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Samuel Pepys

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (1666)

 

 

BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE

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England during the Reign of Charles II

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)

Samuel Pepys kept a diary for nine years, between 1660 and 1669. He wrote his diary in shorthand, which is a type of code. This was because it was very personal and there were many things written in it which he did not want other people, (especially his wife), to know about! Luckily for us, Samuel Pepys was a very observant man and his diary gives a very clear picture of what life was like in the 1660's.

Also, Pepys was quite well connected. His cousin, Edward Mountagu, was a high-ranking naval officer, later to be given the title of 1st Earl of Sandwich by King Charles II. It was Mountagu who found a position for Pepys at the Navy Office in the City of London. Pepys proved to be an honest, hard-working man, with a talent for organization and a good eye for detail. He was promoted at the Navy Office as he showed himself capable of handling more responsibility. What makes Samuel Pepys' diary so special is that his cousin's position meant that he was able to be present at many important events, which, of course, he meticulously recorded in shorthand. For example, Pepys was aboard one of the ships which sailed to Holland to bring Charles II back to England. He attended King Charles II's coronation and he was also President of the Royal Society for a while.

In fact, Pepys recorded everything in his diary. He gave vivid accounts of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. It is from him that we are able to relive the theater of the period, as well as fashion and popular food and drink. His diary has been of invaluable assistance to historians and has given much pleasure to its many readers.

Samuel Pepys was much appreciated by both King Charles II and King James II. Unfortunately, this meant that the enemies of King James II became Pepys' enemies as well. When William III and Mary came to the throne and James II had fled the country, Pepys found himself unemployed. He was even imprisoned for a short while on suspicion sympathizing with the abdicated king.

Pepys was wealthy enough by this time to enjoy his retirement. His eyesight was poor, which stopped him reading, but he enjoyed entertaining and had a passion for music. When he died in 1703, John Evelyn, another famous diarist of the period and a close friend of Pepys, described him as "a worthy, industrious and curious person ...... universally beloved, hospitable and generous." Pepys' diary was given to Magdalene College in Cambridge, but it was not decoded until 1822.

 

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