Work Name: Diary
Work Type: Diary
Date: 1669
Movement: Early Modern Literature


On 1 January 1660 ("1 January 1659/1660" in contemporary terms), Samuel Pepys began to keep a diary. He recorded his daily life for almost ten years. This record of a decade of Pepys's life is more than a million words long and is often regarded as Britain's most celebrated diary. Pepys has been called the greatest diarist of all time due to his frankness in writing concerning his own weaknesses and the accuracy with which he records events of daily British life and major events in the 17th century. Pepys wrote about the contemporary court and theatre (including his amorous affairs with the actresses), his household, and major political and social occurrences.

Historians have been using his diary to gain greater insight and understanding of life in London in the 17th century. Pepys wrote consistently on subjects such as personal finances, the time he got up in the morning, the weather, and what he ate. He wrote at length about his new watch which he was very proud of (and which had an alarm, a new accessory at the time), a country visitor who did not enjoy his time in London because he felt that it was too crowded, and his cat waking him up at one in the morning. Pepys's diary is one of a very few sources which provides such length in details of everyday life of an upper-middle-class man during the seventeenth century.

Aside from day-to-day activities, Pepys also commented on the significant and turbulent events of his nation. England was in disarray when he began writing his diary. Oliver Cromwell had died just a few years before, creating a period of civil unrest and a large power vacuum to be filled. Pepys had been a strong supporter of Cromwell, but he converted to the Royalist cause upon the Protector's death. He was on the ship that returned Charles II to England to take up his throne, and gave first-hand accounts of other significant events from the early years of the Restoration, such as the coronation of Charles II, the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London and the Anglo–Dutch Wars.

Pepys did not plan on his contemporaries ever seeing his diary, which is evident from the fact that he wrote in shorthand and sometimes in a "code" of various Spanish, French, and Italian words (especially when describing his illicit affairs). However, Pepys often juxtaposed profanities in his native English amidst his "code" of foreign words, a practice which would reveal the details to any casual reader. He did intend future generations to see the diary, as evidenced by its inclusion in his library and its catalogue before his death along with the shorthand guide he used and the elaborate planning by which he ensured his library survived intact after his death.

The women whom he pursued, his friends, and his dealings are all laid out. His diary reveals his jealousies, insecurities, trivial concerns, and his fractious relationship with his wife. It has been an important account of London in the 1660s. The juxtaposition of his commentary on politics and national events, alongside the very personal, can be seen from the beginning. His opening paragraphs, written in January 1660, begin:

Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three. My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again.

The condition of the State was thus. Viz. the Rump, after being disturbed by my Lord Lambert, was lately returned to sit again. The officers of the army all forced to yield. Lawson lie[s] still in the River and Monke is with his army in Scotland. Only my Lord Lambert is not yet come in to the Parliament; nor is it expected that he will, without being forced to it.

The entries from the first few months were filled with news of General George Monck's march on London. In April and May of that year, he was encountering problems with his wife, and he accompanied Montagu's fleet to the Netherlands to bring Charles II back from exile. Montagu was made Earl of Sandwich on 18 June, and Pepys secured the position of Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board on 13 July. As secretary to the board, Pepys was entitled to a £350 annual salary plus the various gratuities and benefits that came with the job—including bribes. He rejected an offer of £1,000 for the position from a rival and soon afterwards moved to official accommodation in Seething Lane in the City of London.

Pepys stopped writing his diary in 1669. His eyesight began to trouble him and he feared that writing in dim light was damaging his eyes. He did imply in his last entries that he might have others write his diary for him, but doing so would result in a loss of privacy and it seems that he never went through with those plans. In the end, Pepys lived another 34 years without going blind, but he never took to writing his diary again.

However, Pepys dictated a journal for two months in 1669–70 as a record of his dealings with the Commissioners of Accounts at that period. He also kept a diary for a few months in 1683 when he was sent to Tangier, Morocco as the most senior civil servant in the navy, during the English evacuation. The diary mostly covers work-related matters.

After the diary

Pepys's health suffered from the long hours that he worked throughout the period of the diary. Specifically, he believed that his eyesight had been affected by his work. He reluctantly concluded in his last entry, dated 31 May 1669, that he should completely stop writing for the sake of his eyes, and only dictate to his clerks from then on, which meant that he could no longer keep his diary.

Pepys and his wife took a holiday to France and the Low Countries in June–October 1669; on their return, Elisabeth fell ill and died on 10 November 1669. Pepys erected a monument to her in the church of St Olave's, Hart Street, London. Pepys never remarried, but he did have a long-term housekeeper named Mary Skinner who was assumed by many of his contemporaries to be his mistress and sometimes referred to as Mrs. Pepys. In his will, he left her an annuity of £200 and many of his possessions.


In 1958 the BBC produced a serial called Samuel Pepys!, in which Peter Sallis played the title role. In 2003 a television film The Private Life of Samuel Pepys aired on BBC2. Steve Coogan played Pepys. The 2004 film Stage Beauty concerns London theatre in the 17th century and is based on Jeffrey Hatcher's play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, which in turn was inspired by a reference in Pepys's diary to the actor Edward Kynaston, who played female roles in the days when women were forbidden to appear on stage. Pepys is a character in the film and is portrayed as an ardent devotee of the theatre. Hugh Bonneville plays Pepys. Daniel Mays portrays Pepys in The Great Fire, a 2014 BBC television miniseries. Pepys has also been portrayed in various other film and television productions, played by diverse actors including Mervyn Johns, Michael Palin, Michael Graham Cox and Philip Jackson.

BBC Radio 4 has broadcast serialised radio dramatisations of the diary. In the 1990s it was performed as a Classic Serial starring Bill Nighy, and in the 2010s it was serialised as part of the Woman's Hour radio magazine programme. One audiobook edition of Pepys's diary selections is narrated by Kenneth Branagh. A fictionalised Pepys narrates the second chapter of Harry Turtledove's science fiction novel A Different Flesh (serialised 1985–1988, book form 1988). This chapter is entitled "And So to Bed" and written in the form of entries from the Pepys diary. The entries detail Pepys's encounter with American Homo erectus specimens (imported to London as beasts of burden) and his formation of the "transformational theory of life", thus causing evolutionary theory to gain a foothold in scientific thought in the 17th century rather than the 19th. Deborah Swift's 2017 novel Pleasing Mr Pepys is described as a "re-imagining of the events in Samuel Pepys's Diary".

Biographical studies

Several detailed studies of Pepys's life are available. Arthur Bryant published his three-volume study in 1933–1938, long before the definitive edition of the diary, but, thanks to Bryant's lively style, it is still of interest. In 1974 Richard Ollard produced a new biography that drew on Latham's and Matthew's work on the text, benefiting from the author's deep knowledge of Restoration politics. Other biographies include: Samuel Pepys: A Life, by Stephen Coote (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2000) and, Samuel Pepys and His World, by Geoffrey Trease (London: Thames and Hudson, 1972).

The most recent general study is by Claire Tomalin, which won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year award, the judges calling it a "rich, thoughtful and deeply satisfying" account that unearths "a wealth of material about the uncharted life of Samuel Pepys".

See also

  • John Evelyn – contemporary diarist
  • Rota Club
  • Samuel Pepys Club



Further reading

The Diary.

  • C. S. Knighton, Pepys and the Navy (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2003).
  • N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649–1815 (London: 2004 / New York: 2005). Includes an extensive specialist annotated bibliography.
  • James Long and Ben Long, The Plot Against Pepys (Woodstock, NY and New York: Overlook Press, 2007). ISBN 978-1-59020-069-8. A detailed account of the Popish Plot and Pepys's involvement in it, 1679–1680.
  • C. Driver and M. Berridale-Johnson, Pepys at Table (London: Bell & Hyman, 1984).
  • Stephen Coote, Samuel Pepys: A Life (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000).
  • Tul Israngura na ayudhya. "Gender and Sibling Relations in the Life of Samuel Pepys, 1660-1669." Research Report, Chulalongkorn University, 2017.

External links

Works online
  • Works by Samuel Pepys in eBook form at Standard Ebooks
  • Works by Samuel Pepys at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Samuel Pepys at Internet Archive
  • Works by Samuel Pepys at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Portals about Pepys
  • Phil Gyford's Samuel Pepys's diary, which provides a daily entry from the diary, detailed background articles, plus annotations from readers.
  • Duncan Grey's pages on Pepys
Other sites
  • Pepys library online at Magdalene College, Cambridge, including an essay by Robert Latham
  • Magdalene College Libraries' Blog, including the Pepys Library
  • Pepys Ballad Archive
  • The Samuel Pepys Club
  • Pepys, Visits
  • Internet Movies Database: list of actors who have portrayed Pepys in visual media.

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