Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys: The Diaries
  • Samuel Pepys: The Diaries

  • When Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) began writing in 1660 he was a young clerk living in London, struggling to pay his rent. Over the next nine years as he kept his journal, he rose to be a powerful naval administrator. He became eyewitness to some of the most significant events in seventeenth-century English history, among them, the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 (he was in the ship that brought back Charles II from exile), the plague that ravaged the capital in 1665, and the Great Fire of 1666, described with poetry and horror.
    Pepys's diary gives vivid descriptions of spectacular events, but much of the richness of the diary lies in the details it provides about the minor dramas of daily life. While Pepys was keen to hear the King's views, he was also ready to talk with a soldier, a housekeeper, or a child rag-picker. He records with searing frankness his tumultuous personal and professional life: the pleasures and frustrations of his marriage, together with his infidelities, his ambitions, and his power schemes. All of this was set down in shorthand, to protect it from prying eyes. The result is a lively, often astonishing, diary and an unrivalled account of life in seventeenth-century London.

Samuel Pepys was born on 23 February 1633, the son of a London tailor. He graduated from Cambridge in 1654, and in 1655 he married Elizabeth St Michel. He started work for Sir Edward Montague, a relation who later became the 1st Earl of Sandwich, and through him first went to sea. Pepys later found work with the Navy Office, eventually rising to become Secretary of the Admiralty. He also became a JP, an MP and a Fellow of the Royal Society. In later life he was accused of being part of the anti-monarchist ‘Popish Plot’, and was twice imprisoned for it. Upon his second release he retired to Clapham, then considered to be ‘in the country’. Samuel Pepys died on 26 May 1703. His diaries, which had been written in code, were bequeathed to Magdalen College, Cambridge, where they can still be viewed.