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Samuel Pepys, 1633-1703

The first great modern bureaucrat, a founder of the professional navy, a famous `accidental' historian.

Pepys became secretary to his cousin, Admiral Edward Mountagu, in 1660. His massive `secret' diary has become one of the largest sources of information on the Restoration. A brief excerpt, from a visit to Stonehenge [1] and Old Sarum [1] [2] :

`[10-June-1668 (Wednesday)]
So came to Hungerford... A bad mean town. ... to Salisbury [1] [2], by night; but before came to the town, I saw a great fortification, and there light, and to it and in it; and find it prodigious, so as to fright me to be in it all alone, it being dark. I understand it since to be that that is called Old Sarum. Came to the town...

[11-June-1668 (Thursday)]
... our guide, and I single to Stonehenge, over the plain and some prodigious great hills... Came thither, and find them as prodigious as any tales I ever heard of them, and worth going this journey to see. God knows what their use was. They are hard to tell, but yet may be told. ... So back... to the church, ... and I did go in, and saw very many fine tombs, and among the rest some very ancient, of the Montagus.' (Pepys).

Samuel Pepys maintained for 10 years his detailed daily diary, covering 1659 to 1669. This extensive diary [1] [2] [3] has become perhaps the most extensive source of information on this critical period of English history ( the Restoration). Pepys never considered that his diary would be read by others. The original diary consisted of 6 volumes written in Shelton shorthand, which he had learned as an undergraduate on scholarship at Magdalene College, Cambridge . This shorthand was introduced in 1626, and was the same system Isaac Newton used when writing. In addition, Pepys wrote in English and 3 other languages (what were they? Presumably Latin, Greek, and French?). Because of his position as an up-and-coming young civil servant, he was in a position to record a number of historical events with an insider's view.

His diary, donated to Magdalene College, was `discovered' in 1818. A small selection was published in 1825, and very popular simplified editions of the complete `translated' diary were published in 1848 and 1875. The complete diary (some 10 volumes, in English) was published for the first time by the University of California Press in 1970 (by which time, presumably, some of the R-rated material was no longer objectionable).

Edward Mountagu, a relative hired Pepys as his secretary in 1654, when Mountagu had become Councilor of State and Treasury Commissioner in the Cromwellian Protectorate. Paulina Pepys, John's aunt, had married Sydney Mountagu, brother of the powerful Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester.

In 1660, Mountagu made Pepys treasurer to the fleet; in 1665 he was a leading member of the Navy Board; in 1665 he was treasurer of the committee overseeing the government of Tangier (a British possession at the time); in 1673 he became Secretary of the Admiralty; he was thus in charge (US Secretary of the Navy) of the Navy during the Dutch War of 1674-1674; he established the basis for professional naval service for the first time in English history, introduced officer half-pay, and initiated the largest shipbuilding program to that time; in 1679 imprisoned in the Tower for 6 weeks accused of being involved in the Popish Plot; in 1684 made Secretary for Admiralty Affairs, a position made explicitly for him and never occupied by anyone else; left public service in 1689.

The last 34 years of his life are not recorded in the diary. He stopped because of his duties and his worry that his eyesight was failing.

He had no children. Friends included Isaac Newton, Evelyn, Wallis, and Wren. He was president of the Royal Society from 1684 to 1686. He maintained a library of over 3,000 volumes, which he willed to Magdalene College.

Pepys is widely quoted [1] [2] [3] .

Mr Pepys' Navy, by L.A. Wilcox, published 1968 by G. Bell and Sons, is a readable general biography of Pepys, focusing on his principal role in building the British Navy, and the creation of the modern concept of a professional Navy.

Wilcox puts Pepys' role as the first great modern bureaucrat as follows:


"For it can truly be said that it is due largely to his order and method, to his manner of keeping records of all his business, to his passion for neatness, that we owe much of our own Civil Service practice." (Wilcox)

The following extract is from Wilcox's introduction:

" Edward was eight years senior to Samuel but, in spite of this disparity of age, a life-long friendship based on mutual respect grew up between the two men.

Samuel's father was established as a tailor in Salisbury Court...

When about ten years old he left London for Huntingdon and went to the free school there, probably by means of great-uncle Talbot's influence. ... Samuel found himself living amongst relatives divided politically. ... Edward Montagu was for Cromwell. Sam understandably was a young Roundhead.

... he was not a brilliant scholar. At the age of seventeen he was admitted to Magdalene College, Cambridge....

In 1655 he met and married Elizabeth St. Michel, the fifteen-year-old daughter of a Huguenot.

In January, 1656, Edward Montagu was appointed joint commander with Robert Blake of the English battle fleet. While on active service ... he asked Samuel to take charge of his affairs. This suggests that he and Samuel understood each other pretty well...

... Samuel and his young wife lived in Whitehall managing Montagu's financial affairs and despatching both his official and domestic business. During the two years or so of these duties when he was at the head of Montagu's household, Pepys learned the essentials of administrative practice and also, no doubt, the art of handling people. Nonetheless, he was very poor...

Early in 1658 he was cut for the stone and came through the operation successfully, for which blessing he never ceased to give thanks. The complaint stayed with him all his life and, although he underwent no further surgery, he was never free from trouble from this condition. ...

In September, 1658, Cromwell died. A period of political uncertainty followed, aggravated by the rivalries of the generals. In May, 1659, Richard Cromwell was obliged to dissolve Parliament, and one can imagine Montagu, away at sea, being a very worried man.

Less than a month later Pepys sailed in the ketch Hind across the North Sea to the Sound, and going aboard Montagu's flagship he delivered to the Admiral a secret packet. What was in the packet is not known, but a few weeks later Montagu was in touch with the King.

On 28th February, 1660, Montagu proposed to Pepys that he should go to sea as his Secretary, and on 9th March Pepys, who as a republican must have been amazed by the turn of events, overcame his worries and informed Montagu that he would do so. He was apparently ignorant of the opportunities which could result from the offer of this appointment. The position of Secretary to the Admiral was one of tremendous importance...

With the famous Diary but three months old, Pepys decided to join Montagu; and from then to the end of his life he never lost interest in ships; the sea, sailors or any of the many works connected with them." (Wilcox)

Due to modern scholarship and the availability of documents, the contents of the `mystery packet' are now known (apparently they were the full contents of the orders that Parliament had given to Algernon Sidney, diplomatic head of the British 'crisis team' in the sound). See the page on Edward Mountagu, 1625-1672, for more information about this event.

Pepys provides intimate details of the arranged marriage of Jemima Montagu, in which he played a central role. These intimately documented details are an example of Pepy's usefulness to period historians.

It is now my belief that Pepys' may have been related to the Montagu's in more than one way. As Wilcox puts it:

"Pepys was distantly related to Sir Sydney Montagu, who lived nearby at Hinchinbroke. In an age when such things mattered a great deal, this turned to Samuel's advantage..." (Wilcox)

The Shorter Pepys, Latham.
Mr. Pepys' Navy, Wilcox.

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