The Diary of Samuel Pepys

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The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys 1825

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Key Figures
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading


The Diary of Samuel Pepys has been called a literary work like no other. Unlike other diarists of his time, Pepys had no aspirations for publication. This freed him up to paint a frank, uncensored portrait of life in London at the time of the Restoration. Throughout the work, which spans from 1660 to 1669, Pepys offers his firsthand perspective on the major events during the Restoration, including his own role in helping to bring Charles II back from exile to become king, and his aid in both the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. This coverage gives The Diary of Samuel Pepys a historic distinction as well as a literary one.

Pepys did his part to make sure that prying eyes could not read his work during his lifetime. He wrote The Diary of Samuel Pepys in a cryptic code, which was his own variation on an existing form of shorthand. Fearing that he was going blind from writing, Pepys stopped recording entries in his diary in 1669 and had his entire diary bound for his personal library, which he left to Magdalene College, Cambridge University—his alma mater. It wasn't rediscovered until 1819, more than one hundred fifty years later, at which point the Master of the College had a student decipher Pepys's codes. The first edition was edited by Lord Braybrooke and released in an abridged form in 1825 in two volumes. It has since been revised and enlarged to six volumes, ten volumes, and finally, eleven volumes—the complete diary.

This entry studies the abridged, one-volume Modern Library edition, released in 2001, which is widely available.

Author Biography

Samuel Pepys was born in London, England on February 23, 1633. One of eleven children, he ended up becoming the eldest of only three who survived to adulthood. Pepys grew up in a household of humble means. His mother was the sister of a butcher and his father was a poor tailor, barely able to collect money for his services. Pepys's one family asset was his father's first cousin, Edward Montagu, the first Earl of Sandwich, who would grow to become his close friend and patron.

In his pupil days, Pepys was sent to St. Paul's School in London. The English Civil War was well under way, and he witnessed the beheading of Charles I. In 1650, he went to Magdalene College at Cambridge University, where he received his bachelor's degree. In 1655, Pepys, then twenty-two, married fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Marchant de St. Michel, the daughter of a penniless Huguenot refugee.

After completing school Pepys worked as a secretary and domestic steward for his successful cousin. By 1659, Pepys was a minor clerk for the office of George Downing, an office that would have him carry letters to Montagu in the Baltic. One year later, in 1660, Pepys began The Diary of Samuel Pepys. That same year, Montagu hired Pepys to be the Admiral's secretary for a voyage. The journey turned out to be the historic voyage to Holland, where Charles II is escorted back to England for the restoration of the monarchy in England.

Upon his return to England, Pepys was hired as the Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, where he would take on such duties as justice of the peace; supervisor of naval supply distribution; and appointee to the Tangier Committee. Pepys moved up the ranks in the Royal Navy, and was on hand to assist with the two great disasters of the time, the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. In November, 1669, after fifteen years of a rocky but loving marriage, Elizabeth Pepys died of fever. In 1673, Pepys was made secretary to the Admiralty Commission, the administrative head of the naval department. Later that same year, he became an elected member of Parliament for Castle Rising, Norfolk. In this position, through legislation and personal intervention, he put an end to the flagrant corruption of the supply yards and even won allowances for thirty new ships. By 1685, Pepys was given a free hand to develop the royal Navy as he saw fit.

Pepys retired in 1689 and spent the remainder of his life writing the only piece of work he saw published, Memoires Relating to the State of the Royal Navy of England. He died on May 26, 1703, and was buried in St. Olave's Church, London, next to his wife.

Plot Summary


Pepys starts The Diary of Samuel Pepys on January 1, 1660, with a summary of the latest events of the times. After the defeat of Oliver Cromwell, England is seeking a new king. The decision is made to crown Charles II, who is in exile in France.

Pepys is asked by his employer, Lord Montagu (generally referred to throughout the diary as his "Lord"), to accompany him and his fleet on the journey to bring back the exiled son of King Charles I. Pepys serves as secretary to the Admiral on this historic journey.

Upon his return, Pepys starts a new administrative position as Clerk of the Acts for the Navy Board, a position that includes a new house for him and his wife. Fiercely devoted to his wife, he nevertheless records many experiences where he looks at, kisses, and "dallies with" other women, a trend that he will continue throughout The Diary of Samuel Pepys, and a trend that will slowly invoke the ire of his wife, Elizabeth. Also, on a number of occasions, he notes how his excessive drinking is making him ill. Due to widespread unrest in Parliament, the new king, Charles II, dissolves it.


Pepys comes in for dinner one night and finds a Frenchman kissing his wife, although he does not make a big deal out of it. Following their Valentine's day tradition, Pepys and his wife swap gifts with another couple. Because of his increasing stature and salary, Pepys is able to afford such luxuries as fixing his wife's teeth and buying her expensive lace and other clothing.

Pepys is present at the official Coronation for Charles II, April 23, 1661, where he witnesses the event itself and then takes part in the celebration. The next morning, Pepys has a hangover, which he cures by drinking hot chocolate, a common remedy for settling upset stomachs.

He goes to see Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, which he enjoys thoroughly. His sister, Pall, whose unmarried status is a burden to her father, is sent to visit Pepys, although he finds her annoying and sends her back home.


Pepys mentions the vow that he has made to himself to give up wine. In the coming years, he will break this vow on occasion, and make and break others, including abstaining from women and plays. He attends a performance of Shakepeare's Romeo and Juliet and hates it. Although his reputation and salary continue to increase, Pepys informs his wife that their spending habits will not.

Pepys and Sir William help fund a group of sailors whose wages have not been paid for their service—in large part due to the disorganization of the English Navy. Lady Montagu, the wife of Pepys's Lord, tells Pepys about Lady Castlemaine, a woman striving to be a mistress of the court. Pepys falls in love with Lady Castlemaine. On April 15, the Queen arrives from her native France to take up residence.

At the end of June, Pepys expresses concern in The Diary of Samuel Pepys over uneasy conditions in the king's court which are similar to those that got his father, Charles I, beheaded. Lady Castlemaine has a falling out with her husband and, much to Pepys's chagrin, moves to her brother's house in Richmond.

Pepys's star is rising and as a result, he starts to receive invitations to the king's court. He sees Shakepeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and denounces it. Pepys's wife is unhappy in their marriage, and sends him a letter telling him so. He refuses to read it, and burns it in front of her face to discourage such behavior.


Pepys's wife tries again to talk about their marital problems but he will hear none of it. They make up shortly thereafter. Pepys hears many accounts about the various scandals going on at Whitehall, the king's residence. Most of them involve the fact that Pepys is shunning the company of his wife in favor of Lady Castlemaine and Lady Stewart, both of whom he is living with. He hears news about the Turks's advancement into Germany, where they capture Hungary. The queen grows ill and shortly thereafter, news arrives that the bubonic plague is in Amsterdam.


News of the plague's advancement toward England increases. On February 9 the Dutch take control of the southern seas near India and restrict trade to all but themselves. The king passes a bill in the House of Commons repealing both the Triennial Act and the Writs of Errour.


In the beginning of the year the Royal Navy patrols the waters, searching for Dutch ships. In March, England declares war on Holland, starting the second Anglo-Dutch War. The disorganized Navy is short of money and cannot feed many of its sailors, and Pepys can not do much about it. Pepys hears news that the plague is in some parts of the city. By June, Pepys learns that the Royal Navy is gaining ground on the Dutch.

The plague hits London, and Dr. Burnett, one of Pepys's good friends, contracts it. In the summer months, more than six thousand people die per week, and anybody with money flees the city. Pepys bravely chooses to stay behind to help keep the Navy's affairs in order. As fall comes and the weather gets colder, the plague starts to die out.


In June the Dutch receive fresh reinforcement ships and the Royal Navy, already out numbered, loses the battle. By the end of June the Dutch have control of the waters and are hunting for British ships. The Great Fire of London is started by accident on September 2 and it lasts for three days. Pepys's house is across the Thames River and is not in danger. Nevertheless he crosses the river and puts himself in harm's way to offer his assistance to the residents of the neighborhood. After three days the fire appears to be out, but the next day the fire starts again and rages for a couple more days, burning Pepys's house before it goes out for good. At the end of the year, the king pays Lady Castlemaine's debts and she and her husband go their separate ways.


Pepys sees Shakespeare's Macbeth and enjoys it. In February a Frenchman is falsely accused and executed for starting the Great Fire. On June 8, Dutch ships attack the town of Harwich, and the king orders the construction of a bridge so that the town's residents have an escape route. A few days later the Dutch launch another attack and the king orders a retaliation. The Royal Navy loses the battle and the British people blame the failure on its sailors.

In July, a pregnant Lady Castlemaine is sent away from the court but she vows that the king will own her child, whom she says will be christened at Whitehall. The person who tells Pepys this also tells him that people are talking about how immoral the court is.


Rumors spread about a possible dissolution of Parliament. By July, Pepys thinks he is starting to go blind and begins to have bloodlettings to try to cure his eyes. By December Pepys has enough money to buy his own coach. Throughout the year Pepys's wife gets sick frequently.


Pepys's wife is sick again at the beginning of the year. Pepys notes that Lady Castlemaine has returned. Although she is not staying at Whitehall, she does work to try to manipulate the king. On March 25, Pepys fights in court to try to remove the corrupt element from the Royal Navy. Pepys's wife is sick on and off again during the year. Thinking he is going blind from the strain of too much reading and writing, Pepys officially ends The Diary of Samuel Pepys on May 31, 1669.

Key Figures

Sir William Batten

Sir William Batten is the surveyor on the Naval Board where Pepys is Clerk of the Acts. Pepys confesses in his memoirs not to like the man, although he does attend the man's parties, where he has a good time. In their professional lives, Batten and Pepys occasionally quarrel about certain matters, such as choosing masters for the fleet. Pepys really invokes Batten's ire when Pepys finds a timber contract that is better for the navy. By switching contracts, Pepys takes away Batten's percentage that Batten was getting from the other contract.

Sir George Carteret

Sir George Carteret is the Treasurer on the Naval Board, and is a concern of Pepys's on certain occasions. Pepys treads very carefully around Carteret, although he does help arrange the marriage between Carteret's son and the Earl of Sandwich's daughter.

Lady Barbara Palmer Castlemaine

Lady Castlemaine is one of the women for whom Pepys lusts, and one of the only ones that he does not actually have an affair with. She is a woman who is quite cunning and manipulative in getting what she wants. She inserts herself into the King's court at White Hall, where their affair is noted by both the Queen and the citizens of England. Castlemaine has the King help her separate from her husband, and even gets pregnant by the King. She manipulates the king in other ways, including squandering public funding for her own personal use.

Sir William Coventry

Sir William Coventry is the Secretary to the Lord High Admiral when Pepys assumes his post as Clerk of the Acts. Throughout his career, Pepys comes to rely on Coventry for advice and support, especially in highly political dealings. It is Coventry who advises Pepys on how to handle Parliamentary committees when Pepys must defend himself and the Naval Board at a hearing. In his career, Coventry is also appointed one of the commissioners in the navy.

Sir George Downing

Sir George Downing is Pepys's original boss at the Exchequer. As the English resident at The Hague in Holland, Downing works to deprive the Dutch of their trade. He is also a voice for financial reform by instituting a form of national bank that would mimic his old Exchequer.

First Earl of Sandwich

See Edward Montagu

Nell Gwyn

Nell Gwyn is one of the first actresses in the new theater, which allows women to act on stage, where only men could before. Pepys meets her backstage and is smitten with her. They have many amorous encounters.

William Hewer

William Hewer is Pepys's hired assistant who starts out a lowly servant in Pepys's house. However, they quickly strike up a friendship, and Hewer helps Pepys out with paperwork in his office and in many other ways over the years. These include helping Pepys with his affairs in Tangier and acting as go-between in the fight Pepys has with his wife over his adulterous relations with Deb Willet.

James, Duke of York

James, the Duke of York, is King Charles II's brother, whom Pepys works for during his long career as Clerk of the Acts. When The Diary of Samuel Pepys begins, James is in exile with his brother. Upon their return, the Duke of York assumes the title of Lord High Admiral of the navy, and the Navy Board reports to him. The Duke confides in Pepys often during Pepys's service, including confidential matters where Pepys writes memos in the King's or Duke's name. The Duke also listens to his warmongering advisors, who convince him and his brother to restore England's reputation by attacking the Dutch, a move which eventually weakens the already weak English naval fleet.

Betty Lane

See Betty Martin

Doll Lane

Doll Lane is Betty Lane's sister, with whom Pepys also has many amorous encounters.

Betty Martin

Betty Martin, who is Betty Lane when the narrative starts, is one of the women who Pepys frequently visits when he is in an amorous mood. When she is young and single, Pepys is fiercely attracted to her and enjoys many afternoons with her. When he starts to tire of her, however, he helps her to get married off. After she is married, he decides that he wants her again, and so they start up their affairs. Pepys renews these affairs later in life when he is desperate for female attention, even though he admits that she's not as pretty as she used to be.

Media Adaptations

The Diary of Samuel Pepys was produced as an audio book in 1996 by the HighBridge Company. The book is read by Kenneth Branagh.

Edward Montagu

Edward Montagu is Samuel Pepys's illustrious first cousin, who also holds the title of the first Earl of Sandwich. It is through Edward that Samuel receives much financial support for his business ventures in London. When Pepys finishes his education, it is the Earl who first hires him as a secretary and domestic steward. Edward realizes that his cousin is trustworthy and, consequently, assigns him as admiral secretary to his fleet which goes to pick up Charles II and transport him back to England. After this successful venture, Sandwich becomes Pepys's patron, guiding him in his career, and securing him many posts, including Clerk of the Acts for the navy, the first position that Pepys holds, and the one that leads to other appointments. Although Sandwich is looked upon highly by most others, he gets into trouble when his fleet loses to the Dutch ships in a battle and when he is seen in public having an affair with a common woman.

Sir William Penn

Sir William Penn is a commissioner for the navy, and Pepys doesn't like him. They often clash when it comes to official affairs of the navy.

Elizabeth Pepys

Elizabeth is Samuel Pepys's wife. She comes from a poor French family of good stature. The relationship she has with her husband is very turbulent but filled with love. As Pepys's success and financial status grows, he does not allow her as many opportunities to be involved with social circles as she would like. Instead, she is left to stay at home the majority of the time and manage household duties. She becomes increasingly jealous of Pepys's extramarital affairs, and after she catches him "embracing" her maid, Deb Willet, she casts Willet out of the house and takes control of her husband once and for all, making sure he doesn't have any other affairs.

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys is the author and narrator of The Diary of Samuel Pepys. A passionate man, he applies his zeal to many areas of his life. At the start of the narrative, Pepys is in London living with his wife, Elizabeth. After helping his illustrious cousin Edward Montagu (the Earl of Sandwich) on the historic voyage to bring back Charles II to England, Sandwich helps secure Pepys's position as Clerk of the Acts for the Naval Board. This major event sets the stage for Pepys's rise in status, both in the navy and in London society. Pepys has monstrous appetites for food, women, and money, and his adulterous affairs sometimes cause him pain or get him in trouble with his wife. He is also a fan of the theater, dancing, and the other arts. Over the course of the narrative, Pepys works to root out corruption in the navy, commits some of his own corruption, and is an eyewitness to major historical events of the time. These include the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666, two events where he helps keep order. Pepys ends his narrative in 1669, when he thinks he is going blind.

Charles Stuart, II

Charles II is the king during most of the years in Pepys's diary. Forced to flee to Holland after the execution of his father, Charles I, Charles II eventually receives an invitation to return to England after the overthrow of Oliver Cromwell's regime. In 1660, he is officially named King of England and placed on the throne. Much to the relief of his subjects, Charles restores the country to its normal state after the strict Puritan influence of Cromwell's rule. Among other things, Charles has all drinking, dancing, gambling, and theater-going reinstated. However, his own tendency to engage in extramarital affairs, most notably with Lady Castlemaine and Lady Stewart, does not sit well with his constituents. Also, he is constantly fighting with Parliament to get funds to support his navy, and Parliament increasingly requires more information as to why he needs this money. Pepys is often the one who speaks on behalf of the navy's need for funds.

Frances Stuart

Frances Stuart, another mistress who wins the favor of King Charles II in court, is of particular interest to Samuel Pepys. His opinion of Lady Stuart is that she is the most beautiful of all of the women at court. Stuart comes into court as the replacement to Lady Castlemaine in the king's royal affections.

Deb Willet

A hired servant for the Pepys household, Samuel hires Willet as a maid for his wife. However, Pepys finds that he is extremely attracted to her innocence, and begins making advances toward her, which she initially denies. When she finally relents and starts an affair with Pepys, his wife finds out. Deb is forced to leave her position and move to Whetstone's Park, a noted place of prostitution.



Pepys's capacity for infidelity is almost legendary. Shortly after he begins The Diary of SamuelPepys, Pepys displays an ever-increasing need for his extramarital affairs. On May 20, 1660, when he is in the Netherlands to help escort Charles II back to England, Pepys takes a break from his labors and drinks too much. He then goes to sleep in his room, "where in another bed there was a pretty Dutch woman in bed alone, but though I had a month's-mind I had not the boldness to go to her."

Although Pepys can not bring himself to cheat on his wife on this first voyage away from home, he is not shy for long. On August 12, 1660, he drinks wine with Mrs. Lane, then "I [Pepys] was exceedingly free in dallying with her, and she not unfree to take it." To add insult to injury, this first recorded transgression takes place on "Lord's Day," or the Sabbath. In the Protestant faith, Sundays were to be used for reflection, so Pepys was being unfaithful to his religion as well as his wife by partaking of such acts on the Sabbath.

However, even though Pepys's exploits fill many pages of his memoirs, the affairs that had a more lasting effect on all of England were the scandals at the court of Charles II. The Palace of Whitehall, where the king and his court resided, gradually became known for the lascivious behavior that occurred there. These infidelities only added to the instability of the crown. Pepys hears that the Queen is upset that over the king's "neglecting her, he having not supped once with her this quarter of a year, and almost every night with my Lady Castlemaine." Just as Pepys's infidelity threatens his marriage, the king's infidelity threatens the whole of England. Since the king cannot provide stability in his own marriage, many of the citizens doubt he can achieve the stability that they desire in England.

Topics for Further Study

  • Research the types and styles of entertainment most popular during the 1660s, then compare this to the types of popular entertainment available today. Based on what has happened in entertainment in the past four centuries, discuss what types of popular entertainment you think will be available four centuries from now.
  • Pepys's diary gives an account of an English naval administrator during the 1660s and as a result, offers an aristocratic perspective. Research the history of the English navy during this time period and write a few sample diary pages from the perspective of a common English sailor.
  • In The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Pepys makes many entries about the food that he eats, and food plays an important part in the vitality of the country, especially in the navy. Research the types of food that people ate in 1660s England, including the prices of these foods. Create a sample menu with descriptions and prices, which might be used in a tavern in the time period.
  • Pepys was noted for his interest in science, a field in which there was growing interest. Research the scientific advancements that took place during the 1660s. Pick one and write a paper explaining how it either has or has not benefited modern society.
  • Imagine you are going to travel back in time and spend a day in London during the 1660s. Research the acceptable social behaviors of the time period and write down ten tips on what not to do while you are on your trip.

Women's Roles

Throughout the narrative Pepys demonstrates derogatory attitudes toward women that were common at the time. Although Pepys loves his wife, he does not permit her to talk back to him. On November 13, 1662, when she sends him a letter letting him know how unhappy she is, he is "in a quandary what to do, whether to read it or not, but I purpose not, but to burn it before her face, that I may put a stop to more of this nature." Pepys's view of a wife is the dutiful woman who takes care of the house and satisfies his needs. However, his wife, Elizabeth, does not live up to his exacting standards for either housekeeping or love, and so Pepys chooses to hire maids and have affairs.

In some cases, he accomplishes both goals, as with the maid, Deb Willet, the most tragic case in the narrative. As he does in other places throughout the work, Pepys recounts how he has asserted his influence and power to convince other girls to satisfy his needs. Willet is a young girl who tries to avoid her master's amorous advances. However, she works for Pepys, so she eventually begins to give in to some intimate acts with Pepys to save her job. This goes on until October 25, 1668, when Elizabeth catches Pepys "embracing the girl." It is the last straw for Elizabeth and she forces Pepys to throw the girl out. Pepys inquires after Willet a little while later, and finds that she is destitute, forced to live in "Whetstone's Park, where I never was before." The park is known for its prostitution and Pepys feels bad, writing that it "does trouble me mightily that the poor girle should be in a desperate condition forced to go thereabouts."

However, Pepys is not so worried about Willet's potential future as a prostitute that he forgets his own lust for her. When he finds her he uses her again, then cautions her "to have a care of her honour" and to not let any other man touch her. Of course, in England at this time, the odds of the girl being able to take Pepys's advice are slim. Her shame at getting kicked out of the Pepys household is hers alone and he will accept no blame. This mark on her record would follow her to any other job, and so one of the only avenues left to a single woman with no prospects for employment or marriage would be prostitution.



Pepys narrates his memoirs in an honest reporting style noted by critics as unlike any other diary in history. Pepys never intended his memoirs for publication, and as a result recorded both common and historic daily events with a reporter's style of description. For example, on October 13, 1660, Pepys describes the historic event of the execution of one of Charles I's enemies as follows: "I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered." In the same entry, Pepys relates the events of his comparatively ordinary afternoon, "setting up shelves in my study."

Pepys's description gets more detailed when he is suitably inspired. One of the most famous examples from the narrative is Pepys's description of the Great Fire of London in 1666, in which he offers his assistance. Says Pepys in an unusually descriptive diary entry on September 2, 1666: "The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter of burning, as pitch and tarr, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oyle, and wines, and brandy, and other things." Pepys notes other aspects of the fire with colorful descriptions such as "almost burned with a shower of fire-drops" and "the cracking of houses at their ruine."

Point of View

Because The Diary of Samuel Pepys is a personal account, it is told only in Pepys's viewpoint. As a result the events are seen through the eyes of a well-to-do naval administrator, and certain perspectives are not explored. This is most notable in the difference between Pepys and those who work for him, both at home and in the English navy. For example, on the morning of December 2, 1660, Pepys observes that his maid had not done something properly and he beats her with a broom, an act that made him "vexed." He says that "before I went out I left her appeased." Although Pepys may think he has made amends with the servant, "she cried extremely" when he beat her and so may have a different perspective about the incident.

In a similar vein Pepys professes to care about the concerns of his employees, the sailors, who have not been paid for their efforts and so cannot feed their families. This is a common problem that has come with the disorganization of the navy and Pepys is aware of it. While the sailors starve, Pepys collects certain tariffs from his suppliers and grows rich. On certain occasions he attempts to help his employees out. For example, on the evening of March 27, 1662, he pays the wages of a group of seamen out of his own pocket, then goes "to dinner, very merry." Although this is a good act on his part, these seamen are one such group who needs assistance and the narrative rarely addresses their needs. When Pepys does it is usually in reference to his own acts of charity or the effects this unrest might have on his position. A poor seaman lacking his pay would most likely have a different perspective than Pepys, especially if the seaman knew how Pepys profited while the seaman starved.

Historical Context

The English Civil War

The seventeenth century witnessed many governmental changes for England. The first war, which began the reshaping of the country, started in 1629 with King Charles I at the throne. From this year until 1640, coercion was placed on Scotland by the Earl of Strafford, Charles's chief advisor, and Archbishop Laud, who fostered animosity from the Puritans and Presbyterians when he imposed a mandatory Anglican prayer book for Scots to utilize. As a result, Scotland rebelled and invaded England.

After this invasion King Charles had no way to pay for his army and decided to dismantle Parliament so that he would have available funding. This caused Parliament to rise up against the king and take charge on its own. Parliament sentenced the Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud to death in 1641 and condemned the king's policy. Charles responded to this with a futile overthrow attempt that triggered a civil war within the country. Parliament's troops were led by Oliver Cromwell, a staunch Puritan.

The majority of these soldiers were Puritans who would go into battle singing psalms. This earned them the title "Battalion of the Saints." They defeated Charles's troops at Marston Moor in 1644 and Naseby in 1645. This gave Cromwell the upper hand and, in 1649, King Charles I was sentenced to death and executed.

The Protectorate

Charles I's death forced his son to leave the country and land in Scotland where he declared himself Charles II. Oliver Cromwell was now in charge of England, with his army that defeated the king still intact. Parliament proclaimed itself to be a republican Commonwealth. In 1650, Charles II attempted to invade England but was defeated by Cromwell at Worcester in 1651, and Charles fled once again in order to avoid capture.

From 1652 to 1654, the First Anglo-Dutch War occurred under Cromwell's charge. The war fluctuated back and forth until 1654 when the English overpowered the Dutch, forcing them to accept the humiliating first Peace of Westminster.

Meanwhile, Cromwell took the majority control over the Commonwealth and was given the title of "Lord Protector." Under this new government, the country was divided into eleven districts. Each district was appointed a major general whose job was strictly to collect taxes, keep justice, and protect the public morality. Essentially, Cromwell was the one person in charge of the country. With his strong Puritan spirit, places such as playhouses, brothels, and alehouses were closed; activities such as horse racing and cock-fighting were banned; and behavior such as drunkenness and blasphemy was severely punished. Within a relatively short period of time, citizens grew upset with these strict laws. However, with a bodyguard staff of more than a hundred men, Cromwell became as much a monarch as the country's previous kings. Cromwell's strong Puritan rule sparked an intense hatred for military rule and severe Puritanism.

Cromwell died on September 3, 1658, and sent the already unstable country into chaos. Cromwell's son, Richard, assumed the Protectorate but this was not an easy transition. Oliver Cromwell had run the country into debt with his naval victories, the army couldn't be paid, and Richard did not know how to handle this. The army demanded that Parliament be dissolved since it couldn't pay the soldiers, and they rallied support against Richard Cromwell, who retired. The army called the old Rump Parliament into power and Parliament demanded control over the army and navy.

The Restoration

With all the frustration from Cromwell's severe Puritanism, Parliament offered the throne to Charles II. However, before they agreed to allow Charles back into the country, he had to agree to a couple of concessions—religious tolerance and amnesty for those involved in the execution of his father, Charles I. Charles agreed to these terms and came back to England to take his place on the throne.

Socially, Charles II's rule became a time of returning to diversions that had been banned by Cromwell. Theatre, sports, and dancing were all allowed. Furthermore, Charles II's court was noted for being relaxed in their moral judgement.

While Charles was enjoying his popularity with his people, he was having troubles abroad. The English expressed resentment toward the Dutch's mercantile success. This, coupled with the spread of the plague in that area of the continent, meant that the English were not very willing to trade with Holland. Likewise, the Dutch were not very fond of England's new king. This animosity resulted in The Second Anglo-Dutch War, which began in 1665.

In the summer the plague reached London and it thrived in the crowded, hot conditions. Anyone with money or status began to panic and flee to the countryside. By June the roads were flooded with citizens who were desperate to escape, and the mayor decided to close the gates to the city. No one without a certificate of health was allowed to leave. A black market of forged certificates began to thrive. Death rates escalated throughout the summer and by August, deaths were estimated to be six thousand per week. By fall, the plague began to slowly recede, and by February, 1666, the king determined that it was safe for him to return to the city.

On September 2 of the same year disaster struck yet again. Early in the morning, a small house fire helped to ignite neighboring buildings. Fierce winds only helped to spread sparks and set even more houses on fire. The fire grew so out of control, the only course of action was to destroy unburned houses to prevent them from fueling the blaze. The fire burned for three days before it began to quell. But relief turned into horror again when the fire rekindled the next day and continued its destruction. More houses had to be demolished in order to permanently extinguish the fire.

This tragedy, coupled with an already disorganized British navy, led to their defeat by the Dutch although the war did not officially end until the Peace of Breda in 1667.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1660s: London is ravaged by two disasters: the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. London experiences heavy casualties in both disasters, largely because plague and fire spread quickly throughout the crowded city.

    Today: Many scientists devote their lives to studying disasters—both natural and man-made—in an effort to devise effective methods for preventing widespread damage.

  • 1660s: During the carefree Restoration days in England, following strict rule by the Cromwellian Protectorate, many people enjoy plays that explore previously censored topics.

    Today: Because of increasing violence in schools, workplaces, and other public areas, many conservative groups advocate the censorship of violence in television and movies.

  • 1660s: In an effort to re-establish England's reputation after the restoration of Charles II, English ships capture the Dutch port of New Amsterdam, a thriving trading post. They rename it New York—after the king's brother and Lord High Admiral of the navy, the Duke of York.

    Today: In an effort to incite fear, terrorists crash planes into the World Trade Center in New York, an icon of global business and prosperity. The mayor of New York vows that the city will rebuild itself and will not be ruled by fear of terrorists.

Critical Overview

Since The Diary of Samuel Pepys was first released, all versions of the work have received mostly good reviews. Francis Jeffrey reviewed the work in 1825, saying, "We have a great indulgence, we confess, for the taste, or curiosity, or whatever it may be called, that gives its value to such publications." However, Jeffrey also noted that from a pure historical standpoint, he was "rather disappointed in finding so little that is curious or interesting," even though Pepys was in contact with the king and other notable people.

The next year, the English novelist Sir Walter Scott remarked in The Quarterly Review that "the public affairs alluded to in the course of these Memoirs are, of course, numerous and interesting," and that the information "cannot be but valuable." Scott also noted that unlike other diarists who intended on publishing their memoirs and falsified their accounts to make themselves look good, Pepys was one "to whom we can ascribe perfect good faith in the composition of his diary."

In 1889, Edmund Gosse, a distinguished English literary historian, critic, and biographer, noted that although Pepys enters his experiences "with extreme artlessness," The Diary of Samuel Pepys is nevertheless "unrivalled as a storehouse of gossip and character-painting." In 1900, Charles Whibley remarked that Pepys is the "one master of self-revelation that history can furnish forth," and said that Pepys "could measure his own vices without difficulty."

The Diary of Samuel Pepys continued to delight critics throughout the twentieth century. In 1909 Percy Lubbock said that the work's "unconsidered candour" includes "perhaps the most remarkable portrait of a human being that we possess." Near the end of the century, Paul Johnson noted that the work is "one of our greatest historical records and, in its way, a major work of English literature."

In fact, some of the only critics that did not appreciate The Diary of Samuel Pepys are dramatic critics who took offense at Pepys's attitudes toward certain plays. As J. Warshaw notes, "Pepys has drawn on himself the fire of the dramatic critics mainly because of his frank opinions about certain plays of Shakespeare."


Ryan D. Poquette

Poquette has a bachelor's degree in English and specializes in writing about literature. In the following essay, Poquette discusses the conflicting obsessions that the narrator is subject to in Pepys's The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

Pepys was first and foremost a man of passion and when he devoted his energies towards something, he always gave everything. Although his various obsessions would serve him well professionally, they would sometimes lead to other obsessions against his will, and he would find himself going back and forth in his vows and his actions.

In The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Pepys makes mention of three vices that he attempts to give up: extramarital affairs, drinking, and going to plays. These sometimes lead to or are caused by other obsessions, most notably wealth and morality—although he does not view these two in his narrative as obsessions.

Pepys is a Puritan by nature, and is formed with a resolve that he can do anything to improve his character. The first vice he attempts to give up is drinking wine. The first mention of it comes on January 26, 1662: "But thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better and do mind my business better, and do spend less money, and less time in idle company." Out of all of his oaths, this is the one that lasts the longest. After breaking his oath briefly on December 30, 1662, by "drinking five or six glasses of wine," he decides to "begin my oath again."

However, when he does drink, it helps him indulge another of his vices—women. Pepys's biggest weakness is women and no matter how hard he tries, he can't keep his vow to stay away from extramarital affairs. There are countless instances in the narrative where Pepys talks about women with which he has either minor or major affairs. Often-times, Pepys relies on the influence of alcohol to seduce his prey, as when he takes Mrs. Lane "to my Lord's, and did give her a bottle of wine in the garden." After this, Pepys and Mrs. Lane go to Pepys's house where he is "exceedingly free in dallying with her, and she not unfree to take it."

Occasionally, Pepys gets disgusted with himself, as on June 29, 1663, when he notes that while his wife has been out of town he has made "a bad use of my fancy with whatever woman I have a mind to, which I am ashamed of, and shall endeavour to do so no more." However, as Stephen Coote notes in Samuel Pepys: A Life,"Pepys was far from being the sort of man who could work hard all day then spend the evening in monastic quietude."

On other occasions Pepys projects his guilty feelings onto his wife. He assumes that she is having an affair, first of all with her dance instructor, and lastly with a man she meets in the country. On May 16, 1663, Pepys admits that "I do not find honesty enough in my own mind but that upon a small temptation I could be false to her." In other words, he has sinned himself. "He goes on to say that he, "therefore ought not to expect more justice from her, but God pardon both my sin and my folly herein." If Elizabeth has had an affair at this point, Pepys is so guilty that he is willing to dismiss it.

Pepys's work itself leads to the cultivation of certain vices. This is a practice that starts early. When Pepys accompanies his Lord, the Earl of Sandwich, on the journey to bring back Charles II, the young Pepys is taken aback by his responsibility and status. As part of Pepys's duties as secretary to the Admiral on the voyage, Pepys writes letters "in the King's name," for Charles II to sign, and even "sups" with the returning sovereign. Best of all, for his troubles as secretary, he receives, on May 28, 1660, "in the Captain's cabin, for my share, sixty ducats."

This is the first of many such secret payments that Pepys will receive in his career and it whets his appetite for more. Money rules his life from this point on and although he grows to be very rich, he is nevertheless loathe to part with it. On August 18, 1660, after his new Clerk of the Acts position has started bringing in more money, Pepys is "somewhat troubled" when he buys his wife a "most fine cloth" and "a rich lace" for a petticoat, even though it is a small expense compared to his salary. Pepys is absolutely infatuated with the idea of money and is always taking account of his own stock. "My purse is worth about [650 pounds]," Pepys notes at the end of 1662, attributing his fortune to his very Godly life.

Pepys's important status as Clerk of the Acts leads to other opportunities for making money which are not at all Godly. On several occasions, he receives bribes from people in return for services that he provides. On April 3, 1663, he gets an envelope with a letter and money from a Captain Grove who wishes "the taking up of vessels for Tangier." Pepys is discreet, and "did not open it till I came home," so that "I might say I saw no money in the paper, if ever I should be questioned about it."

Although Pepys commits corruptions like these that torment his obsession with morality, he is very critical of others who commit corruptions, and devotes his navy career to rooting out and stopping such acts. On several occasions he performs independent inspections of various shipyards and suppliers in order to show how they are cheating the King out of money. On August 6, 1662, he arises early to go to Deptford "and there surprised the Yard, and called them to a muster, and discovered many abuses, which we shall be able to understand hereafter and amend." Of course, as Coote notes, Pepys often gained financially for exposing such corruption. When these evils were rooted out Pepys would usually find a different merchant or supplier who would not cheat the King. In the process, however, "Pepys would prosper greatly from the commission he received," as he did when he switched the timber contract for the navy.

What Do I Read Next?

  • Samuel Pepys: The Years of Peril, 1669-1683, by Arthur Bryant, is a book that discusses the next set of historical events after Pepys stops writing in his journal. Published in 1985, it covers his work toward setting up a more organized navy, as well as major events that involved Pepys, such as the Popish Plot.
  • The Broadview Anthology of Restoration and Early Eighteenth-Century Drama: Broadview Anthologies of English Literature (2001), edited by J. Douglas Canfield and Maja-Lisa Von Sneidern, includes selections from Restoration drama (which Pepys enjoyed), as well as the eighteenth-century drama that became popular shortly after Pepys's death.
  • The Diary of John Evelyn, published in 1995, is a sourcebook that covers seventeenth-century England. Written by Pepys's friend, John Evelyn, it also offers a guide for understanding life during that time period.
  • Particular Friends: The Correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, published in 1998 and edited by Gue de la Bedoyere, contains the letters between Pepys and Evelyn. Through this correspondence the reader is able to experience their friendship and compare the differences between these two men who lived in the same era.
  • Restoration: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century England, by Rose Tremain, is a historical novel that takes place in the court of King Charles II. Written in 1994, it tells the tale of Robert Merival, who is tricked into marrying one of the king's mistresses so that the king will pay more attention to his wife. The tale is reminiscent of the real-life exploits of Charles II with two of his mistresses—Lady Castlemaine and Lady Stewart.

However, while Pepys's salary and bribe money increased, the common man in the navy was starving from not receiving his wages. On September 19, 1662, Pepys notes when he did have to go and pay the navy men, his great trouble was "that I was forced to begin an ill practice of bringing down the wages of servants, for which people did curse me, which I do not love." However, Pepys does very little in the way of restricting his own pay or turning his bribe money over to the crown to pay the starving navy men.

As part of Pepys's rich lifestyle that he creates from money like this, he starts going more frequently to the theater. Plays are another obsession that is hard for Pepys to give up even though he feels bad about the vice. He gives his oath one day to see no more plays, then breaks the oath to see Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream on September 29, 1662. The following day, he decides to renew his oath, "considering the great sweet and pleasure and content of mind that I have had since I did leave drink and plays, and other pleasures, and followed my business." This trend continues throughout The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

The theater on occasion leads him back to his adulterous vice. It is at the theater that he sees many pretty women, but they are not only in the crowd. On January 3, 1661, Pepys goes to see the play "Beggars Bush," where it is "the first time that ever I saw women come upon the stage." This was a historic moment for all of England. Says Coote, "it was the King himself who had decreed that female roles should now be played by actresses, giving as his reason that this would allow plays to 'be esteemed not only harmless delights but useful and instructive representations of human life."'

For Pepys, having women on the stage was an irresistible attraction. He enjoyed the plays for their stories, but with the addition of women, the plays took on a whole new context. Even if he did not like the play, as was the case on September 29, 1662, when he saw Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, he could still enjoy the "good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure." As Coote notes, "The close press of a crowded audience stirred Pepys's appetites, and the theatre was as good a place as a church to ogle women."

Behind the stage and even outside of the theater, Pepys engages in many affairs, most notably with the famous actress Nell Gwyn. However, this amorous lifestyle comes to an end at the end of 1668, near the end of The Diary of Samuel Pepys. When Pepys's wife walks in on him "embracing" Deb Willet, she throws the hapless maid out, and threatens to expose his exploits to the public. Above all else, Pepys has worked to maintain his image and this thought horrifies him. He vows to reform himself once and for all and, with the constant, enforced attention of his wife and manservant, he is finally successful.


Ryan D. Poquette, Critical Essay on The Diary of Samuel Pepys, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

"For Pepys, having women on the stage was an irresistible attraction. He enjoyed the plays for their stories, but with the addition of women, the plays took on a whole new context."


Coote, Stephen, Samuel Pepys: A Life, Palgrave, 2001, pp. 65, 81, 104.

Gosse, Edmund, "Prose after the Restoration," in A History of Eighteenth Century Literature (1660-1780), Macmillan and Co., 1889, pp. 73-104.

Jeffrey, Francis, "An Excerpt from a Review of Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Esq.," in the Edinburgh Review, Vol. XLIII, No. LXXXV, November 1825, pp. 23-54.

Johnson, Paul, "Honest, Shrewd and Naïve," in the Spectator, Vol. 255, September 21, 1985, pp. 24-25.

Lubbock, Percy, Excerpt from Samuel Pepys, Hodder and Stoughton, 1909, p. 284.

Scott, Sir Walter, "An Excerpt from a Review of Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Esq.," in the Quarterly Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. LXVI, March 1826, pp. 281-314.

Warshaw, J., "Pepys as a Dramatic Critic," in Drama, Vol. 10, No. 6-7, March—April 1920, pp. 209-13.

Whibley, Charles, "The Real Pepys," in The Pageantry of Life, edited by William Heinemann, Folcroft Library Editions, 1973, pp. 107-23.

Further Reading

Coote, Stephen, Royal Survivor: The Life of Charles II, St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Biographer Coote examines Charles II's reign, including his belief in the monarchy's ancient rights, his political maneuvering, and his hidden Catholic faith.

Kennedy, Paul M., The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, Humanity Books, 1986.

This book examines the political history of the British fleet from before 1600 to the 1970s.

Miller, John, The Restoration and the England of Charles II, Longman, 1997.

This book of essays contains selections by acknowledged experts on the Restoration and Charles II.

Picard, Liza, Restoration London: From Poverty to Pets, from Medicine to Magic, from Slang to Sex, from Wallpaper to Women's Rights, St. Martin's Press, 1998.

As the lengthy subtitle suggests, this book is a storehouse of information about everyday life in Restoration London and counts The Diary of Samuel Pepys as one of its many sources.

Quinsey, Katherine M., Broken Boundaries: Women & Feminism in Restoration Drama, University Press of Kentucky, 1996.

This collection of essays examines the transitional Restoration era, in which women slowly gained more rights in the theater, including appearing onstage for the first time as actresses and behind the scenes as writers.

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