• Why is Pepys famous?

    Who was Samuel Pepys?
    Samuel Pepys (you say PEEPS) lived more than 300 years ago. He worked for the British government, and did much to make the Royal Navy better. However, he is famous because he wrote a diary.

    When did he live?
    Pepys was born in 1633. He was a young man during the Civil War in England. He lived through two disasters - the Plague and the Great Fire of London. He died in 1703.

    Why is his diary famous?
    Pepys started his diary in 1660. He went on writing it until 1669. It's full of information, because Pepys was interested in everything around him. He wrote about London, his home, his wife, his friends, about great events such as the Great Fire, and about himself.

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  • The young Samuel

    Where was Pepys born?
    Samuel Pepys was born in London in February 1633. His father was a tailor, who had moved to the city from the country to find work. His mother was a butcher's daughter. The Pepys family was not rich. However, Pepys did have rich relatives, and that helped him later.

    Going to school
    Young Samuel went to St Paul's School, one of the best schools in London. When he was 17, he went to Cambridge University. While a student there, he got into trouble for drinking too much!

    Marriage and illness
    In 1655, Samuel married. His wife Elizabeth was only 15. Her family had come to England from France, as refugees.

    In 1658, Samuel had an operation on his bladder. It was dangerous, and painful. He was thankful to get well again.

    Troubled times
    Pepys grew up in troubled times. There was a Civil War between King and Parliament. In 1649 King Charles I had his head cut off. For a few years, Oliver Cromwell ruled England. From 1660 there was a King again, this time Charles II.

    An office job
    Pepys went to work as a clerk in a government office. He was lucky to have a rich relative, the Earl of Sandwich, who was an admiral. Having a lord in the family helped him get a good job!

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  • Pepys' adventures

    Home life
    At first Samuel and Elizabeth were quite poor. Elizabeth did the washing and carried coal for the fire. Later when Samuel was well-paid, they had servants to do the housework.

    What Pepys liked
    Pepys liked smart clothes. He wore a wig. He went to the theatre. He enjoyed music and singing. He played a flageolet. He loved meeting friends.

    Pepys did not always behave. He drank too much wine. Sometimes he chased pretty women. Afterwards he wrote in his diary how bad he felt when he misbehaved.

    The civil servant
    Pepys was a civil servant. His job was to run the Navy - to make sure old ships were repaired, and new ships built properly. At first he was lazy, more interested in having fun!

    Sometimes Pepys went to sea himself. In 1660, Pepys sailed in one of the ships that brought King Charles II back to England.

    Running the Navy
    The Navy was in a mess. Many ships were too rotten to go to sea and fight. Pepys saw this, and made up his mind to change things. He worked hard. He went to dockyards to see how ships were built. He learned all about the Navy. He even learned his times tables!

    The Navy had only 30 battleships. When Pepys stopped work in 1689, it had 59 ships.

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  • The diary

    Pepys writes his diary
    In January 1660 Pepys started his diary. He wrote in shorthand. It was like a secret code. He wrote with quills and a simple fountain pen.

    Pepys did not want people he knew to read his diary, so he kept his diary books safe.

    A new watch
    In his diary, Pepys often tells us how he felt.

    He was proud of a new watch. It had an alarm, a new thing at that time. Pepys wrote in his diary that he kept taking his watch out to check the time and to show off. He was so pleased with it!

    A country visitor
    One day Pepys had a visitor from the country. Pepys wanted to show his friend the sights. But the visitor only complained. London was too crowded! Too noisy! Too far to walk!

    He would not go to the theatre, even in a coach. Pepys wrote crossly that he had never met anyone 'so little curious in the world...'

    A time trip
    One night the cat woke Pepys by miaowing and jumping on his bed. Unable to get back to sleep, he heard the night-watchman walk by outside, calling 'Past one of the clock and a cold and frosty windy morning'.

    He wrote this in his diary too. The diary takes us on a time-trip back over 300 years.

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  • The plague and the fire

    What was the Great Plague?
    Pepys wrote about the Great Plague of 1665.

    The Plague was a disease. It spread quickly. Many people were dying. One symptom was a ring of small spots, known as 'Ring- o'-Roses'. Some people carried flowers, a 'pocket full of posies', to keep the plague away.

    Fleas on black rats carried the disease, but people did not know that. Stray dogs and cats were blamed for carrying the plague. So cats and dogs were killed.

    A red cross marked houses where people had the plague. Carts took away the dead.

    What was the Great Fire?
    Pepys wrote about the Great Fire of London in 1666. In his day, London houses were very close together. They were built mostly of wood. Fires were common.

    On 2 September 1666, a fire started in Pudding Lane. It spread quickly. People used water in leather buckets to fight the fires. But the flames were too hot. The only way to stop the fire was to blow up houses, so flames could not jump from street to street.

    The Great Fire burned for four days. More than 13,000 houses were destroyed in the disaster, but very few people were killed.

    What Pepys saw and did
    In his diary, Pepys describes how people escaped in boats on the River Thames. He watched pigeons that stayed in their nests in houses, and 'burned their wings and fell down'.

    When Pepys thought his own house was in danger, he dug a hole and buried a cheese! It was an expensive Parmesan cheese from Italy. He wanted to keep it safe.

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  • What happened to Pepys?

    The Diary stops
    In 1669, Pepys' wife Elizabeth died. They had no children.

    Pepys stopped writing his diary in 1669. His eyesight was now so poor, he even tried green-tinted glasses. He feared he might go blind.

    Pepys makes enemies
    In 1673, Pepys became a Member of Parliament. His work made him enemies - such as people who had cheated the Navy. His enemies accused Pepys of selling secrets to the French, and plotting against the King! For a time, Pepys was locked up in the Tower of London.

    Back at work
    Luckily, King Charles II liked Pepys. Pepys was set free. The King sent him on a mission to North Africa. In 1684, Pepys got his old job back.

    He went on working for the Navy until 1689. He was now a famous man with famous friends, such as the scientist Sir Isaac Newton and the architect Sir Christopher Wren (who built St Paul's Cathedral).

    What happened to the diaries?
    Pepys spent his last years quietly, adding books to his library. He left all his books to Cambridge University.

    Samuel Pepys died in Clapham in 1703. His diaries were decoded long after his death, and published in 1825. Today they can be found on the internet.

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Samuel Pepys Game

Samuel Pepys

Find out about Pepys and the events recorded in his diary.

Fun Facts
  • Elizabeth Pepys had false teeth. The teeth would have been made from animal bone.

  • In his diary Pepys admits he sometimes went to sleep in Church.

  • Pepys had an island in the Atlantic named after him. But Pepys Island does not exist! The sailors made a mistake.

  • Pepys made up some of the words in his diary.

  • Wigs were made of real hair. People worried their wig might have nits!

Other famous writers, poets and musicians

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

Person in command of a fleet (group of ships) in the Navy.
Part of the body where waste water (urine) is kept
Civil War
Fighting between the English Parliament and the King in the 1640s-1650s.
civil servant
A person who works for the government.
A person whose job is mostly writing.
To have solved or broken a code.
The day-to-day happening in a person's life, written by them
Something very bad that happens, such as a very big fire, flood or earthquake

E to G

A kind of flute - a musical instrument you blow.

H to L

A rich person with a title such as Earl or Duke.

M to O

Member of Parliament
Someone elected to make laws.
night watchman
Person who walked the streets at night, with a bell, calling out the time.

P to S

Pens made from sharpened goose feathers.
Someone who leaves their own country for another, to escape dangers.
Royal Navy
The British navy (ships for fighting).
A person paid to work for rich people.
A form of writing which is quick and looks like a code.
A sign that someone has an illness; for example, coughing is a symptom of a cold.

T to Z

A person who makes clothes.
False hair; wigs were worn by men and women in Pepys' time.