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A Day in the Life of Samuel Pepys

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A quill resting on a parchment of paper.

From 1 January, 1660 to 31 May, 16691, Samuel Pepys kept a meticulous daily record of his activities. His diary is one of the most fascinating works in the English language, detailing events such as the Great Fire of London, the misery of the plague and the drama of the Restoration of the Monarchy from a touchingly personal perspective. The work is also notable for its treatment of everyday events and the trivialities of life, making it the superior of a great many other more narrowly focussed primary sources.

This h2g2 Entry analyses just one of the 3,064 entries that make up the diary.

Sunday 14 October, 1660

(Lord's day). Early to my Lord's, in my way meeting with Dr Fairbrother, who walked with me to my father's back again, and there we drank my morning draft, my father having gone to church and my mother asleep in bed. Here he caused me to put my hand among a great many honorable hands to a paper or certificate in his behalf. To White Hall chappell, where one Dr Crofts made an indifferent sermon, and after it an anthem, ill sung, which made the King laugh. Here I first did see the Princess Royal since she came into England. Here I also observed, how the Duke of York and Mrs Palmer did talk to one another very wantonly through the hangings that parts the King's closet and the closet where the ladies sit. To my Lord's, where I found my wife, and she and I did dine with my Lady (my Lord dining with my Lord Chamberlain), who did treat my wife with a good deal of respect. In the evening we went home through the rain by water in a sculler, having borrowed some coats of Mr Sheply. So home, wet and dirty, and to bed.2

London in October 1660

London in 1660 was a very exciting place to live. Indeed, the events of the time were so momentous that they inspired Pepys to begin keeping a diary. His entry for 14 October, with its recording of the return of the Princess Royal and allusions to royal gossip, depicts a society that was yet to emerge from a period of major change. This change was the restoration of the monarchy, the effects of which are a significant theme of the early months of the diary.

By the start of 1660 the republican Commonwealth was in a seriously precarious position. With the army of General Monk making its presence felt in London, Parliament had been restored to its un-purged size. In April the largely royalist Convention Parliament assembled; it declared that Charles II was the rightful monarch on 8 May, allowing him to return 15 days later. On 29 August, the Oblivion and Indemnity Act setting out the nature of anti-royalist reprisals became law. In accordance with Charles' promises made while in exile, all but those who had been directly involved in the execution of Charles I (the 'regicides') were pardoned. This group of condemned men was made up of just 31 people, some of who were able to obtain a pardon by demonstrating loyalty to the new King. Others fled to Europe and America - Pepys' boss at the start of the diary - George Downing (of Downing Street fame) ruthlessly tracked down three of them. Ten regicides suffered the worst of English punishments3: being hung, drawn and quartered. The first of these executions took place in October 1660; the week beginning on 14 October is one of the bloodiest in the diary.

The Events of 14 October, 1660

On Sunday, 14 October Pepys rises by seven o'clock and leaves his house in Seething Lane. As he walks through the city's narrow, dirty streets to the house of Sir Edward Montagu, it is likely that his thoughts are turned to the exciting events of the previous day4. A meeting with Dr William Fairbrother interrupts his reverie and provides Pepys with a walking companion to his father's house, in Salisbury Court off Fleet Street. Before drinking a liquid breakfast of beer, Pepys notices that his mother has failed to go to church.

On 8 July, 1660 Pepys writes that Fairbrother - a family friend and Cambridge acquaintance - had 'perfectly procured me to be made Master in Arts by proxy'; on 3 October, he had brought Pepys' wife home in a coach, as it was raining. Today it is Fairbrother's turn to request a favour, and he persuades Pepys to endorse a certificate for him. Pepys, whose work in the navy dockyard frequently demands that he sign documents on the move, makes a careful note of the certificate's other signatories before signing.

Next Pepys heads to the magnificent Whitehall Palace, a former Episcopal residence that was taken over and greatly enlarged by Henry VIII. Inside he is privileged enough to attend church with the King in Whitehall Chapel, and is amused at Charles II's laughter at the poor singing of Dr Croft. Numerous other royals are at church, including Mary, the Princess Royal, who has recently arrived in England from the continent. Pepys' description of the conduct of James Stuart, Duke of York, and Barbara Palmer shows his satisfaction at his inclusion in society's inner-circle. At this time Palmer's privileged position as Charles II's mistress was not an 'open secret'; Pepys suggests that he is beginning to have an understanding of Palmer's special relationship with the King, and carefully records his astute social observation on what she is able to 'get away with' at court. Furthermore, his criticism of the Duke of York's behaviour with an attractive young woman is related to the gossip, some of which was erroneous, that he had learned the previous Sunday: speaking in French, so that the unprivileged servants could not understand, Edward Montagu had told Pepys that the Duke of York had got Anne Hyde, daughter of the Lord Chancellor, pregnant and that King Charles and the Duke of York had disagreed over marriage5. Pepys is aware of what is going on, and proud of it.

After church, Pepys finds that his lord has gone to dine with his cousin. With no indication that yesterday's domestic animosity has endured, he enjoys a meal with his wife and Lady Montagu. After worshipping with the King and finding himself privy to royal gossip, Pepys notes with satisfaction the respect that the wife of his benefactor gives to him and Elizabeth. In the evening, Pepys and his wife make the 3km (2 mile) journey home by boat on the Thames. Boatmen are not supposed to work on Sunday, but Pepys' position as a civil servant allows him to dispense with this rule. Perhaps due to reduced numbers of people working, or maybe to spite Elizabeth, the couple borrow coats and take a 'sculler' home. This type of boat is rowed by only one oarsman, and is cheaper and slower than other modes of water transport. After making the difficult and often frightening navigation of the narrow arches of London Bridge in the rain, Pepys arrives home cold and wet.

Cast of Characters

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys was born in London on 23 February, 1633. The son of a tailor, he was educated at St Paul's School, in London. Like many other attendees, Pepys was able to get enough time off from his studies to watch the execution of Charles I on 30 January, 1649. Eleven years later - after studying at Magdalene College, Cambridge and marrying Elizabeth St Michel in 1655 - Pepys was working for George Downing at the Exchequer and living in Axe Yard. On the return of Charles II, Pepys - through the patronage of Sir Edward Montagu - secured the position of Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. Although this made him a high-ranking official in the civil service, Pepys suspected that his colleagues might have viewed him as a mere registrar rather than an equal. This can go some way to explain his frequent criticism of Sir William Penn, a colleague, and his many diary entries - including on 14 October - that show a consciousness of his social standing.

A perk of Pepys' appointment as secretary to the Navy Board was the entitlement to a house, near the naval offices, in the City of London. The diarist's previous house, Axe Yard in Whitehall, had been small and in an undesirable area. His new property, in Seething Lane near the Tower of London, was much larger and nicer to live in. Dwelling so close to his workplace enabled Samuel to become a diligent and respected official; and Pepys often spent a summer's evening out 'on the leads' of his house, looking down on everything after a satisfyingly hard day's work. In October, the house still had a new feel to it and Samuel and Elizabeth spent a great deal of time improving their home. Although some serious work was commissioned - such as the re-flooring of the dining room on 4 September and the plastering of the kitchen - Elizabeth undertook much of the petty purchasing with varying levels of approval from her husband.

During these weeks of prosperity and relative quiet, Pepys fills his spare time with drinking with friends, going to the theatre and taking an interest in the sensational regicide trials. On Thursday 11 October, he visits two pubs - 'The Leg' in King Street and 'Hercules Pillars' off Fleet Street - and goes to the 'Cockpit' to see The Merchant of Venice.

Sir Edward Montagu (my Lord)

Born in Northamptonshire on 27 July, 1625, Montagu was educated at grammar school in Huntingdon before marrying Jemima Crew (see below) in 1642. Aged 18, he became a colonel on the parliamentarian side in the English Civil War and saw action at the battles of Marston Moor and Naseby. When not a member of parliament, Montagu resided at Hinchingbrooke near Oliver Cromwell's native Huntingdon. His relationship with Cromwell came to fruition in 1656 with his appointment as a general at sea. During this time Pepys came into the service of Montagu, at first acting as his servant and secretary. By 1660 Pepys was playing a much more important role, providing inside information of the events of the restoration as Montagu successfully made the difficult transition from parliamentarian to monarchist. Soon after the return of Charles II, Sir Edward Montagu became the Earl of Sandwich and secured an important naval position. In a shrewd utilisation of his power of patronage, Montagu secured Pepys' position on the Navy Board in mid-1660. Although Pepys maintained a close relationship with Sandwich's wife, the two men drifted apart. Sandwich served in the navy and as Ambassador to Spain for over a decade, until his death at the hands of the Dutch on 28 May, 1672.

Dr William Fairbrother

William Fairbrother is mentioned several times in the diary, usually in connection with Cambridge University or a country relative. Pepys only refers to Fairbrother as 'Dr' eleven days earlier, as he had only just been made a doctor of laws.

John Pepys (my father)

Born in 1601 as the third son of Thomas Pepys 'the Black', John Pepys became a tailor's apprenticeship off Fleet Street when aged 14. It appears that he lived in the Fleet St area of London until early 1661, when he moved to a newly inherited property in Brampton, Cambridgeshire. John Pepys' letters to his son are often crude and ill-cultured - this, perhaps, explains Samuel's aloofness towards his father. Pepys Snr lived throughout the period of the diary, and is a frequently occurring character. He died in October 1680.

Margaret Pepys (my mother)

Margaret Pepys (née Kite) married John Pepys on 15 October, 1626 - on the day after this entry's focus, Samuel visits his parents, 'there being a very great dinner' in celebration of their anniversary. Margaret is described by Latham and Matthews as 'tetchy, improvident and invalidish' - an assertion that is supported by Pepys' account of her sacrilegious lie-in on 14 October. She died on 25 March, 1667.

Dr Herbert Croft, Bishop of Hereford

Born on 18 October, 1603, Herbert Croft spent part of his early life studying in France for entry into the Jesuit order. After conversion to the Church of England in the 1630s Croft became an established royalist, leading to his loss of power and position during the interregnum. Surprisingly, the offer of a significant promotion was not made to Croft at the restoration, forcing him to wait until late 1661 to become bishop of Hereford. Although on this occasion Pepys is critical of Croft, those who knew him regarded him as a charitable man, fervently opposed to popery in his later life. Croft died on 18 May, 1691.

King Charles II (the King)

King Charles II was born in 1630, meaning that many of his formative years were occupied with his involvement in the Civil War. After spending the majority of the years from 1646 to 1660 in exile, Charles returned home to England in May 1660 following the disintegration of the power of the Commonwealth. Pepys had been personally involved with Charles's return home, and had accompanied Edward Montagu on the trip to the Netherlands to collect the King. As a struggling clerk just three years younger than the King - and with his Puritan sympathies still not ideologically eradicated - Pepys noted the humanity of the King, writing that the King's dog did 'shit in the boat... me think that a King and all that belong to him are but just as others are'. In October 1660, Charles II had not been crowned, nor had he fully secured his position as unchallenged national leader. Perhaps even by the next year he had still not earned Pepys' full respect as, at the King's coronation, Pepys wrote 'I had so great a lust to pisse, that I went out a little while before the King had done all his ceremonies'.

Mary, Princess Royal

Mary, Charles II's 28 year-old sister, had arrived in England from the Netherlands in the previous month. Although Pepys had met her several times, and Edward Montagu had been among the party dispatched to fetch her, she is not an important figure in the diary. The greatest event of her stay in England was her death - on 24 December, 1660 - of smallpox, worsened by bloodletting.

James, Duke of York and Lord High Admiral

14 October, 1660 was the Duke of York's 27th birthday, making him the same age as Samuel Pepys. Although slightly younger than Pepys, James Stuart's office in the navy was considerably higher than that of the Clerk of the Acts. Indeed, as Lord High Admiral James had overall control of the Royal Navy and was Pepys' superior. In the same way that Pepys was somewhat jealously critical of his superior William Penn, one can imagine him resenting a superior who gained high-office by nepotism rather than the hard work that Pepys put in as he endeavoured to better himself. There is some fairness in Pepys' criticism of the 'wanton' behaviour of the Duke of York: James had several mistresses after 1660, and had Anne Hyde well before they were married. In the same manner as his treatment of Charles II's defaecating dogs, Pepys keenly noticed any revealing discontinuities in James' regal demeanour. On 20 April, 1661 for example, he noted that he 'saw the Duke dress himself, and in his night habitt he is a very plain man.'

Mrs Barbara Palmer, later Countess Castlemaine

Barbara Palmer, baptised in 1640, is now famous as the mistress of Charles II. On 25 February, 1661 she gave birth to the King's illegitimate daughter, Anne - she was, therefore, pregnant at the time of Pepys' diary entry. Pepys views Palmer with sympathy and often adoration, and is appreciative of her great beauty. On 23 August, 1662 he wrote: 'my Lady Castlemaine stood over against us upon a piece of White Hall, where I glutted myself with looking on her...' On the same day he writes, perhaps with knowing irony, of the distant manner in which Castlemaine and her husband conduct themselves. She died on 11 August, 1709.

Elizabeth Pepys (my wife)

Samuel Pepys' wife was born in Devon on 23 October, 1640. With a French father, Elizabeth was fluent in two languages and had spent her youth living in both France and England. She married Pepys on 10 October, 1655, when she was 15 and he 22; unlike many marriages at the time, the couple appear to have wedded for love rather than money. Although Pepys is sometimes loving and appreciative of his wife, often their relationship is one of domestic strife. The day before 14 October, Pepys had quarrelled with his wife over her untidiness and, in a rage, 'kicked the little fine basket, which I bought her in Holland'. Despite easily becoming angry or jealous, Pepys' temper often cools and he becomes sorrowful at treating Elizabeth badly. In this case, his destruction of the basket 'troubled me after I had done it'. The couple's relationship was childless, a problem that Pepys blamed on his wife - in the manner of the day he never (in the diary at least) links this infertility with the fact that he never fathered a child with any of his several mistresses. In the face of her husband's insensitivity, Elizabeth developed a strongly independent character; her failure to submit to her husband's authority is a frequent cause of upset. She died on 10 November 1669, probably from typhoid contracted in Europe.

Jemima Montagu (my lady)

Born in 1625, it is likely that Jemima Montagu was acquainted with Pepys during childhood. Certainly, their relationship is closer than that of mere acquaintances through her husband. Pepys often dines with Lady Montagu when he is at Whitehall or visiting Sir Edward on business; sometimes they venture out to the theatre, or to court. Jemima had many children, including two born in the same year in 1655, and Pepys is comfortable in their presence. On 10 June, 1661 an important visitor arrives at dinner 'so the children and I rose and dined by ourselves, all the children and I, and were very merry and they mighty fond of me'.

Edward Montagu, Second Earl of Manchester (Lord Chamberlain)

The cousin of the other Edward Montagu, Manchester played a major role on the side of parliament in the Civil War. However, his pragmatic approach to the question of dealing with Charles I - particularly his opposition to the King's trial - allowed Manchester to gain power in the 1660 restoration. The office of Lord Chamberlain, to which he was appointed to in 1660, was both powerful and desirable to have. Among its duties included acting as the court's chief functionary, and the regulation of London's theatrical performances.

Edward Shipley (Mr Shepley)

He was a servant of the Montagues. Although not a particularly important acquaintance of Pepys, the two men share the same employer and sometimes drink together.

Further Information

1All dates in this entry take the start of the year as 1 January. In the actual diary, dates before Lady Day (25 March) are written '1 January 1659/60'.2All quotations in this entry come from the 1893 edition of the diary, edited by H B Wheatley, which is now in the public domain. Although fairly decent for general reading, the 'values' of Victorian Britain demanded that content of a sexual or biological nature was frequently deleted. Researchers with access to a decent library or with several hundred pounds to spare would do well to read the definitive R Latham and W Matthews (1970-83) edition, published in eleven rather nice green and red hardback volumes.3It was not the worst of known punishments, however. The French - pioneers of absolutist monarchy - had even more brutal ritual for dealing with regicides. Researchers with weak stomachs are advised not to read the first few pages of Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault.4After going to Montagu's on Saturday morning, Pepys had gone to watch the brutal execution of Thomas Harrison, before returning home to quarrel with his wife and put up some shelves.5In reality, the Duke of York and Anne Hyde had already married on 3 September. A son was born on 22 October.

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