In his diary Samuel Pepys often mentioned how much money he had. This graph shows these values over time:
The table below shows the same data. Included are the approximate 2016 values, as calculated by MeasuringWorth.com (using 1665 as a base year).
It is hard to compare equivalent values over such a long period (for more see the topic Values today). The two measures used to calculate todays’ values are, to quote Measuring Worth:
Standard of living value: Measures the purchasing power of an income or wealth in its relative ability to purchase a (fixed over time) bundle of goods and services such as food, shelter, clothing, etc., that an average household would buy. This bundle does not change over time. This measure uses the RPI.
Economic status value: Measures the relative “prestige value” of an amount of income or wealth between two periods using the income index of the per-capita GDP.
Pepys did receive some fixed incomes, and at the beginning of the Diary he lives on the one from being the Clerk of the Acts while he 'learned the ropes', so to speak:
"During the period of the Diary his salary as Clerk of the Acts was £350 a year; while in 1665 he was appointed Treasurer of the Tangier Commission, and from 1665 to 1667 he was Surveyor-General of Victualling with an additional £300 a year ..."
“Thus ends this year, to my great joy, in this manner. I have raised my estate from 1300/. in this year to 4400/.. I have got myself greater interest, I think, by my diligence, and my employments encreased by that of Treasurer for Tangier, and Surveyour of the Victualls. "It is true we have gone through great melancholy because of the great plague, and I put to great charges by it, by keeping my family long at Woolwich, and myself and another part of my family, my clerks, at my charge at Greenwich, and a mayde at London; but I hope the King will give us some satisfaction for that. "But now the plague is abated almost to nothing, and I intending to get to London as fast as I can. My family, that is my wife and maids, having been there these two or three weeks. "The Dutch war goes on very ill, by reason of lack of money; having none to hope for, all being put into disorder by a new Act that is made as an experiment to bring credit to the Exchequer, for goods and money to be advanced upon the credit of that Act. "I have never lived so merrily (besides that I never got so much) as I have done this plague time, by my Lord Bruncker’s and Captain Cocke’s good company, and the acquaintance of Mrs. Knipp, Coleman and her husband, and Mr. Laneare, and great store of dancings we have had at my cost (which I was willing to indulge myself and wife) at my lodgings.” Samuel Pepys (1633 - 1703) – Diary, 1 January, 1665/6
Was Pepys corrupt? This topic is frequently argued throughout the Diary. There is general agreement he should be judged by the standards of his times, and the Civil Service had yet to be invented. This example comes from 60 years before the Diary, but explains "the system" such as it was:
While Jacobean politicians periodically attacked corruption and venality in government, it was taken for granted that money was an essential lubricant of the system, and that the highest offices in the land frequently went to the highest bidders. Key components of the civil administration were run as personal fiefdoms and traded as though they were private property.
A prime example was the prothonotaryship, or chief clerkship, of the court of King’s Bench, which in 1603 was occupied by John Roper. This office was reckoned to generate a net annual profit of around £4,000 (roughly £1,400,000 in 2021), equivalent to the income of a reasonably affluent peer.
By dint of purchasing reversionary grants of the prothonotaryship, the Roper family had monopolized this role for more than a century, growing rich in the process. John Roper, the fourth member of his family to hold the post, had been in office since 1573, and was now aged about 69. https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2021… @@@
So Pepys' wealth growing by £4,000 in one year 60 years later would not be unique, nor necessarily attract attention ... his house, clothes and coach were signs he was smart enough to make his position and the system work for him. Problems would arise if he upset someone, and the Committee of the Treasury decided to make an example of him. In which case he better be able to prove he had made decisions "in the King's interest", which we know was a conscious justification for Pepys, at least at the beginning of his wealth accumulation.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.