PEPYS, Samuel (1633-1703), of Winchester Lane, London and Derby House, Cannon Row, Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



4 Nov. 1673
Mar. 1679

Family and Education

b. 23 Feb. 1633, 2nd but o. surv. s. of John Pepys, tailor, of Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, London and Brampton, Hunts. by Margaret, da. of one Kite, butcher, of Whitechapel, Mdx. educ. Huntingdon g.s. c.1644; St. Paul’s c.1646; Magdalene, Camb. 1651, BA 1654, MA 1660. m. 1 Dec. 1655, Elizabeth. (d. 10 Nov. 1669), da. of Alexander de St. Michel of Hind Court, Fleet Street, s.p. suc. fa. 1680.

Offices Held

Exchequer clerk c.1655-June 1660; clerk of the acts, Navy Office July 1660-73; dep. clerk of privy seal July 1660-2; commr. for Tangier 1662, treasurer 1665-79; surveyor-gen. of victualling 1665-7; sec. of Admiralty 1673-9, 1684-9.

J.p. Essex, Hants, Kent and Mdx. Aug. 1660-79, 1684-9, Hunts. 1681-9, Suff., Surr., Suss. and Westminster 1687-9; yr. bro. Trinity House 1662, elder bro. 1672-89, warden 1675-6, master 1676-7, 1685-6; freeman, Portsmouth 1662, 1683, Harwich 1679, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1682; asst. R. Fishing Co. 1664; gov. Christ’s Hospital 1676-9, 1681-d., Bridewell 1677, St. Thomas’s Hospital 1684; member, R. Fisheries 1677; master, Clothworkers’ Co. 1677-8, asst. 1677-d.

FRS 1665, pres. 1684-6.


No Englishman of his day is more intimately known to posterity than Pepys, though he closed his famous diary some years before his election to Parliament. He came of a line of fenland yeoman and minor professional men. Though the Norfolk branch of the family became armigerous under Elizabeth, and two lawyer cousins served in early Stuart Parliaments, Pepys’s father was a none too successful London craftsman, and Pepys had to make his own way in the world, aided only by a family connexion with Edward Montagu I. His upbringing was Puritan and as an adolescent he welcomed the execution of Charles I, but Pepys’s experience of the disorders during the Interregnum converted him to Anglicanism and royalism long before the Restoration, while still serving under George Downing in the Commonwealth Exchequer. Montagu secured his appointment to the Navy Office, where his industry and ability were noticed by the Duke of York and where he soon became indispensable. It was, in all probability, his success in defending his department at the bar of the House in 1668 that awakened his parliamentary ambitions. Heneage Finch declared himself outshone in eloquence, and (Sir) William Coventry told Pepys that he ought to be Speaker. Convinced of the need for a competent naval spokesman in the House he began to cultivate an interest at Harwich. In 1669 he was recommended to the electors of Aldeburgh by Henry Howard, the Roman Catholic heir to the mad Duke of Norfolk, and like Pepys an enthusiastic member of the Royal Society. But he was unable to attend the poll owing to his wife’s fatal illness, and was defeated by a local candidate. Four years later, however, he was returned on the same interest for Castle Rising, after a heated election in which he attracted the label of ‘bloody Papist’. His connexion with the Duke of York, now an open Catholic, and his admiration for the splendours of the Roman mass and for the French Court put him on the defensive in the House of Commons, where his method of argument based on the relentless accumulation of facts won him few friends among the country gentlemen. In his shorthand notes he contrasted the professionalism, discipline and camaraderie of the Opposition with the confusion and intrigue characteristic of the court party, concluding: ‘We must be sure to bribe voices enough’. He made over 70 speeches in the Cavalier Parliament, almost all on naval matters, but he was not an active committeeman, serving on 24 committees at most. In the debate on the impeachment of Lord Arlington ((Sir) Henry Bennet), he had to admit to supplying the French allies with anchors, and to defend the activities of the press gang. Meanwhile a petition against his election had been heard in committee, and on 6 Feb. 1674 Sir Thomas Meres recommended that the election should be declared void. The debate in the House ‘showed the more violent Opposition at its worst’. It centred almost entirely on Pepys’s religion, (Sir) Robert Thomas alleging, on the authority of an unnamed ‘person of quality’, that Pepys had had an altar and crucifix in his house in Seething Lane. Under pressure from Coventry, Thomas was compelled to name his informant as Lord Shaftesbury (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper). But to the delegation from the Commons, consisting of Meres, Coventry and William Garway, Shaftesbury, still a ’prentice hand at opposition, abandoned his allies in the Lower House, pleading loss of memory, and no decision was reached before the session ended.1

Pepys was included in the Paston list and the list of King’s servants in 1675, and as a naval expert, though admittedly ‘not very conversant’ in matters of revenue, he played a full part in the debates on supply. On 22 Apr. he was ordered to bring in an account of the state of the navy, and he warmly defended the King. ‘He has the honour of a near attendance upon the King by his office; none of his subjects have so many thoughts or take more pains the navy than this master of ours’. His prolixity in committee gave rise to a caustic comment from Meres: ‘Pepys has been heard three times over’. He believed that, at a more seasonable time, everyone would support the appropriation of the customs for the use of the navy. He may have been appointed to the committee on the habeas corpus amendment bill in the autumn session. He was noted as a court speaker, and marked ‘vile’ on Shaftesbury’s list. In the 1677 session he prepared for the largest possible naval programme: ‘Imminent dangers do grow daily, ’tis said. But who contributed to them? He can answer for himself. Dangers are particularly from the marine part’. The grant of supply for the building of 30 warships was a personal parliamentary triumph for him, and he may have again been appointed to the committee for the recall of British subjects from French service. When his office was attacked in debate on 7 Mar. over the expense of obtaining passes to shipping, he protested that ‘he has wrote himself blind in the King’s service ... He despises the thoughts of any undue profits’. As Member for a Howard borough he defended the detention in Italy of the Duke of Norfolk on the orders of Arthur Onslow and the other family trustees. He was appointed to the committees of inquiry into the grant of passes and into the debts of the Merchant Adventurers, where he was described ironically as ‘Lord Pepys’. He was on both lists of the court party in 1678, and again noted as a government speaker, a description which he justified in the debate on foreign policy on 5 Feb.:

I hear the fears of arbitrary government urged as a jealousy, and that the gentleman is afraid of; but who does most to set up arbitrary government, they that depress what ways may most keep out the danger from France or they that promote them?

He was probably appointed to the committees for the Protestant education of the royal family and to summarize foreign alliances, Sir Robert Howard complaining: ‘Pepys here speaks rather like an admiral than a secretary’. But Shaftesbury had marked Pepys ‘thrice vile’ in 1677 in the belief that as long as he remained at the Admiralty the Duke of York would continue to exercise effective power behind the scenes, and in addition he had a personal humiliation to avenge. At least in the opinion of Roger North it seems that an attempt was made to frame Pepys for the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, a plan thwarted only by Pepys’s absence at Newmarket in attendance on the King. Instead, his clerk Atkins was arrested. Pepys was named to the committees to translate and examine Coleman’s papers, but on 26 Nov. 1678 the Speaker announced that he had received information from an MP against him, and Shaftesbury’s mouthpiece, Thomas Bennett, rose to allege that Atkins had provided a Jesuit with a passport. Pepys pointed out that his office had nothing to do with passports, and a reference from John Birch to the Godfrey murder fell flat when Pepys produced his alibi. He was added to his last important committee, for preventing the growth of Popery, on 10 Dec.2

At the first general election of 1679 Pepys was responsible for managing the government interest in several constituencies. He offered himself for reelection at Castle Rising, where he had purchased a burgage, but the mayor did not reply to his letter, and at Portsmouth, where he had been a freeman since 1662, he was ordered to resign his interest to (Sir) John Ernle. Sir Robert Holmes, who had many years previously provoked Pepys’s jealousy by his admiration of Mrs Pepys, offered him a seat in the Isle of Wight, but he preferred to stand for Harwich on the Admiralty interest. He was again marked ‘vile’ on Shaftesbury’s list, and appointed only to the committee of elections and privileges in the first Exclusion Parliament. He sealed his fate with a courageous speech on 14 Apr. 1679, defending both the navy and the Duke of York:

That a general reproach should be cast upon the navy, because the Duke of York named officers! The Duke is unfortunate, and with my life I would rescue him. But I offer it to your consideration whether any prince was fitter to name officers for the fleet than he. From the moment I have been in employment, I never knew that the Duke gave countenance to any one Catholic, as a Catholic. I do affirm that, by all the care and inspection that could be taken in the navy, there was not one Catholic in it from top to bottom, as far as it was possible for me to know.

A fortnight later, a committee was appointed to inquire into miscarriages in the navy, and Sir Robert Southwell wrote: ‘Mr Pepys, however prepared, must certainly be destroyed’. According to Roger Morrice he voted against the exclusion bill. On the day after the division William Harbord reported to the House that he had sent Sir Anthony Deane to France in 1675 with naval secrets designed in some way to facilitate the Popish Plot, and the two men were ordered to be sent to the Tower. They were released on bail in July, and Pepys’s supporters at Harwich even offered to reelect him, but he wisely declined. He was not finally discharged until June 1680.3

Pepys was not immediately restored to office, but he was seldom far from the Court. At the general election of 1685 he was nominated at Sandwich by the King, and duly returned. But he chose to sit for Harwich again, though he attended the coronation as a baron of the Cinque Ports. He was a very active Member of James II’s Parliament, being named to 19 committees, including both those ordered to recommend expunctions from the Journals. He was among those instructed to bring in a bill for the general naturalization of Huguenot refugees and to consider the bill to encourage ship-building. In the second session he was one of the Members appointed to draw up the address against the employment of Roman Catholic officers. In the debate on 26 Nov. he spoke of a thousand men daily at work in the shipyards, and assured the House that there was not one officer in the fleet who had not taken the Test. In 1688, however, he was unable to deny a report that he had promised to vote for the repeal of the Test Act, to the ruin of his interest at Harwich. Pepys now asked Holmes for a seat, but his old rival was not encouraging. Pepys remained at his post during the Revolution, and even contested Harwich in 1689, where he was heavily defeated to cries of ‘No Tower men!’. He was dismissed from the Admiralty in March, and shortly afterwards arrested, but soon released on bail. He was again detained for a few months in 1690, but he was never an active Jacobite. He died on 26 May 1703, being attended on his deathbed by George Hickes, the eminent non-juror, and was buried at St. Olave’s, Hart Street.4

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Gillian Hampson


This biography is based upon A. Bryant, Samuel Pepys, and the article by B. M. Ranft in Jnl. Mod. Hist. xxiv. 368-75. The definitive edition of the Diary is that edited by Latham and Matthews (Bell from 1970).

  • 1. Grey, ii. 304, 330, 426-32.
  • 2. Grey, iii. 98, 365, 416, 454; iv. 110, 209, 220, 234; v. 86, 388; vi. 286-7; D. H. Witcombe, Cavalier House of Commons, 157-9; K. W. D. Haley, Shaftesbury, 362-3; CJ, ix. 321.
  • 3. Grey, vii. 112; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 506.
  • 4. Kent AO, NR/AEp/50; CJ, ix. 738, 757; Grey, viii. 367; Bodl. Rawl. mss, A179, ff. 179, 225.