Samuel Pepys’ diary |

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Samuel Pepys’ diary

Nige Tassell delves into the diaries of Samuel Pepys, discovering the big events that rocked 17th-century London, as well as private pleasures of both the simple and sensational persuasions…
PEPYS, ON THE RECORD This hard-working civil servant lived a remarkable life and, thankfully for us, he wrote many of the best bits down


Samuel Pepys was a high-ranking naval administrator who, between 1660 and 1669, kept a diary that chronicled both his personal life and the significant events occurring in London. Among these were the restoration of the British monarchy, the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London – events of which Pepys’ diary tells us more than any other public record.

That a 26-year-old Exchequer clerk ventured from his home in Axe Yard, Westminster, one chilly December day in 1659, to a stationer’s shop a couple of miles away in the Cornhill area of London, isn’t, in itself, remarkable. Nor was the item he bought there – a thick notepad – before returning home. Over the course of the following few evenings, the clerk patiently marked out margins in red ink on all of its 288 pages.

The trip and purchase might have been unremarkable, but what would be set down in the notepad – and in many subsequent notepads – over the following months and years was anything but. For that young clerk’s name was Samuel Pepys and the diary he kept for the next nine-and-a-half years became, arguably, the most celebrated personal journal in history. It not only chronicled his incident-packed young life, it also opened wide a window onto London at a time of enormous social flux.

29 July 1667

“The kingdom never in so troubled a condition in this world as now; nobody pleased with the peace, and yet nobody daring to wish for the continuance of the war”


Pepys laments the state of Britain following defeat in the Second Anglo-Dutch War

SNEAK ATTACK The Dutch navy’s surprise raid on the Medway, Kent, June 1667

In his 20s and 30s, Pepys would live through one of the most tumultuous decades in these isles’ history, one marked by disease, disaster, war and the small matter of the restoration of the British monarchy. More significantly, he witnessed all of these events from remarkably close quarters. He was travelling on board the same ship that returned Charles II from exile and onto the throne. He became the chief chronicler of both the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London the following year. And, as a senior figure in naval administration, he was at the heart of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, including the Dutch attack on the Medway in 1667.

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The Christmas 2015 issue of History Revealed