for past service, if not a chance of future employment. What Charles II gave him was a dictated version of his great escape story (which Pepys took down in shorthand, and intended to publish) and two parts of the illuminated Anthony roll manuscript which had been presented to Henry VIII: magnificent but inedible. Pepys was in fact now unemployed; he had given up his lucrative Tangier post in 1679 and had not stood for re-election to parliament that year. He was surprisingly still nominated to the bench, but for the present he had to live chiefly from his savings. Pepys's father had died in October 1680, and the small Brampton estate was now his. But having made his London house into an official residence he could not return to it; instead he lodged with Hewer at York Buildings, off the Strand. In 1685 he took the tenancy in his own name, and there his library achieved its maturity. In 1681, with his public life seemingly over, he had some hope of being nominated provost of King's College, Cambridge; but (probably correctly) he was doubtful of his credentials, and allowed his candidacy to lapse. He continued to show his face at court when he could, and he was duly invited to sail with the duke of York to Scotland in May 1682. He chose a comfortable cabin in the Katherine yacht rather than a place in the duke's ship the Gloucester, thereby avoiding the wreck of the latter in which many died. On reaching his destination he was displeased by the ‘universal … rooted nastiness’ of the inhabitants, though he was impressed by the beauty of Glasgow (Letters, ed. Howarth, 139).

Pepys's return to public service came in the following year when he was sent to Tangier in Lord Dartmouth's fleet. The mission, only disclosed after it left Portsmouth on 9 August, was the evacuation of a colony which had proved unsustainable. Pepys, as Dartmouth's secretary, had particular responsibility for assigning compensation for abandoned property; it was an uncongenial task, but accomplished with his customary efficiency, and giving him a pioneering place in the history of British imperial retreat. His duty done, he and Hewer took a holiday in Spain, reaching Seville on 3 February. Their travels were spoiled by foul weather, but Pepys did manage to collect a chestful of printed Spanish plays and ephemeral literature, now among the rarities of his library. He returned to England in March 1684. During the trip he had kept a journal, which has been called his second diary; it is indeed the most substantial of the various ad rem journals he wrote after 1669, and an important record, but it has little of the charm or the literary merit of the personal diary of 1660–69. For his final service to Tangier Pepys received almost £1000; more important was the reacquaintance it brought him with the navy and many of the personnel. He was confirmed in his view that the service was incompetently directed and negligently officered.

Recall of a former naval person

On 19 May 1684 the king revoked the Admiralty commission of 1679, and for the remaining months of his life he was his own lord high admiral, assisted by the duke of York. On 10 June Pepys was returned to office by letters patent which named him secretary for the affairs of the Admiralty of England, a post created for him and of which he was the only holder. He began at once to take stock, and by the end of the year had presented the king with a detailed denunciation of the previous regime's record. On 1 December he was elected president of the Royal Society, as which he served for two years; in consequence Newton's Principia (1687), published by the society, carries Pepys's imprimatur. Following the accession of James II (6 February 1685) Pepys was confirmed in office; James, like his brother, was king and admiral, and by his own elevation Pepys became clear chief of the naval staff. At the coronation on 23 April he attended as a baron of the Cinque Ports, one of the bearers of the king's canopy. In the general election which followed he was returned for Sandwich and also for Harwich, choosing to sit again for the latter. In this parliament he served on nineteen committees, including some outside his departmental concern. On 30 May he was made deputy lieutenant for Huntingdonshire, and on 14 July was elected for a second term as master of Trinity House. Charles II had lacked opportunity to act on Pepys's recommendations on returning to the Admiralty; the new king, however, was ready to give his old servant free rein, but could do so only because his tory parliament was willing to vote ample supply. By the end of the year Pepys had (with especial prompting from Deane) concluded that the existing machinery of naval administration was incapable of the necessary reconstruction work.

On 1 January 1686 Pepys presented to the king a more detailed criticism of those who had run the navy in his absence, their dereliction of duty and the waste of matériel which had resulted. There is no doubt that here, and in his subsequent Memoires of the Royal Navy, he flagrantly misused statistics to besmirch his predecessors. He contrasted the strength of the fleet when he had left with that he had found on his return, without explaining that in 1679 ships were in pay which had been sent out to fight the French, whereas in 1684 a smaller fleet of less heavily armed ships was appropriate for the navy's current convoy and policing duties. His aspersions on the indolence and private trading of commanders were veiled criticisms of the king who patronized them. The solution offered in his ‘Proposition’ of 26 January 1686 was a three-year ‘special commission’ which would combine the functions of the Admiralty and the Navy Board; James agreed, and the commissioners (who included Deane, Hewer, St Michel, and others, all head-hunted by Pepys) began work on 22 March. The programme of refurbishment was so successful that the commission was prematurely dissolved on 12 October 1688; the threat of a Dutch invasion had additionally spurred its activities.

Pepys's thoughts on the approaching climacteric are never fully evident. Outwardly he supported James II's regime, and may indeed have believed it was ‘very fitt … that the king should be at liberty to dispense with as well as make his own rules’ (Magd. Cam., Pepys Library, MS 2860, p. 247), but he must have viewed James's headstrong Catholicizing with personal dismay and professional disdain. The failure of the fleet to repel, or even face, the Dutch when they came was no fault of his; he had sent Lord Dartmouth every resource except wind. James was sitting for a portrait for Pepys when he heard that William of Orange had invaded his kingdom. Pepys was among those who witnessed the king's will at Whitehall on 17 November, and in the afternoon he went with him to Windsor. He chose this moment to ask to be paid for his past services; James wrote him what amounted to a dud blank cheque, which Pepys optimistically filled in for £28,007 2s. 1¼d. In the final days of the reign Pepys arranged for the escape of the queen and the prince of Wales; he had no involvement in the king's confused withdrawal. The provisional government which assembled on 11 December ordered an end to hostilities, and Pepys transmitted this instruction to Dartmouth; he may thereby be said to have signalled the end of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. Four days later Pepys attended the junta at Whitehall and advised on procedure for stopping the ports. On 19 December he was sent for by the prince of Orange and asked to stay in post, to which he agreed. At this point it was still possible to accept the prince as head of government without compromising allegiance to the head of state.

Pepys was confident of securing election for Harwich in the Convention Parliament summoned for 22 January 1689, but at the poll on the 16th he was defeated by the whig candidate. The accession of the Oranges on 13 February was followed by a comprehensive purge of office-holders; it is unlikely that Pepys would have been retained at the Admiralty even if (as was not the case) he had been prepared to swear allegiance to the new rulers. His last office business was done on 22 February, though he dated his resignation two days earlier. This time he managed to keep his house, York Buildings, by the simple tactic of not moving when the incoming Admiralty claimed it as an official residence. From 5 May to 15 June he was, along with Hewer and Deane, detained by a king's messenger on suspicion of treason against the new government. On 25 June 1690, when a French fleet stood menacingly in the channel, Pepys was imprisoned in the Westminster gatehouse; his release on medical grounds was ordered on 14 July. He did in fact suffer a return of his old kidney and eyesight troubles, but these did not impede an active retirement.

Last years, transcription of the diary, and reputation

At first Pepys had some thought of ending his days as the country squire he had occasionally affected to be, but he decided he was not yet tired of London. The several institutions in which he was already well established—the Royal Society, Trinity House, Christ's Hospital, and the Clothworkers' Company—offered plentiful opportunities for social and intellectual pleasure. Above all he gave his time to his library and to scholarly enquiry. He was already a bibliophile in the diary years. Some books he acquired for their beauty or curiosity, or because they were the right thing to have, but for the most part what he bought he also read. Among contemporary authors Thomas Fuller was his favourite, and of the poets, Chaucer, while in a count of titles Robert Boyle has prime position. Pepys's lifelong enthusiasms for drama and music are well represented. He read French, Spanish, and Italian, and his library reflected this competence. He rarely wrote in his books, and the instances therefore invite attention: he bound Sternhold and Hopkins with Skelton to demonstrate that the metrical psalter compared well with ‘the highest … secular poetry of that time’ (Magd. Cam., Pepys Library, MS 228).

In 1666 Pepys had a dockyard joiner, Thomas Simpson, make the first of twelve glass-fronted book presses. Arranging the collection became a great hobby, and in his retirement he was able to employ library assistants, principally the translator Paul Lorrain. The books were shelved and numbered in order of ascending size; cataloguing and indexing the collection therefore became progressively more complex. Disappointingly as it now seems, Pepys often discarded older books as new ones were acquired, or as space in the presses determined. His nephew and eventual heir, John Jackson, helped to bring the collection to its target of 3000 volumes. Jackson was the younger son of Pepys's sister Paulina; the elder nephew, Samuel, all but wrote himself out of Pepys's will, but John proved an appreciative substitute. He was sent to Magdalene, and then to France and Italy—a trip which Pepys would have liked to make, but could now enjoy only vicariously. In particular Jackson was commissioned to bring back further treasures for the library.

Pepys's collection became well known, and was sought out by scholars. His manuscripts (then numbering 129) were listed in Edward Bernard's Catalogi … Angliae et Hiberniae (1697), although Pepys had to be persuaded to allow the entry. He corresponded occasionally with some of the greatest men of his day (Newton, Dryden, Sloane), and prolifically with academics such as Humfrey Wanley, Arthur Charlett, and his kinsman Thomas Gale. While he kept in touch with Cambridge and Magdalene, and subscribed to the new building in his old college, most of his learned friends were now at Oxford. One such was the mathematician John Wallis, whose portrait Pepys commissioned from Kneller and gave to the university; in return he received a diploma from the public orator (29 October 1702). Chief among these elevated exchanges was his correspondence with Evelyn, which now literally fills a book. Their association, which had begun at a professional level during the 1660s, had developed into one of warm mutual regard. Evelyn came to represent the ideal gentleman-scholar which the retired Pepys aspired to be. Pepys had long intended to compile a naval history: the idea seems to have begun in 1664, when Coventry suggested he should write an account of the First Anglo-Dutch War. The scale of the proposed work gradually lengthened, and many books and notes were acquired with this distant prospect in view. Enforced leisure from 1679 to 1684 had allowed for further research, Evelyn providing much arcane knowledge from his own store. Pepys's renewed leisure, ample means, and reasonable health during the 1690s seemed likely to generate the great work, but it never came. The Memoires of 1690 were his only publication. The subsequently printed Naval Minutes, a commonplace book of matters historical and contemporary, gives some hint of the scope though not the arrangement of Pepys's intended survey.

In the last years of his life Pepys stayed frequently with Hewer at the grand house he now owned in Clapham. From 1701 he lived there permanently, and it was there that he died on 26 May 1703. On 4 June he was buried at St Olave, Hart Street; the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London were present, but it was one of Pepys's circle, the nonjuring bishop of Thetford, George Hickes, who officiated.

Pepys left an annuity of £200, together with much plate, pictures, and other possessions, to Mary Skinner, acknowledging her ‘steddy friendship and assistances’ during the previous thirty-three years (Wheatley, Pepysiana, 262). Samuel Jackson received a token annuity of £40. The only property Pepys owned was the Brampton house with its 74 acres. Much of his will concerned investment of the hypothetical £28,007 which he still claimed from the crown, and which he fondly hoped would be settled on his heirs. John Jackson was the residuary legatee, and he inherited the library for his lifetime. Following Pepys's instructions, Jackson completed a few sets of volumes, and finished the catalogue. On Jackson's death in 1724, the collection passed to Magdalene where, as Pepys had stipulated, it was to be kept wholly apart from the college's other books. The convoy of wagons which took the 3000 books and their twelve presses to Cambridge was a sealed train carrying Pepys's reputation to posterity. His name was not forgotten in the navy, where many of his ‘establishments’ and administrative practices remained in use into Nelson's era and beyond; Barham in particular spoke highly of him. It was known that his library was rich in maritime history and other scholarly matters, but that it might contain more was unsuspected.

The seemingly impenetrable shorthand of the six volumes marked ‘journal’ discouraged examination until, it seems, the successful publication of Evelyn's diary (1818) prompted Magdalene to have Pepys's manuscript deciphered. An impecunious undergraduate of neighbouring St John's College, John Smith, was hired, and learned the characters by comparing Pepys's shorthand of Charles II's escape story with the longhand version. He did not know that the manual for the system, Thomas Shelton's Tutor to Tachygraphy (1642), was in the library. A first selection from the revealed text was published in 1825, edited by the third Lord Braybrooke, hereditary visitor of the college. The project was a great success, prompting progressively fuller editions. H. B. Wheatley's edition (1893–9) was complete save for what the Dictionary of National Biography confidently dismissed as ‘passages which cannot possibly be printed’. The edition by Robert Latham and William Matthews (1970–83), based on a new transcription, at last provided the whole text, and corrected many other deficiencies in the previous versions. Meanwhile Pepys's professional achievements have become better known from the publication by the Navy Records Society of several of his other writings.

Pepys has thereby achieved something of a split reputation. Sometimes his professional career has not been taken seriously because of the hedonistic image perceived from the diary. Conversely those to whom the Pepys of the diary is sympathetic can be disappointed by all else that he wrote, and conclude that after 1669 his genius left him. However much his later life is examined, it is the diary which has made him famous, and from which he will be judged. Much has been made of the blemishes of character which the diary reveals, though the frankness of his confessions has generally brought absolution. Pepys is a persuasive companion, and because when he speaks directly to his reader he is so palpably honest, he can seem to have the right of every argument. There is a powerful personality at work here, but also great art. As a diarist he is simply the best there was, with the good fortune to be close to the centre of momentous events. He has the continuing compliment of countless imitators; he is commemorated in a good few hostelries, and in the activities of the club which bears his name. Not quite everyone has been seduced by his charm, but in the glass he holds up few can have found no reflection.



Pepys, Diary · Private correspondence and miscellaneous papers of Samuel Pepys, 1679–1703, ed. J. R. Tanner, 2 vols. (1926) · Further correspondence of Samuel Pepys, 1662–1679, ed. J. R. Tanner (1929) · Letters and the second diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. R. G. Howarth (1933) · H. T. Heath, ed., The letters of Samuel Pepys and his family circle (1955) · The shorthand letters of Samuel Pepys, ed. E. Chappell (1933) · G. de la Bédoyère, ed., Particular friends: the correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn (1997) · J. R. Tanner, ed., A descriptive catalogue of the naval manuscripts in the Pepysian library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, Navy Records Society, 26–7, 36, 57 (1903–23) · Samuel Pepys's naval minutes, ed. J. R. Tanner, Navy Records Society, 60 (1926) · The Tangier papers of Samuel Pepys, ed. E. Chappell, Navy RS, 73 (1935) · Samuel Pepys and the Second Dutch War: Pepys's navy white book and Brooke House papers, ed. R. Latham, Navy RS, 133 (1995) [transcribed by W. Matthews and C. Knighton] · R. C. Latham, ed., Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, 8 vols. (1978–94) · S. Pepys, Memoires of the Royal Navy, 1679–1688 (1690); repr. J. R. Tanner, ed. (1906) · A. Bryant, Samuel Pepys: the man in the making (1933) · A. Bryant, Samuel Pepys: the years of peril (1935) · A. Bryant, Samuel Pepys: the saviour of the navy (1947); concluding part reissued as Pepys and the revolution (1979) · R. Ollard, Pepys, a biography (1974) · HoP, Commons, 1660–90, 3.226–8 · B. McL. Raft, ‘The significance of the political career of Samuel Pepys’, Journal of Modern History, 24 (1952), 368–75 · J. D. Davies, ‘Pepys and the admiralty commission of 1679–84’, Historical Research, 62 (1989), 34–53 · J. R. Tanner, Samuel Pepys and the Royal Navy (1920) · J. R. Tanner, Mr Pepys: an introduction to the diary together with a sketch of his later life (1925) · E. Chappell, Samuel Pepys as a naval administrator (1933) · Calendar of the manuscripts of the marquess of Ormonde, new ser., 8 vols., HMC, 36 (1902–20), vol. 4, pp. 431, 507, 509, 515 · diaries and papers, Magd. Cam. · H. B. Wheatley, Pepysiana (1899), 251–70 · C. Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: the unequalled self (2002)


BL, corresp. and papers, Add. MSS 38849, 39822; RP 555, 2903, 3910, 3918 · Bodl. Oxf., journal and papers · Bodl. Oxf., personal and official corresp. · GL, corresp. and papers relating to work at the Admiralty · Harvard U., Houghton L., letter-book and papers · Magd. Cam., diaries, political and naval papers, literary, historical, scientific and musical MSS, and printed books · NMM, letters and papers · NMM, corresp.; official letter-book · NRA, literary MSS and papers · NRA, corresp. and papers · NRA, priv. coll., papers relating to money owed for services to the Admiralty |  BL, corresp. relating to Christ's Hospital, Add. MS 20732 · BL, letters to Sir Hans Sloane, Sloane MSS 4037–4039, 4060 · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Thomas Baker · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Martin Lister · Bodl. Oxf., letter-book relating to Captain Scott · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Thomas Smith · Christ Church Oxf., letters to John Evelyn · Hist. Soc. Penn., papers · Morgan L., papers · Princeton University Library, papers · Ransom HRC, papers · TNA: PRO, state papers domestic, SP 29, 31, 46 · TNA: PRO, Admiralty papers, ADM 1, 2, 3, 106 etc. · U. Cal., Los Angeles, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, papers · Yale U., Beinecke L., letters to Lord Dartmouth


J. Hayls, oils, 1666, NPG [see illus.] · attrib. J. Greenhill, oils, c.1673, Magd. Cam. · A. Verrio, group portrait, fresco, 1682 (James II and his court), Christ's Hospital, Horsham, Sussex · G. Kneller, oils, c.1682–1686, repro. in Ollard, Pepys, facing p. 144 · G. Kneller, oils, c.1682–1706, NMM; version, RS · oils, c.1685, Magd. Cam.; repro. in Mariner's Mirror, 86 (2000), 149 · J. Cavalier, ivory medallion, 1688, Worshipful Company of Clothworkers; repro. in G. Trease, Samuel Pepys and his world (1972), 106 · J. Closterman, oils, after 1689, NPG; repro. in Ollard, Pepys, facing p. 304 · attrib. J. Closterman, oils, c.1695, NPG · A. Blomfield, marble bust on monument, 1884, St Olave's, Hart Street, London; repro. in G. Trease, Samuel Pepys and his world (1972), 116 · R. White, engraving (after Kneller), repro. in Pepys, Memoires, frontispiece · oils, Magd. Cam.

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Samuel Pepys (1633–1703): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21906