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Deborah "Deb" Willet (1650–1678) was a young maid employed by Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament. She and Pepys, 17 years her senior, engaged in a liaison that was chronicled in his famous diary. When Pepys's diary first was published in the late 19th century, the more explicit parts describing the author's affair with Willet were not printed. They only appeared in the most recent version of the diary.[1]

Early life

Willet was the third of seven children born to the Bristol merchant Robert Willet and his wife Elizabeth. She was baptised in December 1650.[2]

Willet and Pepys

In late September 1667, Pepys was introduced to Willet[3] and she was employed as a companion for Pepys's wife, Elisabeth, from 1 October 1667,[4] with whom she attended the theatre. In late October 1668, Willet began an intimate relationship with Samuel Pepys. Elisabeth Pepys discovered her husband with Willet and after a few weeks the maid was dismissed. Pepys wrote in his diary that his wife "coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con [with] my hand sub [under] su [her] coats; and endeed I was with my main [hand] in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it and the girl also...." Following this event, he was characteristically filled with remorse, writing of being "absolutely resolved ... never to give [Elisabeth] occasion while I live of more trouble of this or any other kind ... and to be true to my poor wife".[5] Equally characteristically, he continued to pursue Willet after she had been dismissed from the Pepys household.[6]

Pepys later gave Willet money, sought her out at her new home, and kissed her. His wife discovered the meeting and threatened to walk out on Pepys, so long as he would give her "3 or 400l" to keep her quiet, and threatened to slit Deb's nose. The situation was calmed down with the help of an old family friend, William Hewer, but Pepys was forced to renounce Willet in writing.[7]

Willet was not the only personal servant with whom Pepys was intimate, but she appears to have been the one with whom he was most smitten.[8] In the next-to-last sentence of Pepys's 10-year diary one reads, "my amours to Deb are past."[9]

After Pepys

In 2006, Kate Loveman reported that Willet remained in London after leaving the Pepys household, marrying a theology graduate named Jeremiah Wells in 1670.[10] Pepys later helped Wells obtain a position as a ship's chaplain. The couple had two daughters, Deborah (b. 1670) and Elizabeth (b. 1672).[11] Mrs Wells died in 1678 and her husband followed a year and a half later.


  1. ^ Tomalin, Claire (2002). Samuel Pepys, The Unequalled Self. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41143-4.
  2. ^ Loveman, Kate (2011). "Further Information on Deb Willet before and after Samuel Pepys's Diary". Notes & Queries. 58 (3): 388–390. doi:10.1093/notesj/gjr118.
  3. ^ See diary entry for 27 September 1667
  4. ^ See diary entry for 1 October 1667
  5. ^ See diary entry for 19 November 1668
  6. ^ Mystery of Pepys' affair solved BBC News 24 14 October 2006
  7. ^ Kilroy, Debbie. "Peeping Sam? The Affairs of Samuel Pepys". Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  8. ^ Kilroy, Debbie. "Peeping Sam? The Affairs of Samuel Pepys". Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  9. ^ See diary entry for 31 May 1669.
  10. ^ Loveman, Kate (2006). "Samuel Pepys and Deb Willet after the Diary". The Historical Journal. 49 (3): 893–901. doi:10.1017/S0018246X06005565. S2CID 159829314.
  11. ^ Loveman (2011), 388

Further reading

External links

2 Annotations

First Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Deborah "Deb" Willet (1650–1678) was a young maid employed by Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament. She and Pepys, about 20 years her senior, engaged in extramarital liaisons that were chronicled in his famous diary.…

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Deb is about to become the star of her own story. Andrea Zuvich -- one of my favorite 17th century authors -- posted this review today of a book to be released in September 2017:

Review: “Pleasing Mr. Pepys” by Deborah Swift

Pleasing Mr. Pepys is the newest work by Deborah Swift and set to release this September (2017), and I was fortunate to have been given an advance review copy. To me, Swift brought Deborah Willet, the Pepyses, and the London of the 1660s to life in an exciting and sometimes touching way. I found this to be a really enjoyable story, with its various plot-lines, and believe it is perfect not only for 17th-century aficionados but anyone who enjoys a good book.

This novel had a sympathetic heroine, Deb Willet, who was very much a real-life person whom we know today from the diary of Samuel Pepys, for she was employed as a companion for his wife, Elisabeth.

Not much is known about Deborah Willet’s life, and I think the fictitious story-line Swift created for the gaps was entertaining and does not detract from the little that we do know of Willet’s life. Deb is well-educated, practical, resourceful, and very intelligent (something that doesn’t go unnoticed).

Pepys is, well, Pepys (I found him lovably annoying, just as when I read his Diary – which, by the way, I would suggest people read before reading this because that makes the experience more rewarding). The plot included a love story I rooted for, complex villains, suspenseful espionage, Anglo-Dutch rivalry, everyday living in the late 1660s, the social unrest of the period, political intrigues, and a glimpse into two very different social spheres.

I loved how Swift incorporated the Poor-Whores Petition of 1668 into her story, too. Jeremiah Wells, one of the possible love interests, was characterized into so amiable and virtuous a fellow, that I was half-besotted by him by the middle of the book (ha!).…

Thanks, Andrea -- I suspect we all agree that everyone should read the Diary first.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.