Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys, the son of a tailor, John Pepys, was born in London in 1633. After being educated at St. Paul's School and Magdalene College, Cambridge, he found work as secretary to Sir Edward Montagu.

On the Restoration Montagu was given command of the royal fleet. With the help of Montagu, Pepys was appointed Clerk of the King's Ships. This was followed by Pepys becoming Survey-General of the Victualling Service (1665) and Secretary of the Admiralty (1672).

In 1678 Titus Oates announced that he had discovered a Catholic plot to kill Charles II. Oates claimed that Charles was to be replaced by his Roman Catholic brother, James. He went on to argue that after James came to the throne Protestants would be massacred in their thousands. The government believed the story and eighty people were arrested and accused of taking part in the plot. This included Pepys who was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Several people were executed, including Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh, before it was revealed that Titus Oates had been lying.

Pepys was released and in 1683 and the following year was reinstated as Secretary to the Admiralty. However, he was forced to resign after James II was ousted from power and replaced by the joint monarchs, William III and Mary II. Pepys was imprisoned by the new government and was not released until 1700. Samuel Pepys died in 1703.

Pepys, like his friend, John Evelyn, kept a diary and on his death was left to the library at Magdalene College. The diary was in code and was not deciphered and published until 1825. The diaries cover the period from January 1660 to May 1669.

Primary Sources

(1) Samuel Pepys, watched the execution of Thomas Harrison on 13th October, 1660.

I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-General Harrison, hanged, drawn, and quartered... he looked as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there were great shouts of joy... Harrison's head has been set up (on a pole) on the other side of Westminster Hall.

(2) Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary the Great Fire of London in September 1666.

Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called us up, about 3 in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my nightgown and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back side of Markelane at the furthest; but being unused to such fires as fallowed, I thought it far enough off, and so went to bed again and to sleep. About 7 rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window and saw the fire not so much as it was, and further off. So to my closet to set things to rights after yesterday's cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fishstreet by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinsons little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge - which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the Bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King's bakers house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned down St Magnes Church and most part of Fishstreet already. So I down to the water-side and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michells house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Stillyard while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the River or bringing them into lighters that lay off. Poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats or clambering from one pair of stair by the waterside to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons I perceive were loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies till they were some of them burned, their wings, and fell down.

Having stayed, and in an hour's time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody to my sight endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods and leave all to the fire; and having seen it get as far as the Steeleyard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the city, and everything, after so long a drougth, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things, the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs Horsley lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top and there burned till it fall down - I to Whitehall with a gentleman with me who desired to go off from the Tower to see the fire in my boat - to Whitehall, and there up to the King's closet in the chapel, where people came about me and I did give them an account dismayed them all; and word was carried in to the King, so I was called for and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire.