Samuel Pepys

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Samuel Pepys (1666); Painting by John Hayls; National Portrait Gallery, London

Samuel Pepys [ piːps ] (born February 23, 1633 in London , † May 26, 1703 in Clapham near London) was State Secretary in the English Naval Office ( Chief Secretary to the Admiralty ), President of the Royal Society and Member of the English House of Commons , was posterity but above all known as a diary author and chronicler of the restoration era under King Charles II of England . The diary he kept from 1660 to 1669 is one of the most important sources for this period and one of the most frequently cited literary works in the English-speaking world.


Memorial to Samuel Pepys in the City of London

Samuel Pepys was born into a time when the struggles between the increasingly self-confident English parliament and the Stuart kingship , which was striving for absolutist rule, escalated into the time of the rising bourgeoisie and the beginning of capitalism .

Pepys, who turned from a follower of Oliver Cromwell to a staunch Tory , was a typical representative of the new bourgeoisie. Although its way of life was based on the nobility , it increasingly shaped its world through its own values, rooted in Protestantism, of honor, religiosity and morality, of hard-working righteousness and the pursuit of profit. The partly intentional, partly involuntary comedy of Pepys' diary arises from the discrepancy between his beginnings as a prudish, lust-hostile puritan and his seductiveness through the baroque pleasures of the era of Charles II, which he soon enjoyed to the full. He wrote in his diary on March 10, 1666:

“Most men who make it out in the world forget about pleasure during the time they make their fortune. They wait until they have done it and then it will be too late to enjoy it. "

Origin and family

The later State Secretary came from a simple background. He was the son of the London tailor John Pepys and his wife Margaret. A total of eleven children were born to the couple, but only four of them reached adulthood. Of these, in turn, Samuel was the oldest. The family lived modestly, but had wealthy and influential relatives in the Montagu family, who belonged to the landed gentry. Their Hinchingbroke estate was in Huntingdonshire , the county from which Oliver Cromwell came from. When the Civil War broke out in 1642 , John Pepys sent his nine-year-old son to the country to live with his brother Robert, who was the Montagus' manager. The wealthy relatives probably became aware of the young Samuel even then and gave him a good education - first at the Latin school in Huntingdon, then at the strictly puritanical St. Paul's School in London. During this time he was, according to his own, later testimony, a typical round head , i.e. H. a supporter of Cromwell and witnessed the execution of King Charles I with. From 1650 to 1653 he attended the University of Cambridge , where he earned a bachelor's degree. In 1660 he was awarded the master's degree in exchange for a cash payment .

Pepys had probably met his eight-year-old cousin Edward Montagu , later Lord Sandwich, as a child. He had distinguished himself in the civil war on the side of Cromwell and held high offices of the state at the time of the English Republic . In the First Anglo-Dutch Sea War he was Commander-in-Chief of the fleet. After Pepys finished his studies, Montagu hired him as some sort of private secretary. As the protégé of his cousin, Pepys began to rise in the civil service. In 1655 he married the then 15-year-old Elizabeth Marchant de Saint-Michel , daughter of an impoverished French Huguenot . On March 26, 1658, Pepys underwent an extremely painful and life-threatening bladder stone operation. In the following years he celebrated the anniversary of the successful treatment as his second birthday.


Pepys' sponsor Edward Montagu; Painting by Sir Peter Lely (1666)
King James II of England

On Montagu's mediation, Pepys was given an additional position in the treasury under George Downing in 1658 . In September of that year Oliver Cromwell died, and after the brief reign of his son Richard as lord protector , the leading men in the army and navy decided in 1660 to restore the Stuart monarchy. Fortunately for Pepys, his two employers, Downing and Montagu, played a major role in the political turning maneuver from republic to monarchy. Montagu belonged to a delegation that was supposed to bring Charles II back to England from exile in the Netherlands. He was later peered for this as Lord Sandwich . Pepys accompanied him as secretary and thus experienced the return of the king and later his coronation in Westminster up close.

In the same year Pepys received another position as a clerk in the naval office, in which he continued to rise in the following years. Like his superiors, he knew how to come to terms with the new political situation. First he was promoted by Lord Sandwich, and later by Jacob, Duke of York , the king's brother. In the Naval Office, Pepys was responsible for the procurement of materials and food, i.e. for the construction, repair and equipment of the ships of the Royal Navy . Since England was fighting with Holland for supremacy on the oceans at the time, this was an influential position. It gave him many opportunities for illegal extra income, such as accepting bribes from suppliers. In 1665 Pepys was involved in the embezzlement of prize money from hijacked Dutch East Indiamans. The affair became public and Lord Sandwich, the chief culprit, had to vacate his position as admiral of the fleet. Pepys' diary entries reflect his fear of being incriminated before a committee of inquiry and losing his office. Since he had enriched himself less than others and could rely on his superior, he finally emerged from the matter unscathed. All in all, Pepys' corruption remained within the framework of what was then taken for granted. His contemporaries considered him a highly capable administrative officer. The protection that he enjoyed since the beginning of his career was justified again and again through expertise, efficiency, loyalty and reliability. After the early death of his wife at the end of 1669, he devoted himself entirely to his professional duties.

Since 1662, one of these was the office of treasurer of the English colony of Tangier , which the Portuguese Infanta Katharina von Braganza had brought as a dowry to her marriage with Charles II the year before . When the colony was to be given up in 1683 and the English garrison was to be dissolved, Pepys were sent to Tangier for this purpose. It was his only major sea voyage and he was attacked by Algerian pirates . On the return trip he also got to know Spain.

There, in Madrid, Lord Sandwich was deported as ambassador after the prize money affair . Pepys, who had distanced himself cautiously from him at the time, has since sought the protection of the Duke of York, whose faithful partisan he became. As Lord High Admiral, the king's brother was Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet for several years and thus his highest superior. Pepys' career had been closely linked to his since the mid-1670s. 1673 he was appointed Secretary to the Admiralty Commission ; In the same year he was nominated for the constituency of Castle Rising in Norfolk in the lower house elected. In 1679 he won the parliamentary seat for Harwich , which he would hold for ten years. In the same year, however, he first felt the negative consequences of his association with the Duke of York. Since he had converted to Catholicism at the end of the 1660s, the so-called Exclusion Crisis occurred between 1678 and 1682 , in which Jacob's Protestant opponents tried to exclude him from the line of succession. In the course of the national crisis, Pepys was suspected of having treacherous relations with Catholic France , which he had toured with his wife ten years earlier. He had to resign from his position as Secretary of the Admiralty and was locked in the Tower from May to July 1679 . In 1680 all charges against him were dropped.

In the Exclusion Crisis Charles II finally prevailed against parliament and after his death in 1685 the Duke of York ascended the English throne as King James II. With that, Pepys' career also reached its climax. But just four years later, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688/89 and the fall of Jacob, it ended abruptly. In the elections in February 1689 he lost his seat in parliament. A little later he refused to take the oath on the new King William of Orange and resigned as State Secretary. As a supporter of the fled king, Pepys was again imprisoned twice for short periods. The Protestant and former supporter of Cromwell was assumed to have sympathy for the Jacobites and Catholicism, which for him as a civil servant would have been a violation of the test acts . But even in this case, there was never an official charge or conviction. After his last release in 1690, Pepys devoted himself only to his private preferences and studies.

Social life

The title page of Newton's Principia Mathematica with Pepys' imprimatur
Samuel Pepys and his wife Elisabeth were buried in St Olave's on the corner of Seething Lane and Pepys Street

Samuel Pepys spoke Spanish , Italian , French and Latin and was interested in theater , literature and music . He also made music himself and played the lute , theorbo and guitar as well as the violin and flageolet . He showed a special interest in the sciences, especially in mathematics . In 1673 he was involved in founding the Royal Mathematical School at Christ's Hospital, a boarding school. It was supposed to train 40 boys a year in navigation for the war and merchant navy. In 1675 he was appointed governor of Christ's Hospital.

Samuel Pepys had already become a member of the Royal Society in 1665 , as its president from 1684 to 1686. There he experienced lectures and experiments by contemporary researchers. His large circle of friends and acquaintances included the physicist Isaac Newton , the architect Christopher Wren and the poet John Evelyn . The title page of the first edition of Newton's major work Principia Mathematica bears the imprimatur of Samuel Pepys in his function as President of the Royal Society. After his death, John Evelyn characterized Pepys as "popular, hospitable, generous and educated in many areas".


Among other things, the Bibliotheca Pepysiana at Magdalene College of the University of Cambridge , which he donated, was named after Samuel Pepys, as well as a non-existent phantom island in the Atlantic, Pepys Island . A street in the City of London very close to his former office and burial place, St Olave Hart Street , now bears his name. In 1903 the Samuel Pepys Club was founded in London, which is dedicated to the care of his memory. Its chairman since 1985 has been John Edward Hollister Montagu , the 11th Earl of Sandwich, a direct descendant of Pepys' sponsor Edward Montagu.

The secret diary

The six volumes of the diary manuscript

A few years after his death, Samuel Pepys was only known to specialists in British naval history . He only became known to the general public after his 3,100-page diaries were discovered in 1818 in the library at the University of Cambridge, which he donated in his will.

At the end of 1659 Pepys had bought his first diary from a stationery dealer on Cornhill in the City of London . On January 1, 1660, he began his daily notes and continued through May 31, 1669. By his own admission he finished the entries, because he was afraid because of eye trouble to go blind .

For officials like him it was quite common to record service events in journals and use them as a reminder. But Pepys was one of the first to write down personal experiences and views that went beyond official events. What made him do this is still unclear today. As Edward Montagus's secretary and well-informed contemporary, he was naturally aware that major political changes were imminent in 1660. Perhaps this was an incentive to record his experiences from that time. Since the diaries contained both private and business information, Pepys kept them under lock and key during his lifetime. But he must have wanted to hand them over to a distant posterity, because he had the diaries bound and incorporated into his 3,000-volume library. This in turn had to bequeath his inheritance to Cambridge University on the basis of a will from Pepys. So Samuel Pepys left it to time and chance when someone would come across his postponed notes in the Bibliotheca Pepysiana.


Pepys' diary allows a direct glimpse into everyday life in London at the end of the 17th century and into the psyche of a person at that time. In addition, it is an outstanding source of important events of the restoration era, such as the return of King Charles II, the Great Plague of 1665 or the Great Fire of London the following year.

The description of the Great Fire of London is one of the most cited passages in Pepys' diary

The particular attraction of the work is that its author - unadulterated and free of political and private considerations - deals with state actions at court and in the naval office as well as everyday experiences. The coronation celebrations for King Charles II, who has returned from exile, stand alongside descriptions of Pepys' love affairs and the quarrels with his wife Elisabeth . The author reproduces reflections on war and foreign policy with just as lively interest as reports on theater visits and executions, reading, gossip, popular moods, fashions, menus, prices and much more.

The special authenticity, honesty and unadulteratedness that distinguishes Pepys' work from most other published diaries results not only from the skilful, narrative style, but also from the author's writing technique. He used a stenographic script that most of his fellow men - including his wife - could not read. This enabled him to formulate freely and bluntly. He hardly had to fear that his notes would cause him trouble if they ever got into the wrong hands. Given some extramarital affairs and the corruption cases Pepys has been involved in over the years, he had good reason to be careful. Pepys evidently feared his wife's displeasure even more than official investigations. In order to be absolutely sure about her - and probably also out of puritanical shame - he also encrypted the descriptions of his affairs with the help of a language mixture of English, French, Latin, Greek, German, Italian and Spanish words. The diary entry of August 23, 1665 contains an example of this polyglot veiling technique:

“Yo hace ella mettre su mano to my pragma hasta hacerme hacer la cosa in su mano. Pero ella no volunt permettre que je ponebam meam manum a ella, but I do not doubt de obtenir le άλλο χρόνο. ”
( “ I got her to put her hand on my thing until she got me to close
in her hand come. But she wouldn't allow me to touch it with my hand, but I don't doubt I will get another time. " )

Despite all the precautionary measures, Elisabeth Pepys caught her husband red-handed with a maid in 1668, which was the greatest catastrophe of his life so far. A few months later he gave up the diary.

Edition history

In 1825, seven years after the diaries were rediscovered, theology student Jonathan Smith succeeded in deciphering Pepys' shorthand. As the diary of the poet John Evelyn, Pepys' friend and contemporary, had been published shortly before, the edition of his work appeared as a welcome counterpart. A first edition, which only contained excerpts from the diaries, came out in 1825. Richard Griffin-Neville, Lord Braybrooke procured it rather negligently, but nevertheless met with great interest from the English readership. It was not until the end of the 19th century that Henry Benjamin Wheatley (1838–1917) brought out a standard edition of the entire work in 10 volumes. Based on the Wheatley edition, Phil Gyford has been publishing the diary since the beginning of 2003 on a daily basis in the form of a weblog .

The authoritative edition today is the Latham & Matthews Edition. It was edited between 1970 and 1983 by Robert C. Latham , Pepys Librarian at Magdalene College , Cambridge, and William Matthews , Professor of English Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. It consists of eleven volumes, including an accompanying volume and a register volume (X and XI). The first nine volumes each contain a year of the diaries. For a long time there were only selected volumes of the diaries in German translation, which were sometimes limited to individual aspects such as “The Erotic Pepys”. The first complete German-language edition was not published until 2010.

In the English-speaking world, the popularity of secret diaries has been unbroken since the 19th century. After William Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson , Samuel Pepys is one of the most cited English authors.

Work editions


  • Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Esq. FRS Secretary to the Admiralty in the Reigns of Charles II. And James II. Comprising His Diary from 1659 to 1669, Deciphered By the Rev. John Smith, AB From the Original Shorthand Ms. , 2 volumes; Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., London [1825] (the heavily abridged first edition, edited by Richard Griffin-Neville, Lord Braybrooke)
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys , 10 volumes; edited by Henry B. Wheatley; Cambridge 1893-1899
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys - A New and Complete Transcription , 11 volumes; edited by Robert Latham and William Mattews. Bell & Hyman, London 1970-1983
  • The Shorter Pepys . Bell & Hyman, London 1985 (version of the complete edition shortened to one volume; edited by Robert Latham)
  • The Concise Pepys . Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, Wordsworth Editions, Ware, Hertfordshire 1997

German editions

Complete edition:

  • Samuel Pepys: The Diaries 1660–1669 . Edited by Gerd Haffmans and Heiko Arntz, translated by Georg Deggerich, Michael Haupt, Arnd Kösling, Hans-Christian Oeser , Martin Richter and Marcus Weigelt, 9 volumes and an accompanying volume, Haffmans Verlag bei Zweausendeins, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-942048 -18-7

Selected volumes:

  • Diary . Edited and translated by Helmut Winter. Reclam's Universal Library 9970. Reclam, Stuttgart 1980, ISBN 3-15-009970-6 . New edition: 2009, ISBN 978-3-15-010693-8 .
  • The secret diary , edited by Anselm Schlösser, transmitted by Jutta Schlösser. Insel Verlag Anton Kippenberg, Leipzig 1980, published as a licensed edition by Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-458-32337-6 .
  • The secret diaries . Edited by Volker Kriegel and Roger Willemsen , translated by Georg Deggerich. Eichborn, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-8218-3742-X .
  • The secret diary of Sir Samuel Pepys 1660–1669 . Translated and edited by Maja Schwartzkopff-Winter. Georg Müller, Munich 1931
  • The erotic pepys . Edited by Helmut Krausser and translated by Georg Deggerich, Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-8218-0772-0 .

Audio book

  • Milberg reads from the diaries of Samuel Pepys . Haffmans & Tolkemitt, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-942990-02-8 . (3 CDs with a selection of texts based on the first German complete edition, see above)


  • Arthur Bryant: Pepys: The Man in the Making 1663-1669 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1933, ISBN 0-586-06470-2 .
  • Arthur Bryant: Pepys: The Years of Peril 1669-1683 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1935, ISBN 0-586-06471-0 .
  • Arthur Bryant: Pepys: The Savior of the Navy 1683-1689 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1938, ISBN 0-586-06472-9 .
  • Richard Ollard: Pepys: A Biography . Hodder & Stoughton, London 1974, ISBN 0-19-281466-4 (published around the same time as the Latham-Matthews edition, the work benefits from the author's profound knowledge of the period of the Stuart Restoration).
  • Robert Louis Stevenson: Samuel Pepys . In: Essays, English and American, with introductions notes and Illustrations . New York 1910.
  • Claire Tomalin : Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self . Viking / Penguin, London 2002, ISBN 0-670-88568-1 (awarded the Whitbread Prize for the best biography of 2002).
  • Maureen Waller: Whores, executioners, Huguenots. Life in London around 1700 . Bergisch Gladbach 2002, ISBN 3-404-64186-8 .
  • Manfred Klotz: Pepys' Diaries and Hellmuth Karasek . In: New Stenographic Practice . No. 57 , 2009, p. 116-123 .
  • Samuel Pepy's Companion . Haffmans Verlag bei Zweausendeins, Berlin 2010 (companion volume to the first German complete edition).

Web links

Commons : Samuel Pepys  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Diary of Pepys  - Sources and full texts (English)

Individual evidence

  1. according to the Gregorian calendar , which was only introduced in England in 1752: * March 5, 1633 ; † June 6, 1703 ; see: Manfred Vasold: Pepys, Samuel. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , pp. 1120 f .; here: p. 1120.
  2. James Tyler: A Guide to Playing the Baroque Guitar. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2011, ISBN 978-0-253-22289-3 , p. 37.
  3. Biographical information on the Earl of Sandwich
  4. FAZ from December 31, 2010, page Z5: The not at all everyday everyday life in Merry old England by Martin Mosebach