By , .

Biographies and Portraits

Elizabeth Pepys, as beautifully depicted by artist James Thomson, after John Hayls here, as “immortalized” at St. Olave’s here and eulogized here, was the wife of Samuel Pepys. She was the daughter of Alexandre and Dorothea St. Michel, and a sister to Balty. Elizabeth was born 23 October 1640 at or around Bideford. Details of her childhood and life after the Diary are quite limited but presented here.

It is not known how Sam and Elizabeth met, but Elizabeth’s beauty and charm evoked such passion in Sam that the couple married when Elizabeth was 15 years old. Shortly after their marriage, but prior to the Diary, the couple had unspecified differences and separated for several months. It is believed that Sam’s jealousy, an issue that would continue for him throughout the Diary, was the cause of this split. By the start of the Diary, the two were reunited and living in Axe Yard.

Elizabeth in the Diary

Elizabeth’s role in the Diary is seen solely through the eyes of Sam as none of her letters survive. The marriage was not “smooth” for either of them. Periods of jealousy appeared on both sides. Sam was unfaithful to Elizabeth and although there was no indication that she was ever unfaithful to him, he often let his jealousy get the best of him, as seen during the months of her dancing classes with Mr. Pembleton. In spite of any jealousy, Sam’s intense feelings of love for Elizabeth were also evoked from time to time, as seen during a sudden illness, which caused such a fear in Sam that he wrote “I thought she would have died, and so in great horror, and having a great tryall of my true love and passion for her”. The couple also shared warm and tender moments together, and Sam truly missed her when they were apart.

Elizabeth’s health was an ongoing issue throughout the Diary. She often suffered from a recurring abscess, believed to be a Bartholin’s cyst, which often made sexual relations difficult for the couple. The couple had no children, and the cause of the infertility could easily have been Sam’s, perhaps due to his operation to remove his stone. Sam never fathered any children with any of his mistresses during his lifetime.

For the sake of spoilers, it is up to the readers of the Diary to assess the relationship as based on Sam’s perspective. Further details of their relationship during the Diary years will not be presented here.

Elizabeth After the Diary

Shortly after the Diary ended, Elizabeth and Sam traveled together to Paris with her brother Balty. In preparation for that trip Sam and his friend John Evelyn exchanged letters regarding Sam’s upcoming travels. The following three letters are excerpts from Howarth’s book, which is cited below. In his letter to Sam dated 21 August 1669, John shared with Sam some wonderful “must see” locations.

“Pray forget not to visit the Taille-Douce shops, and make Collection of what they have excellent, especially the Draughts of their Palaces, Churches, and Gardens, and the particulars you will have seen; they will greatly refresh you in your Study, and by the fire side, when you are many years return’d. Israel, Sylvestre, Morin, Chaveau, are great Masters, both for things of the kind extant, and Inventions extreamly pleasant. You will easily be acquainted with the best Painters, especially LeBrun, who is chief of them; and it would not be amiss to be present at their Acadamie., in which Monsieur du Bosse (a principal member) will conduct you. For the rest, I recommend you to God’s Almighty Protectio; augure you in a happy journey, and kissing you Lady’s Hands remain,

Sir, Your most humble and obedient Servant J. Evelyn

It is not know exactly what itinerary Sam and Elizabeth followed on their trip. The letter below from Sam to John was sent shortly after Sam’s return home and offers his apologies for not getting back to John sooner to thank him for his much appreciated advice. Upon their return home Elizabeth developed a severe fever. This letter, dated 2 November 1669, to a close and personal friend, captures the severity of Elizabeth’s illness and shows the emotional impact on Sam as he faced fears of her death.

SIR. I beg you to believe that I would not have been tens days returned into England without waiting on you, had it not pleased God to afflict mee by the sickness of my wife., who, from the first day of her coming back to London, hath layn under a fever so severe as at this hour to render her recoverie desperate; which affliction hath very much unfitted me for those acts of civilities and respect which, amongst the first of my friends, I should have paid to yourselfe, as he to whom singly I owe the much greater part of the satisfaction I have met with in my late voyage. Next to you, I have my acknowledgements to make to Sir Samuel Tuke, to whom (when in a condition of doing it) I shall beg your introducing me, for the owning of my obligations to him on the like behalfe. But, Sir, I beg you heartily to dispense with the ceremonie, till I am better qualified for paying it; and in the meane time receive the enclosed, which I should with much more satisfaction have delivered with my owne hand.

I am, Sir Your most obliged and obedient Servant. S. Pepys

I most humbly kiss you ladies hands, and pray my service may be presented to Sir Richard Browne [John Evelyn’s Father-in-law, the diplomatist]

Elizabeth died on November 10, 1669. Sam did not attend any Navy Board activities for approximately 3-4 weeks. A selection from a belated letter which Sam sent to Captain Elliot dated 3 May 1669-70, to thank him for supporting him in his unsuccessful election contest some 4 months later follows. It gives an indication of the extent of the emotional impact of Sam’s loss.

CAPTAIN ELLIOT, I beg you earnestly to believe that nothing but the sorrow and distraction I have been in by the death of my wife, increased by the suddenness with which it pleased God to surprise me with therewith, after a voyage so full of health and content, could have forced me to so long a neglect of my private concernments; this being, I do assure you, the very first day that my affliction, together with my daily attendance on other public occasions of his Majesty’s, has suffered me to apply myself to the considering any part of my private concernments; among which, that of my doing right to you is no small particular: and therefore, as your charity will, I hope, excuse me for my not doing it sooner, so I pray you to accept now, as late as it is, my hearty thanks for your multiplied kindness in my late affair at Aldborough,……”

Although Sam did have a future long-term relationship with Mary Skinner, he never remarried. Sam commissioned a monument, a bust of Elizabeth to be made and placed in St. Olave’s facing the Navy Pew, where it remains today. Upon his death in 1703, and at his instruction, Sam was laid to rest beside his wife.

Resources for the above Article

  • Letters and the Second Diary of Samuel Pepys edited by R.G. Howarth. All of the letters presented above are from Howarth’s book.
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys Companion compiled and edited by Robert Latham

Additional Background

Editor’s Note

This summary includes links to pictures provided by this site’s Glyn and Graham T. Their wonderful photography skills are very much appreciated.


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 18 May 2024 at 5:10AM.

Elisabeth Pepys
Elisabeth Pepys in a stipple engraving by John Thomson, after a painting of 1666 (now destroyed) by John Hayls[1]
Elisabeth de St Michel

(1640-10-23)23 October 1640
Bideford, Devon, England
Died10 November 1669(1669-11-10) (aged 29)
Resting placeSt Olave's, London, England
Known forHusband's diary
(m. 1655)​

Elisabeth Pepys (née de St Michel; 23 October 1640 – 10 November 1669) was the wife of Samuel Pepys, whom she married in 1655, shortly before her fifteenth birthday.

Her father, Alexandre Marchant de St Michel, was born a French Roman Catholic but later converted to the Church of England. He married Dorothea, a daughter of Sir Francis Kingsmill, in Ireland. Elizabeth was born near Bideford in Devon on 23 October 1640. She died of typhoid on 10 November 1669.

Elisabeth was a second cousin once removed of the writer Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea.

Diary of Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls,
who also painted Mrs Pepys

Most of what is known about Elisabeth Pepys comes from her husband's diary, which he kept between January 1660 and 31 May 1669. Their marriage and relationship are a key theme throughout.[2] They were married on 1 December 1655 at St Margaret's, Westminster, not by a clergyman but by Richard Sherwyn, Esq., a Westminster Justice of the Peace, an arrangement for civil marriages put in place by Cromwell’s government.[3] Samuel Pepys later remembered the wedding in great detail, recalling that Elisabeth had worn a petticoat trimmed with gold lace. Although the couple had a civil ceremony on 1 December 1655, they celebrated their wedding anniversary on 10 October, when a religious ceremony was held and they started to live together. Richard Ollard attributes this lapse of time to Elisabeth's youth.[4]

It is well known that Samuel was unfaithful to Elisabeth, often with their own maids. His best documented affair is one with the young housemaid Deb Willet, whom Pepys became particularly fond of, referring to her in the second to last line of his diary.[5] However, it is clear that Pepys held strong feelings for his wife throughout their marriage. When they were away from each other, Samuel greatly missed Elisabeth. Although they were separated for several months shortly after marrying, this has been considered to be a result of Samuel's strong feelings of jealousy. They reunited shortly before the diary was begun and lived in Axe Yard. The couple had a 14 year-old servant named Jane Birch and she and her eventual husband were their longest serving staff. In time as the household prospered the staff increased including a companion maid for Elisabeth. There were five in total with the longest, Mary Mercer, employed for two years.[6] Jane Birch left after Elisabeth complained about her lack of respect, however it was Elisabeth who later sought her out to re-employ her as a cook. After Samuel Pepys had behaved badly towards Jane Birch, it was Elisabeth who arranged her wedding and she added £20 to the £60 that Samuel gave as a wedding gift. Samuel did not attend.[7]

Samuel's changeable feelings for Elisabeth can be seen throughout his diary. A resentful sentence from 25 April 1663 suggests jealous feelings surrounding her and her dancing teacher, or perhaps a simple familiarity with Elisabeth and her self-confidence: "...merrily practising to dance, which my wife hath begun to learn this day of Mr. Pembleton, but I fear will hardly do any great good at it, because she is conceited that she do well already, though I think no such thing."[8]

Memorial to Elisabeth Pepys,
St Olave’s

Samuel's affection towards Elisabeth can be seen prominently in letters during her severe typhoid fever and after her death, as he apologises to fellow politicians and naval captains for not attending board meetings for four weeks after the death and not keeping up to date with letters during her illness: "CAPTAIN ELLIOT, I beg you earnestly to believe that nothing but the sorrow and distraction I have been in by the death of my wife, increased by the suddenness with which it pleased God to surprise me therewith, after a voyage so full of health and content, could have forced me to so long a neglect of my private concernments."[9]

Following Elisabeth’s death, Samuel’s continuing affection towards her has been suggested through his succeeding relationship with Mary Skinner and his decision to not marry her, even though, as evidenced in his letters to John Evelyn, she acted as his wife in all but name.[10] Similarly, when he died in 1703, regardless of his long-term relationship with Mary Skinner, on his own orders Pepys was laid to rest next to his wife.

Memorial to Samuel Pepys,
St Olave’s

In popular culture

In 1991, Dale Spender published a fictional literary spoof, The Diary of Elizabeth Pepys (1991 Grafton Books, London). Purportedly written by Elisabeth, the book is a feminist critique of women's lives in Restoration London.


  1. ^ National Portrait Gallery website: Elizabeth (sic) Pepys
  2. ^ Tomalin, Claire (2003). Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self. Penguin UK.
  3. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 189 (1850), p. 367
  4. ^ Ollard, Richard (1974). Pepys: A Biography. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 40.
  5. ^ Loveman, Kate (2011). "Further Information on Samuel Pepys and Deb Willet after the Diary". Notes & Queries. 58 (3): 388–390. doi:10.1093/notesj/gjr118.
  6. ^ "The Making of the English Middle Class". Retrieved 10 August 2023.
  7. ^ Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, B.; Goldman, L., eds. (23 September 2004). "Pepys' servants". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/93850. Retrieved 10 August 2023. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  8. ^ The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 25 April 1663.
  9. ^ Samuel Pepys to Captain Elliot, 3 May 1669–70
  10. ^ de la Bedoyere, Guy (1997). Particular Friends: The Correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. p. 14.

External links

There are also two encyclopaedic sites about Samuel Pepys, including information on his wife:

59 Annotations

First Reading

Phil  •  Link

She was born in 1640 with the surname of St. Michel. Latham & Matthews state that "by December 1655 [Samuel] Pepys had married [her,] the fifteen-year-old daughter of a penniless Hugeuenot exile," adding "This is the date of the civil ceremony. It seems likely that a religious ceremony had taken place in the previous October." (p.xxii)

language hat  •  Link

Description of Elizabeth and the marriage
from Bryant's Pepys bio:

"He had not long left Cambridge when he met his match. She was the daughter of a French Huguenot who had come over to England with Queen Henrietta Maria, lost his place at Court..., and married the daughter of an Anglo-Irish gentleman... She was very beautiful, with a little round face of almost unearthly pallor set in curls...

"He loved her and was intensely proud of her beauty, yet there were things to which he could not shut his eyes. She was careless and untidy, a child who could not even keep her own clothes tidy, let alone make a poor man's home. And though he read to her continually, in the evenings and on long Sabbath afternoons, and tried to make her as learned and universally curious as himself, the plain fact remained that she was something of a fool. Her favourite books were long meandering French romances, whose tedious narratives she would even repeat in company in the most uncalled-for and irritating manner. Moreover she had a will of her own and, though she loved and admired her clever husband, liked to follow the bent of her own imperious little ways....

"Very early in their married life they quarreled seriously. It did not last long... but for a time they appear to have been separated, Elizabeth going into lodgings with friends at Charing Cross. These early differences were a very bitter memory to Pepys, who could scarcely bear his wife to remind him of them, and at his father's house were long preserved the tell-tale papers of that warfare."

(The reader should bear in mind that these condescending words were written seventy years ago by an Englishman born in the nineteenth century!)

Dawn  •  Link

Has anyone read 'The Diary of Elizabeth Pepys', edited by Dale Spender.
It does put another view of Samuel---not quite as unflattering as his view of her!

Phil  •  Link

'The Diary of Elizabeth Pepys' is actually fiction, as a letter by Pepys' recent biographer, Claire Tomalin, makes clear 2/3 of the way down this page:…

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Biographer Claire Tomalin's description of Pepys's marriage in an "interview" at the Penguin books website:

"Pepys' account of marriage is one of the great themes of his Diary because it shows how fluid his feelings were -- something I believe to be true of most of us, although not often acknowledged. He was both very happy with Elizabeth and very unhappy -- proud of her beauty, her wit and artistic skill, tormented by jealousy, irritated by her careless housekeeping, frightened of her reaction should she discover his pursuit of other women.

"They shared a taste for reading, for shopping, for ordering new clothes and doing up the house. Their sexual relations were never good: she had a medical condition that affected things badly from the start. Children would have changed things between them, but there were none, a sadness to Pepys and probably to her, although he does not say so.

"None of her letters have survived, but now and then he lets us hear her voice, naming her favourite dressing gown which she liked to lounge about in 'my Kingdom' and calling him a 'prick-louse' (because he was the son of a tailor) or a 'false, rotten-hearted rogue' when she was angry. He hit her occasionally, but she fought her corner very successfully."

language hat  •  Link

pricklouse 'tailor'
(from the OED):

pricklouse ('prIklaUs). Now dial. Also 8- prick-the(-a)-louse. A derisive name for a tailor.
1500-20 Dunbar Poems xxvii. 5 Betuix a tel3our and ane sowtar, A pricklouss and ane hobbell clowttar. 1668 R. L'Estrange Vis. Quev. (1708) 151 The poor Prick-Lice were damn'dly startled at that, for fear they should not get in. 1709 O. Dykes Eng. Prov. & Refl. (ed. 2) 117 What an ignorant Presumption..for an impudent Prick-lowse to set up for a Lawyer, or a Statesman. A. 1796 Burns Answ. to Tailor ii, Gae mind your seam, ye prick-the-louse, An' jag-the-flae. 1828 Craven Gloss. (ed. 2), Prick-a-louse, a contemptuous name for a tailor.

(Great quote, Quidnunc; thanks!)

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Unusual ages to marry (14 and 22)

From a Toronto Globe and Mail review of Tomalin's biography (the review is very positive but notes this as one of a few "small errors":

"Tomalin is mistaken in assuming that there was nothing amiss when Pepys, a penniless youth of 22, married Elizabeth de Saint Michael, a penniless girl of 14. On the contrary, most of their contemporaries, male as well as female, postponed marriage until well into their twenties, choosing instead to amass a nest egg before setting up households of their own. Moreover, at 14, it is very unlikely Elizabeth was sexually mature; if she was like most other girls of the time, it would be four more years before she started menstruating. These details are important because they cast Pepys's dalliances with other young girls in an altogether more sinister light; they may also help account for why Pepys met with frequent rejection in his own bedroom."

-- Jessica Warner, "The sex life of Mr. Pepys," Saturday, 26 October 2002, page D17. From an attached note identifying the author:

"Jessica Warner is a scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, with a cross-appointment to the Department of History at the University of Toronto. She is the author of "Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason."

Grahamt  •  Link

I would suggest that Tomalin is being more realistic than Warner. Don't forget that Shakespere wrote of Romeo and Juliet (13 years old) being sexually active in their early teens also suggesting that "... younger than you, / Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, / Are made already mothers"
Why would the age of sexual maturity have risen so much in a hundred years?
Pepys has a well paying job for his age when the diary starts, and well able to support a household.

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Tomalin on "a child bride in our eyes"

"Child brides were common enough; marriage was legal for girls at the age of twelve." -- "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self" p 52

Grahamt makes a good point: Unusual doesn't equal "scandalous" or even "amiss" in the eyes of contemporaries. Tomalin points out that John Evelyn, a contemporary, married his wife when he was 26 and she was only 12 (cohabiting when she was 14).

And yet, Jessica Warner makes a fair point that it was still an unusual age for Elizabeth to marry, and that is definitely worth noting (Tomalin doesn't), which is why I posted the quote. I've read elsewhere that marriages back then normally took place when both parties were in their 20s because most people weren't as financially secure as Romeo and Juliet.

Financially, the match was imprudent -- Pepys was only a servant to Montagu at that point. (The Exchequer job probably came sometime in 1656.) Both sets of parents probably disapproved, and he installed his new wife into his room at Montagu's Whitehall lodgings without telling Montagu, Tomalin writes (p 53).

The age of sexual maturity has been decreasing, at least since sometime in the 19th century, due to better health (although girls in sports tend to mature a bit later). There's always been plenty of variation, of course.

Tomalin seems to assume Elizabeth was already menstruating, since she mentions it but doesn't cite anything on it (p 52). That seems like a fair assumption -- Pepys commented in the diary (2 Aug. 1660) that Elizabeth had a medical problem which had hampered sex when they were first married, and if she hadn't become sexually mature yet, he wasn't too squeamish not to have mentioned it in the diary.

language hat  •  Link

Too many negatives!
"...if she hadn't become sexually mature yet, he wasn't too squeamish not to have mentioned it in the diary."
I confess I'm not sure what you're saying here; could you rephrase, O quintessential Quidnunc?

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Unclear writing often signals a weak case!

Or being in a hurry.

How's this sound, O lettered LanguageHat? "If she were prepubescent when they married, Pepys might well have mentioned it in his diary, where he was typically frank."

The clearer the prose, the weaker my point looks. He might well NOT have mentioned it, even in his diary. Revised opinion: We don't know.

Frankly, I'm feeling pretty queasy about the whole subject.

Grahamt  •  Link

Very good points, but I wonder if we are not still projecting 21st century thinking onto 17th century mores. Pepys may have been "only a servant" when he married, but we know he was educated at St Pauls and Cambridge in an age when education, especially tertiary, was reserved for the rich and powerful. This suggests that being Montagu's servant was just an "apprenticeship" for his later role. I think that the term "clerk" is also burdened with modern prejudice. Pepys at 26 was earning L50 p.a. which seems a huge amount considering my mother earned L90 p.a. as a nurse about 285 years later in 1945. (inflation since the war makes modern comparisons less illustrative)
All of this suggests to me that Samuel was a good catch (financially) for Elizabeth. He may have put off marriage until his career path was established, but the same constraints weren't necessary for a young woman of modest means marrying a man with prospects. Was he really "penniless" as Warner suggests?
Even now, the age of consent is 14 in modern countries like Canada, Austria and Italy. Living in countries like the UK and US where the norm is 16-18 we may lose sight of the fact that Pepys was most likely not doing anything distateful, unusual or amiss in marrying a 14 year old.
We also have to be careful with - probably true - statistics like sexual maturity having started earlier since some time in the 19th century. That doesn't tell us what haapened between the 17th and 19th. The general health, (plagues aside) of the British working classes plummetted during the industrial revolution, when the economy changed from rural to urban, and only started to recover when the Victorians (late 19th C) realised that cleaning up urban squalor, providing sewers and hospitals, and educating the population in basic hygiene kept the work force working longer. It is likely that this urban poverty caused a postponement of the age of menstruation, just as anorexia does today. I see no evidence so far in the diary that Samuel and Elizabeth were malnourished!.
(Sorry this is so long)

Jessica Warner  •  Link

Per Pepys the Perv: see Mitterauer, Michael. A History of Youth. Translated by Graeme Dunphy. Edited by Peter Laslett and Michael Anderson, Family, Sexuality and Social Relations in Past Times. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992; and Wrigley, E. Anthony, and Roger S. Schofield. The Population History of England, 1541-1871. A Reconstruction. London: Edward Arnold, 1981. The first discusses the average age of menses, the second the average age of marriage in early modern England.

Eric Walla  •  Link

Interesting discussion. I wonder ...

... if, in his own way, Pepys might have been recording his wife's sexual immaturity by disclosing that she had a "medical condition" when they were first married. Which leads me to ask, how common might prepubescent relations with early married wives have been at this time in history? Should such be the case with Sam and Elizabeth, would Pepys be matching the norm, or conducting himself abnormally?

Dr. Warner, do you have data on this subject?

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Tomalin DOES cite a reason . . .

for thinking Elizabeth Pepys was past puberty when she married shortly before her 15th birthday -- well almost. She says marriage and puberty came "more or less" at the same time. Tomalin also says, by the way, that 17th century opinion generally was that marriage was meant to help one advance materially and in society (pp 49-50), and Pepys flew in the face of that by marrying Elizabeth.

Fair warning: The following quote is not for the squeamish. Here's an excerpt from footnote 15, page 53 (footnote appears on page 389; I've capitalized the most relevant phrase):

"Elizabeth probably was suffering from Bartholin's abcess or cyst, a relatively common condition treated today with antibiotics and, if necessary, surgery; in the seventeenth century there was no effective treatment, and the condition tended to recur, as it clearly did in Elizabeth's case. Although it was not caused by venereal infection but by bacteria living on the skin, Elizabeth may have suspected her husband of infecting her. It does not begin until puberty because it is the action of the glands that produces it, and IN ELIZABETH'S CASE PUBERTY PROBABLY COINCIDED MORE OR LESS WITH HER MARRIAGE. I am indebted to Patrick French for the medical information. [Tomalin then cites information from diary entries for 29 Oct. 1660 and 24 Oct. 1663.]"

Some uninformed speculation: I just bet that, in an age of such early marriages, there was some longstanding religious opinion on the morality of having sex with a wife who hadn't reached puberty. And a Puritan opinion, and an opinion in society at large.

Thanks for the contribution, Ms. Warner!

Jessica Warner  •  Link

In response to Mr Walla's question: Intimate details of this sort are understandably hard to come by; for hints on the average age at which working women became sexually active, see Rogers, Nicholas. "Carnal Knowledge: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-century Westminster." Journal of Social History 23, no. 2 (1989): 355-75. Rogers finds that most of the women in question were in their early twenties; obviously, they were all sexually mature, as suggested by a pregnancy-rate of 100 percent.

Roger Miller  •  Link

Cast of a bust of Elizabeth Pepys after a marble attributed to John Bushnell (1672) in the National Portrait Gallery.…

Edward Hughes  •  Link

I believe Elizabeth was suffereing from endometriosis, a condition that affects the uterus and causes great pain for about a week before menstruation begins. Symptoms include severe, agonising stomach pains, and sufferers are often left infertile. Having intercourse or experiencing orgasm brings on pain. Even today, medical science is unable to find a cure, they can only help to reduce the symptoms. Endometriosis helps to explain why Elizabeth and Samuel had infrequent sexual contact.

hannah james  •  Link

But then again, horny Samuel never washed and elizabeth liked to take a bath. Maybe the reason for their infrequent sexual contact was that Samuel was far too smelly and dirty to make love to. Just imageine the smell there would be when he took his undies off. yuk! It wouldn't surprise me if he you could smell his feet next door and his breath had all the freshness of an open sewer.

Bchan  •  Link

My maternal grandmother married at age 14. Apparently young brides were common in turn-of-the-century (1914) rural Missippi.

Keith Wright  •  Link

"It is a comment on [Pepys's] quality as a husband that in a diary which only once (in 1668) fails to record his own birthdays, those of his wife are not mentioned." ---This, from the entry on "Pepys, Elizabeth," in the Vol. 10 Companion to the Lathem-Matthews Diary (p. 317). Every reader of this Website will find this copious volume fascinating, indispensable, and well worth its modest cost.

The entry on Elizabeth also confirms the suspicion, voiced in the annotations to 4 February 1659/60, "Nor does he ever refer to her by name."

A. Mouse  •  Link

You can find out more than you wanted to know about the age of onset of menstruation at

The study quoted (from "a Canadian student", but with proper references) quotes average ages:

Medieval Europe 12-14
Manchester 1840s
...working class women 15.7
...upper class women 14.6
London 1855 (hospital patients) 15.5

The study agrees with the idea that body weight is an important factor, with on average the well-fed upper classes reaching puberty first, the poor and sick later.

The most interesting bit is that the idea of a recent marked fall in age is shown to be partly an artefact of earlier researchers' concentration on the disadvantaged.

Patty  •  Link

In reference to Pepys' supposed disinterest in his wife, I must say that I agreed at first with those who posted that he shows a lack of tenderness towards her, however as he is preparing to go to sea, I am feeling a renewed interest in their relationship.
Over the past few days they have spent a lot of time shopping together. He has gone out of his way to see that she will be comfortable with the Bowyers while he is gone. He sent for cabbages when she had a whim for them. And I was very touched when they spent the night "talking a great while" (Monday 12/3)
I think it sounds very romantic.
Just today they ate out at the Sun Tavern where over a piece of 8d salmon, he vowed that she should inherit all his worldy goods (except the books). It was a touching scene.
I have never read the diary before and I am greatly enjoying seeing the story unfold, and I must say that this moment will stick in my mind for some time!

Pauline  •  Link

Elizabeth Pepys, religion
"Her father (Alexandre de St. Michel) was born a French catholic, but converted to the Protestant faith as a young professional soldier fighting in Germany. He married Dorothea, the daughter of Sir Francis Kingsmill, in Ireland. Elizabeth and her brother Balthasar were both likely born in Devon. The family's fortunes and bad luck were such that in 1652 Madame de St. Michel was alone in Paris with her two children. She was persuaded to hand them over to Catholic friends, who placed Elizabeth in an Ursuline convent and Balthasar as page to the papal nuncio, a recollection that provoked him to a flash of wit: with such a start he told Pepys, he might have ended up as either a cardinal or a catamite. The children were rescued by their indignant father, who carried the whole family off to London; this was shortly before Elizabeth met Pepys. The timing of Balthasar's story is vague and the accuracy doubtful, since he wrote it down with the specific intention of proving that his sister was a staunch Protestant, whereas it is clear from Pepys's own account that the Catholic faith never lost its hold on her; when, for instance, he bought a mass book for himself in 1660 and sat up late reading it, it gave great pleasure to my wife to hear that that she long ago was so well acquainted with.?

Although she said at the time of Sam's brother Tom's death that she intended to die a Catholic, she died attended by the vicar of St. Olave's. In this decision, Sam did what convention and prudence dictated. By then [Elizabeth] was no doubt past making any request or decision for herself."

Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequaled Self.

Winnie  •  Link

Newly come to this page I am horrified to find an annotation which says the age of consent for marriage in Canada is 14. Not so. Each province sets the legal age for marriage and this usually means that when you reach the age of majority (18 or 19 depending on which province you live in) you are free to marry willy nilly. From about 16 until the legal age you may marry with parental consent.
I do believe that in Pepys time many women would have married young. Making a "good match" to gain property and political power for their well-to-do fathers or to no longer burden their parents in not so well off families.

Katherine  •  Link

Since the subject has been raised, the age of consent in Holland is currently 12, with parental consent. Not for marriage though.

But on the different subject of Elizabeth's intellectual capacity, there seems to be some disagreement. The first quote calls her a fool, but a later post refers to Pepys' admiration of her wit and artistic skill. Can anyone shed any light on this disparity?

Rich Merne  •  Link

I think it's very reasonable to assume that Liz was indeed menstruating when she married, if only newly so. Firstly, she was fifteen and had no history of serious deprivation of nourishment. Also, if her portrait is anything to judge by, she was rather buxom and healthy looking, bearing out the first point. Then as now, quite apart from the constraints of laws or mores, the ostensible sign that a new era of life has arrived is the onset of the menstrual cycle. This signal is burried deep in the human psyche whether we like it or not; the signal, in short, that it is time to re-produce, and this would mostly connote marriage. By corollary, the absence of it would usually be an impediment and at least mean delay. All in all, I am sure that Liz was a young woman at her marriage, though it might not be what I'd like for my daughter!!

Kim Forbes  •  Link

Bartholin's abcess or cyst. Although it can be caused by normal bacteria, it has also been found to be caused by sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. And since we know that Sam liked the ladies, it is possible that he infected Elizabeth.

vicente  •  Link

Were she smart or were she dumb, or normal?
Laws are not with the female of the species:
The law of the God[s][for e.g. bible]
Ge 2:22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a {o} woman, and brought her unto the man.
Ge 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave {p} his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Laws of the land [common law]
The girl is the responsibility of pops, till she marry, then she becomes the responsibility of the master of the house 'til he departs.
Law of Jungle; [brawn is king]
Law of Nature [per aesop's fables]
Fox and the crow and cheese and flattery;
So what does a girl do, to have a say;
Have the smarts to use her brain to out smart the laws.[body looks and language helps]. While all Sam has to do is quote a few sound bites to have the upper hand.
So in my view Beth is testing the waters, because she is certainly smart enough to write a logical list of facts to upset hubby, so that he has to destroy her work [rule of the jungle]
Negotiate from any strength, she has no rights to speak of, except her brain to negotiate in having a say in her life.
Sam appears to do just as he pleases, off to the pub,theatre,church, etc., while Madam takes care of the incidentals like running the house.
Now the modern Woman has a few hard earned laws[common] to even out the balance, also she is less dependant on brawn to get work done as there are many labour[brawn] saving devices that do not require mans superior strength.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

I'm not sure that I buy the flat statement by Tomalin that Elizabeth and Sam had uniformly poor sexual relations. Sam frequently refers to laying long with pleasure with her and although later in the Diary refers to gaps in their intercourse he also notes that her "indifference" to him was due to a want of performance on his part and mentions giving her pleasure then and at a number of times in the Diary. Tomalin makes a case on rather limited evidence that Beth only experienced pleasure in the last months of their relationship after Pepys' unfortunate and disasterous affair Willet... It seems to me if you use Sam's words to make a case like that you must accept his words on other occasions as well. Ergo, using the Diary in full, I conclude the Pepys had some problems owing to Beth's ulcers but in general had a fairly good sex life until Sam's roving eye caused serious trouble.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

And here's a link to the National Portrait Gallery list of Elizabeth Pepys portraits. The engraving can be viewed here as well as the bust Sam had commissioned of her. The original painting was by John Hayls.…

DrCari  •  Link

Portrait of Elizabeth

According to Tomalin, Eliabeth was painted at age 23 (1666) by John Hayles. Sam was also painted separately at this time. Both portraits were hung in his house on Seething Lane. Later on, the paintings remained in the possession of Pepys's nephew's family.

A sad footnote : "Elizabeth's portrait was cut into strips some time around 1830 by a Scottish nurse shocked at the immodesty of the dress. Fortunately it had been engraved for the first edition of the Diary."

The portrait image can be found in Tomalin's book.

Anielka  •  Link

Reading Pauline's information on Elizabeth's ancestry it may interest you to know that Elizabeth Pepys (nee Merchant St. Michel) was second cousin once removed to another famous writer; Anne Kingsmill "Euphilia" Finch. (Anne was born in 1661.)

EQ  •  Link

"The Journal of Mrs Pepys" by Sara George - an interesting and enjoyable (fictional) perspective on the Pepys' lives.

celtcahill  •  Link

In the last year of the diary and quite early in that year he is pensive and discussses his wife in the most flattering and appreciative terms. I suspect that those feelings are underpinning his thinking throughout - and no, not logically considering his approach to liasons with other women - but, I think sincerely. I do think that as underpinning he may not have been entirely aware of his own sense of her value to him. The entry I'm thinking of he seems to be a little surprised in himself. It is clear that he never thinks of himself as anyone but her husband, and points out more than once that she is the best looking woman at any of the gatherings he takes her to. I think I would keep such an one out of the reach of the Stuarts too.....

jeannine  •  Link

Elizabeth Pepys' Epitaph
Wife of Samuel Pepys (who serves the Royal Navy).
She was educated first in a convent, and then in a seminary of France.
She was distinguished by the excellence of both at once,
Gifted with beauty, accomplishments, tongues,
She bore no offspring, for she could not have borne her life.
At length when she had bidden this world a gentle farewell,
(After a journey completed through, we may say, the lovelier sights of Europe) --
A returning pilgrim, she took her departure to wander through a grander world.

Paul Chapin  •  Link

That's beautiful, Jeannine. Do you suppose Sam wrote it?

jeannine  •  Link

Paul, It took a little digging, but in the Book "Pepys In Love: Elzabeth's Story" the author Patrick Delaforce confirms that Sam actually did write Elizabeth's epitaph.
Sidenote-I was pleasantly surprised to read this as based on Sam's writing style I would have thought otherwise. How lovely to see this "softer" side of his words.

Bradford  •  Link

Nor would I have thought him the author; but perhaps it shows the difference between "writing to the moment" in the Diary, and writing for all time in an epitaph. He must have missed her more than we can imagine.

Thanks, Jeannine, for this.

Stolzi  •  Link

This part of the epitaph confused me:

“She bore no offspring, for she could not have borne her life.”

Any interpretations? And can anyone tell me, was this epitaph originally written in Latin, in which case there might be some fault in the translation here?

Saying that a person “cannot bear their life” usually means aggravation, but I have never thought that either of the Pepyses would be sorry to have children, - on the contrary.

jeannine  •  Link

The url for the above epitaph is now located at…

I have another version from a book that translates the section that Stolzi asks about differently saying "without having borne issue, because she would not produce her equal" (Patrick Delaforce's translation).

Bradford  •  Link

Great thanks to Grahamt. Here follows a humble transcription, constrained by the limitations of WORD, and my own ignorance. To make the most of it, copy and print and compare it against the photograph.
The ligatures between the long and short “s”s, the “ct” in “Actis” and the “st” in “lustratura” are very ornate and easy to misread.
The acute accents over “n” and “m” in several words can’t be duplicated, or the tilde over the comma in line 3. Might these, and what looks like a subscript “3” after “Vtriusq” in line 4, be abbreviations? Ditto with the “p” with the barred downstroke in line 8, and the long “e” in “Potiore” in line 9?
---Alas, sub- and superscripts do not come through in this posting, nor the centering of the epitaph proper.
The curvature of the upper cartouche makes several line-endings uncertain. Nor can I indicate 'ANNO' with a bracket to the left of the last three lines in the lower one.
I trust Language Hat can ride to our rescue. ---B.

SAMVELIS PEPYS, Claƒsi Regiæ ab Actis, Vxor [?]
Quæ in Cœnobio primù~, Aulâ dein` educata Gallica[ ]
Vtriusq3 una claruit virtutibus;
Formâ, Artibus, Linguis cultiƒsima;
Prolem enixa, quiâ parem non potuit, nullâ;
Huic demum` placidè cum` valedixerat,
Confecto p_ amæniora ferè Europæ itinere[ ]
Potiore--- redux abiit lustratura mundú.

Xo Novembris
Ætatis 29.o
Conjugij XV.o
DOMINI 1669.o

Paul Dyson  •  Link

Elizabeth's epitaph

Thanks to Grahamt for the much improved clarity of the photo of Elizabeth's epitaph, and to Bradford for the very detailed transcription.

On Roman tombstones letters were often combined to save space or even omitted, which presumably saved engraver's fees too. In the latter case they were usually replaced by a sort of shorthand mark. Similar practice continued in the 17th century, so that here a swung dash indicates that an "m" has been omitted at the end of a word; as Latin is inflected it is vital to know this in order to recognise an accusative case singular ending. The 3 symbol at the end of "utriusq" indicates the omission of the letters "ue". The horizontal line under "p" indicates the omission of "er". The circumflex (inverted v) accent over some final letters "a" shows that the words are ablative case singular rather than nominative which has the same form. The other accents I am unable to explain. The "o" superscript after the numerals in the lower cartouche represents an ablative ending of a Latin ordinal numer, e.g Xo = "decimo" = "on the tenth [day]". It's anomalous to find this after an arabic numeral.

Putting the transcription into modern lettering and completing all words it reads as follows:

SAMUELIS PEPYS, Classi Regiae ab Actis, Vxor
Quae in Coenobio primum, Aula dein educata Gallica
Utriusque una claruit virtutibus;
Forma, Artibus, Linguis cultissima;
Prolem enixa, quia parem non potuit, nullam;
Huic demum placide cum valedixerat,
Confecto per amaeniora fere Europae itinere
Potiorem redux abiit lustratura mundum.

Xo Novembris
ANNO Aetatis 29o
Coniugii XVo
Domino 1669o

Now that the word "itinere" is clearly readable, it can be seen that it is an ablative singular with which "confecto" agrees. The phrase "confecto itinere" is thus an Ablative Absolute, meaning (literally) "a journey having been completed", or (more felicitously) "after completing a journey".

Thus a possible full translation might be [words in square brackets not present in the Latin]:

Wife of SAMUEL PEPYS, Royal Navy Clerk of the Acts,
Who, educated first in [the] Coenobium, then in the French Court,
shone above all others in the virtues of both;
[She was] most refined in Beauty, Arts and Languages;
She bore no offspring, because she could not [have borne] her equal;
When she had gently bidden farewell to this [world] just after completing a journey through altogether the more pleasant parts of Europe, she departed, taken back to wander over a better world.

She died
On the 10th of November
In the 29th Year of her Age
In the Fifteenth Year of her Marriage
In the Year of Our Lord 1669

Bradford  •  Link

Thanks so much, Paul, for expanding my attempt at a "diplomatic" transcription into this complete form, with translation, and explaining the intricacies of marmoreal abbreviation. Informative on every level.

Paul Chapin  •  Link

I fully concur,
Paul Dyson's thorough exegesis clarifies the entire epitaph, and he deserves our warm appreciation. For its literary quality, however, I would still commend the English translation that Jeannine found for us on 3 January (cf. supra), with 'like' substituted for 'life' (a crucial mistranscription). I take the liberty to reproduce it here, with those changes, for the possible convenience of later readers:

Wife of Samuel Pepys (who serves the Royal Navy).
She was educated first in a convent, and then in a seminary of France.
She was distinguished by the excellence of both at once,
Gifted with beauty, accomplishments, tongues,
She bore no offspring, for she could not have borne her like.
At length when she had bidden this world a gentle farewell,
(After a journey completed through, we may say, the lovelier sights of Europe) --
A returning pilgrim, she took her departure to wander through a grander world.

language hat  •  Link

Well done all!
Being a miserable Latinist, I could not have done much with this text, and I appreciate the efforts of those more steeped in the language.

Xjy  •  Link

A big "well done!" from me, too.

Here's my final contribution to the annotations for Sat 2 May 1663 (the "prick-louse/beggar" entry):

The epitaph
Yep. Our collective sinews seem to have cracked the conundrum.
I think the two translations given last - Paul D's and the one reproduced by Paul C - do the job.

But I would replace the "gentle"s with "peaceful" and (after wallowing in the etymological swamps of "luo" and "lustrum" etc) still go for "illuminate" instead of the more prosaic "wander".
My thought is that she is being compared to a heavenly body wandering the skies and illuminating the better afterworld that way. It is after all a Baroque conceit... ;-) This gives the "redux" a hint of resurrection like the returning stars etc ("soles occidere et redire possunt.//Nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux//nox est perpetua una dormienda").

So I'd suggest something like:
"when she had finally bidden this world a peaceful farewell, after completing a journey through the most delightful parts of Europe, she departed it to return to a better one and shine her light upon it."

It's nice to actually be able to make some sensible use of all the magical tools of communication and reference we are spoilt with!! :-) Tying together Lewis and Short (Latin dic), paleographical refs, pix of the epitaph, etc, pooling our various Latin knowledges and contextual snippets... it feels just wonderful!

in Aqua Scripto  •  Link

A hoi polloi version of the placque at the little church on Seething lane:
Sam came to me in my nightmare last night and said
" o' salty one , please [pepper] spice this epigraph up,
as I used good Latin to confuse the dropouts of the time
as they would not understand the depth of my despair,
I thought of quoting Catullus, Virgil, Martialis, the Senecas,
but none did understand my pain, not even Syrus,Plautus, Ovid
Please do me Justice as, I was guilty of having my darling Beth
run ragged through the Tombs,the Catacumbs,
Up and down the Tuilliers, giggling over the belles of court
and watch the Sun King prance,
I had a ball seeing the wonders of the world ,
that Pisa leaning over to threaten those on their grand tour.
I was saddened to realise that I did this to the one great spark to my life , when dimmed ,
only then realised that precious partner I had.
So please please, get the best rendition to my words in the Modern vernacular."
Rit water, thee may have been useless in rudiments,grammar,syntax,poetry and rhetoric
and thy spelling be atrocious, it be the tort that matters."

Elizabeth Pepys
Wife of Samuel Pepys, administrator of the Royal Navy,
Who was tutored in Cornwall, next by French Courtiers
She had been at the same time both brilliant and courageous;
With Beauty, Character, most cultured Linguist;
had struggled from childhood,
because of being unable to be a companion,
at last peacefully had said goodbye,
by nearly completing the journey through Europe with delightfulness
Returned, had departed the world to a more lustrous one;

She died , November 10th,
in her 29th year,
after 15 years of marriage,
in the year of the Lord 1669

Bradford  •  Link

The portraits of Elizabeth and Samuel are discussed by novelist Rose Tremain (whose novel "Restoration" is set during 1664-67) in this interesting article about the human penchant for likenesses:…

Jim  •  Link

Samuel and Elizabeth were married in a religious ceremony on October 10, 1655. Paul's translation of the next to last line of the epitaph is correct.

"In the Fifteenth Year of her Marriage"

Second Reading

Sasha Clarkson  •  Link

I was researching a poetess, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, (1661 -1720), daughter of one Sir William Kingsmill. It is not inconceivable the she and Elizabeth might be related via Elizabeth's maternal grandfather, Sir Francis Kingsmill.…

For comparison I tweeted a picture of both to our Pepys Diary twitter feed, in case anyone wants to look and judge for themselves ...…

A contemporary poet of Anne Finch was Sandwich's grand-daughter in-law, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu…

The following article compares the two women and describes Lady Mary as "The Germaine Greer of her day".…

Oliver Mundy  •  Link

Has anyone ever commented on the clear statement in the Latin inscription that Elizabeth was 'initially educated in a convent' ('in Coenobio primu[m] . . . educata')? This surely contradicts Balthasar's tendentious assertion (already viewed with some doubt by Claire Tomalin) that the convent episode was an aberration imposed by their mother's advisers and terminated after twelve days.

I also feel (if, as a nobody without the least scholastic standing, I may be allowed a personal viewpoint) that Pepys was showing some measure of courage and conjugal loyalty in writing this. 'Coenobium' was the standard Latin term for a monastery or convent (used, for example, throughout Dodsworth and Dugdale's 'Monasticon Anglicanum', 1655-73), and thus nobody who knew Latin could have been in any doubt that Pepys was asserting his wife's upbringing in a Catholic environment – a perilous thing for him to say amid the sectarian paranoia of those times. And why should he have mentioned it at all, if it was not as a kind of atonement to the woman he had so often deceived and misused? During their quarrel over Deb Willet, Elizabeth had told him explicitly that she was a Catholic, a fact that might have ruined him if it had reached the public ear. Now, only a year later, we find him stating her religious background as explicitly as he could possibly venture to do: giving her the last word on the subject, in fact.

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

‘ . . Her mother intending that she become a nun, Elizabeth was briefly placed in the city's Ursuline convent before she and Balty were removed to London by their father . . Her peripatetic upbringing may have instilled in Elizabeth the independent, mature, and determined spirit, as well as the ambivalent opinion towards Catholicism, that characterized her adult life.

. . At previous moments of crisis Elizabeth had expressed a desire to die in the Roman Catholic faith, though when the moment came (in 1669) Samuel chose an Anglican minister to offer the sacrament. Pepys had previously expressed concern about Elizabeth's possible Catholic sympathies (29 November and 6 December 1668), and in 1673 he was himself accused of Catholicism and of ‘breaking his wife's heart, because she would not turn Papist’.

Following the accusation, Balty reassured his brother-in-law that, whatever ‘thoughts, shee might in her more tender yeares have had of Popery’, he was satisfied ‘that you kept my Dear sister in the true protestant Religion till her Death’. Balty's letter also provides a rare if uncorroborated example of Elizabeth's own reported speech in a life otherwise recorded entirely in Pepys's voice. While admitting that she had been mistaken in her childhood, she is said to have told her brother, ‘I have now a man to my husbande soe wise, and one so religious in the Protestant religion … to ever suffer my thought to bende that way any more’ . . ‘


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

It may be helpful to remember the Bible's teaching on the position of women, which was observed at the time. Of course, losing so many men in the recent wars meant that there were many widows providing for children. And there were many women who had experienced more freedom and responsibility because their men were away for a decade or more. I think we can assume there was significant societal push-back to the following "values".

A woman should “be busy at home … and … be subject to their husband, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:4-5).
This makes sense, because “the husband is the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23).
While the woman “rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household … her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” (Proverbs 31:15-23).

Uh-Huh. I saw my mother's reaction to the last time these "values" ruled in the 1950's. She was always resentful that her contribution to WWII was under-valued when the men came home and effectively took back all the jobs and education benefits.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

I have to rethink my assumptions about the education Elizabeth and Balty were exposed to. Elizabeth must have been smart enough to take advantage of what she received -- she could speak and read French (I don't remember her writing it). She could also speak, read and write English (even if Pepys complained about her spelling; he was a fine one to speak to that subject IMHO!).

Either she got excellent education at home, or she regularly snuck out to a "petty school", and then she had a couple of months in a French convent, but she made the most of whatever it was.

And she was inquisitive enough to ask Pepys to explain maths to her, and to try to better herself with her hobbies.

For more about the levels of education available to girls in England -- and Elizabeth was not the norm -- admittedly up until the outbreak of the Civil Wars, and I doubt education in Devonshire became more available during wartime when she was young, see…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"Bartholin's abcess or cyst. Although it can be caused by normal bacteria, it has also been found to be caused by sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. And since we know that Sam liked the ladies, it is possible that he infected Elizabeth."

My brief research into these cysts revealed that 3 out of 100 women suffer from these things -- no help needed from diseases. Since Pepys lived a long and comparatively healthy life, it's reasonable to think he didn't have chlamydia or gonorrhea.…

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