Samuel Pepys

Pepys is famous for his diaries, which cover the years 1659 – 1669, but also enjoyed a successful career as a naval administrator and member of parliament.

Samuel Pepys was born on 23 February 1633 near Fleet Street in London, the son of a tailor. He was educated at St Paul’s School in London and Cambridge University. After graduating, Pepys was employed as secretary to Edward Montagu, a distant relative who was a councillor of state during the Cromwellian protectorate and later served Charles II. In 1655, Pepys married 15-year-old Elizabeth Marchant de Saint-Michel, daughter of a Huguenot exile. In 1658, he underwent a dangerous operation for the removal of a bladder stone. Every year on the anniversary of the operation, he celebrated his recovery.

Pepys began his diary on 1 January 1660. It is written in a form of shorthand, with names in longhand. It ranges from private remarks, including revelations of infidelity – to detailed observations of events in 17th century England – such as the plague of 1665, the Great Fire of London and Charles II’s coronation – and some of the key figures of the era, including Sir Christopher Wren and Sir Isaac Newton. Fear of losing his eyesight prompted Pepys to stop writing the diary in 1669. He never actually went blind.

In June 1660, Pepys was appointed clerk of the acts to the navy board, a key post in one of the most important of all government departments, the royal dockyards. In 1673, he became secretary to the Admiralty and in the same year a member of parliament for a Norfolk constituency, later representing Harwich. He was responsible for some important naval reforms which helped lay the foundations for a professional naval service. He was also a member of the Royal Society, serving as its president from 1684-1686.

In 1679, Pepys was forced to resign from the Admiralty and was imprisoned on a charge of selling naval secrets to the French, but the charge was subsequently dropped. In 1685, Charles II died and was succeeded by his brother who became James II, who Pepys served as loyally as he had Charles. After the overthrow of James in 1688, Pepys’s career effectively came to an end. He was again arrested in 1690, under suspicion of Jacobite sympathies, but was released.

Pepys died in Clapham on the outskirts of London on 26 May 1703. Via Samuel Pepys.

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