One of our frustrations is that it is hard for us to see Elizabeth’s side of the story, so any learned interpretations should be welcome, and taken as a guide so that we can attempt to make our own judgment, right or wrong.
From Pedro’s annotation 14 January 14 1662/1663
I. The Search for Her Voice
Scholars, historians, writers and curious others have searched for the “voice” of Elizabeth Pepys, only to succumb to the sad realisation that none of her letters or writings exist, or, if in existence, as those die hard optimists may hope, they have yet to be found. Perhaps, like the recently discovered manuscripts of Robert Hooke, some disheveled family will finally clean out an attic, old trunk or cabinet and discover the secrets of her perspective. In the meantime, Pepysians in search of her secrets have been left to gather their “evidence” from Sam’s Diary and piece together their interpretations along with the rest of us.
Sam provides an overwhelming window into his life through his collective writings, especially in his Diary, letters and assorted correspondence. He is the subject of countless books, articles, essays and fan clubs. The comparison of the vast amount of information presented about him verses the scant whispers of information presented about Elizabeth form a sharp contrast. The search for her voice is quite frankly a dead ended lesson in frustration. Even her “biographers” can only offer us at best additional areas of scholarly debate, minimal background information into her family, but never anything more than a hint into her life before Sam. Those readers hoping to find as a “destination” the voice of Elizabeth will no doubt be disappointed, as quite honestly was I, with the limitations of this article. Those who may enjoy the journey as opposed to the destination may walk away with a few thoughts to ponder about this intriguing lady and her family.
Writers see things through their own eyes and not without their own biases. The kindly philosophical Percival Hunt, sees Sam expecting Elizabeth “to be his wife, and a housekeeper, and a companion, and wise and encouraging. Besides, she was to retire into a cloud when he had work to do, and was to know without telling when to leave him alone. She was, that is, to be all things to one man” (Hunt, p.167). Richard Ollard’s interpretation is that Elizabeth “consistently shows in the Diary an attractive and unselfish readiness to enter into her husband’s interests and to offer him her untutored natural abilities and tastes to shape and direct.” (Ollard, p.123)…. She “had no power, no resources no friends. Her raison d’etre was to please him. She could make herself disagreeable, but that was all. He held all the cards; money, freedom, social opportunity, and played them for himself. Increasingly this meant that the world he lived in grew apart from hers.” (Ollard, p.127)”.
A less sympathetic view of Elizabeth includes Bryant description of a young Elizabeth as a totally unsuitable partner for Sam, calling her “a pale little chit of a foreign beauty who could bring him nothing but trouble,” (Bryant, p.26) and flatly stating that “the plain fact remained that she was somewhat of a fool.” (Bryant, p.28). Robert Lewis Stevenson, who abounds with admiration for Sam reduces Elizabeth simply to “vulgar”.
At the end of the day, these “learned interpretations” all draw their views from the same place and space that we gather to read each day, Sam’s Diary. In order to broaden our view of Elizabeth, who has no voice of her own, perhaps we can gain a better understanding of her through understanding her family life prior to Sam. For this, we need to turn towards the one other person who knew her dearly, has written about her and offered hints as to her life before the Diary. That would be her brother Balty.
II. A Letter from Balty
One of the more famous family letters that is referenced in abundance by Pepysians is a letter that Balty wrote to Sam long after the Diary had come to a close. The background to this letter will help us to weave through its deliberately misleading intent and yet, perhaps reveal the upheaval and instability that Elizabeth knew and called home.
In order to get to her past, we need to jump ahead into the future. Throughout Charles II’s reign, a political plot worked against James, the Duke of York and a number of other Papists in high places (including Queen Catherine). The plot(s) were intended to discredit Catholics who were close to the King, with the hope to gain control of the succession of the Crown. In 1678, these clandestine plans would prove “personal” (Heath, p.xiii) and involve Sam, with the hopes to reflect poorly upon his patron, James, the Duke of York. This activity was part of the overall Popish Plots. During this time, the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, a well know Protestant magistrate, opened a huge opportunity for the conspirators to blame the Papists for his death. Helen Heath explains that the original plan may have been to implicate Pepys in the murder of Godfrey. Luckily, Sam was away at the time of the murder so the conspirators went after his clerk, Samuel Atkins. The evidence proved so false that the boy was released, but as a follow up a Colonel John Scott invented evidence against Sam to lead to his arrest on the charges of piracy, popery and treachery. Among the many charges was the one leading to Balty’s letter, which stated that Sam had “secretly turned to the Catholic Church, had hidden crucifixes in his home, [and] had consorted with Catholics” (Heath, p.xiv).
Sam, now in prison, had a desperate need to clear his name, which involved the need for “spy” work be done in France in order to discredit and prove his accuser a liar. To his credit, and, most likely to the amazement of many Diary readers, Balty rose magnificently to the occasion and herein proved his greatest service to Sam. In spite of all his flaws and failures he went to France to pursue ” a sort of double life between the wealthy merchants of Pepys acquaintance, on the one hand, and the rogues and vagabonds who consort with the nefarious Colonel Scott on the other” (Heath, p.xxv).
In addition, Balty penned the following letter to Sam, with the intent of “proving” that the charge of Popery in his home was false and misleading. Although the readers of the Diary will all know that Elizabeth had a leaning towards Catholicism, the letter provides us with the only other known “glimpse” into the family life of the St. Michel’s, and therefore holds some of the only other “hints” at Elizabeth’s life prior to the Diary. This letter is not without controversy, yet it forms the basis that many historians have drawn from to describe her life prior to Sam. Sam’s biographers (Chappell, Bryant, Tomilin) and Elizabeth’s biographers (Chappell, Delaforce) all reference this letter, albeit, sometimes drawing conflicting perspectives. Tomalin does “warn” us that Balty “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” (Tomalin, p.55).
In addition to the Catholicism issue, the letter causes debate on other grounds as Elizabeth’s birthplace is brought into question. Balty will note in this letter that “Devonsheire at a Place Caled Bidiford, where, and thereabouts my sister and wee all ware borne” while Edwin Chappell, a noted 19th century Pepysian scholar, will point out that “the inscription on her monument in St. Olave’s Church, Hart Street, E.C., in which is stated that Somerset gave her cradle” (Chappell, p.33). Writing for the 1932 Somerset Year-Book, Chapell’s article explores the birthplace debate from all angles and finally asks “may I request that all baptismal registers [in every Somerset parish] for 23rd October, 1640, be inspected, and this interesting point might be definitely settled?” (Chappell, p.34). It’s not clear that this mystery has been conclusively solved to date either.
Another interesting point of debate has to do with the parentage of Elizabeth’s mother Dorethea. Marjorie Astin’s biography of Elizabeth, which differs on this point from all others (discussed in II and IV), states that Dorethea was the “daughter of Lavinia and Matthew Penneford of Gort, and widow of Thomas Fleetwood. She was closely connected with the Kingsmills, a family of considerable worth and consequence, who had resided at Basingstoke, Hants, from the twelfth to sixteenth century; they had received a grant from the Royal Mill there, from which they derived their name.” (Astin, p.10). Perhaps it is best to put these “details of debate” into the broader perspective, where through this letter we will see that the results infer that Elizabeth had a “curious childhood, full of poverty and unrest, for her father was often abroad earning his bread as a soldier.” (Astin, p.12).
Helen Heath, who edited Pepys’ family letters, reminds us in the background information on Balty that “it is to be noted that life in Balty’s eyes is never matter-of-fact. Every wind is a hurricane, every mishap a near-catastrophe, every hardship a hell” (Heath, p.xxiv). She also sums up this famous letter (Letter #21 of the collection) saying, “Perhaps the most noteworthy and most informative letter from St. Michel is Letter 21, in which is vividly sketched the family background from which he [Balty] and his sister, Pepys’s wife, have emerged. Here is depicted as delightfully erratic a family as anyone could wish to choose a wife from” (Heath, p.xxiv). We must always remember that no matter how erratic the family and their situation, they were still HER family, and no doubt Elizabeth loved them all and remained devoted to them throughout her life. Tomalin tells us (Tomalin, p.210) that “The deepest bond in her life may well have been with her brother, Balty; it was reciprocal, and each is shown looking out for each other in the pages of the Diary.” Balty’s letter, from the Heath edition (Heath, p.25-28), includes Sam’s notation and is printed in full below.
III. Balty’s Letter to Sam as presented in The Letters of Samuel Pepys and his Family Circle edited by Helen Truesdell Heath
Endorsement of Samuel Pepys
“Brother Balty’s letter to mee giveing an account of the Fortune of his Family, perticulerly done for the cleareing the imputation layd on mee in Parliament of my turning his Sister from a Protestant to a Catholique, S.P.”
Deale, the 8th February 1673/4
In answer to yours of last night which received this morning at 8 of the Clock: I wonder indeed that you, whoose life and Conversation, hath bine ever knowne to be a Ferme Protestant, shoold now be Caled in question of being a papist; but Sir Malice and Envey will still oppress the best of Men; wherefore Sir to the hazard of my life i will proove (if Occasion be) with my sworde in my hand (since it hath touched soe neare of the memory of my Dear sister) that your Competitor is a false lier in his throught, as to your haveing Eather an Alter in your House, or that my Dear sister Ever since shee had the Honour to be your wife, or to her Death had the least thoughts of Popery, this I know, by my not only often Conversation with her my selfe, but in my Presence on time, i remember, shee haveing some discourse with my Father, conserning your life and Conversation, as well as Fortunes, this was his speech with her, that amongst the Greatest of Happinesses hee injoyed in his minde, was that shee had by matching with you, not only wedded wisdome, but allsoe one whoe by it, hee hoped in Christ, would quite bloute out, those Foolish, Phopish thoughts, shee might in her more tender yeares have had of Popery, theese (to the Best of my memory) ware his very words; to which her reply was (Kissing his Eyes, which shee loved dearly) dear Father said shee, though in my tender yeares, I was, by my low Fortune in this world deluded by popery by the Fonde-didly thereof; I have now a man to my husbande soe wise, and one so religious in the Protestant religion (Joyned with my riper yeares which gives me more understanding) to Ever suffer my thought to bende that way any more.
But Sir, I have given you two much truble with one thinge; Now to what you desir as to the Knoledge how, and when, the Popish Fancis ware first put in my Poore Dear Sisters head; which (to the best of my memory) in Every Pointe I shall declare to you. First my Father, Sonn to the High-Shreeve of Boge (in Anjou in France) a Papist and all his Famely, in which religion, allsoe my Father was bread, and continued in, till hee was 21 yeares, at which time (hee being then in the German service) turned Protestant, and without trubling you with the rest of his life there, till hee returned to France, I shall only say that hee did soe;where hee Found his Father Dead, haven given all hee had (heering of my Fathers being turned a Hugenot as hee termed it) in mariage with his Daughter (my Fathers only sister) soe that my Father, being disinherited of all for his religion-sake, had nothing lefte but his sword and Freindes, to preferr him in the world (though an Uncle of my Fathers a Chanoine of Parris whoe loved [him] soe well, that hee promised to make him his Aire and Give him 200 000 livres Tournois which is about 20 000 £ sterling, if he woold but goe to mass againe, but all (to this deare man whoe lived and died a sai[n]tely life) nor any thing could shake his resolutions of Continuance in the true Protestant Cause; at last Fortune in this world seemed to smile on him againe, hee being (as you knew Sir) a Gentleman, Extreamely well-bred, got him the Frends (to geather with his Name and Quality being of a very Good house in France) to preferr him ( when the Match was Concluded, between his Majesty Charles the First of Blessed memory,and the Daughter of France, to be of her retenue, in the Place of one of her Gentlemen Carvers, soe hee Came over with her Majesty, but longe had hee not Continued heere in her service, but the Cloudes of his Misfortunes (as to the Losse of his place) Frowned on him againe, being tooke notice of by some of the Friers that hee came not to Mass, was by it imediattly knowne to be what hee was Viz: a Very strong and Firme protestant, soe that the Queene dismissed him, his imployment, hee having in discourse and Controversy of religion struck a Frier: Well (as I said before and as your Honour knew) hee being a man not only Extreame Hansone, but allsoe of mightey winning Courtely Partes, went For Irelande where hee soone by it wone the Afection of my mother, Daughter, to Sir Francis Kingsmall and then late widow to an Irish Esquire, soe my Father, After hee had Maried her, though much to the dislike of her Freinds (my Lord Moore, & c) with what moneys thay could raise being 1500£, intended for France againe (with his wife my mother, to indeavor by Law (to recover if Posible some parte of his Father’s Estate, ) with his sister; but in his prosedure haveing turned the moneys hee had into Goods marchandable For France, at sea hee and the Goods were all tooke by the Dunkirkers, and hee allsoe prisoner for some munths, soe that hee and my Mother were again to begeen the World, but hee, being Bread to Nothing but the sworde; that was his recourse, and by it he had in his time many Very Honourable Comisions both in France, Holland, and Germany as well as England; hee For some time settled him selfe upon that litell he hadd in Devonsheire at a Place Caled Bidiford, where, and thereabouts my sister and wee all ware borne. Sir my Small age at those time hinders my giving you soe Exact accompt as I could wish; how-that, at last my Father, Mother and Famely went For France againe, neather cann I tell on what accompt only at First I remember that hee Caried a Compagny of Foot under his Comande by order of Englande, to Assiste the French against the Spaniard in the taking of Dunkirck, and Arrass which was about the yeare 1648 or 9 neather any Further acompt cann I say wee went to parries about, but that my Father (at least) grew Full of wheemesis, and Propositions (of Perpetuall Motions & c) to Kings, Princes, and others, which Soaked his Pockett, and brought all our Famely soe low (by his not minding anything Elce spending all hee had or had Gott and Getting noe other imployment to bring in More) as nothing more, and my Mother (For Feare of her Childrens want) into Extreame trubles, at last shee was persuaded by some deluding Papists, namely Madame Trouson, a Rich Counselers wife, Mr Duplesis a Rich Advocat of the Parlement, with many other Pretended Devouts, that if my Mother with her Children would gett From her husbande my Father, that Damned trublesome Hugenot (as thay Cauled him) thay woold provide For all if uss namely my Mother, sister and selfe by Allowing her a Considerable allowance Fitting a Gentlewooman of her Quality, Give a Rounde some of Moneys and Make My sister a Nunn, and my selfe a Page to the Pope Nuncio (by which i might [have been] since I have thought on it Either a Cardinall, or a Bardache;) then at Parris resident; in order to theese persuasions my Mother agrees, apointes the day and Howr, when Exactly Came 2 Coashes on of Madame Trouson Aforesaid, and the other of Mr Dupl[e]cy and Madam Trouson in her caries Mother and sister a way as sweefte as litening For Feare of my Fathers interest and Furies, and putts them both into the Nouvelle Catholique of Weemen, and I in Mr Duplecys convaid to that of Garsons, at last my Deare sister being Extreame Hansome was deluded into the Nuneries of the Urselines (all this about her 12 or 13 yeare of age) where shee was received with Gladness, thinking to have her there sure Enough it being the stricktest Nunerys in all Parris, but shee was not there longe I meane not 12 days Eare my Father by some stratageme or other I know not well How, gott her out, and uss all, hee haveing bine allmost distracted about it (Poore Deare man) but in Fine hee gott uss all For England againe, where after some time wee had the Honour to be related to you by my Deare sisters match, which was of Extreame Content to my Father, that his deare child had an other Ferme Protestant Protector, and Guide. Truly Sir I beleeve (that could I remember or that my mother whoe by her Absence From my house at this present, For health sake I can have noe accompt of) that never man For religion in thees later ages hath sufered what my Father hath. and now sir I doe declare From my very soule, and am Extreamely well satisfied that you kept my Dear sister in the true protestant Religion till her death. I am you Honour’s most obedient humble Servant.
IV. Alexandre St. Michel, “A Gentleman, Extreamely well-bred”
Patrick Delaforce, one of Elizabeth’s biographers (Pepys In Love Elizabeth’s Story) draws not only from this famous letter, but also steps outside of the usual “Pepys” sources (Wheatley, Bryant, Chappell, etc.) to bring forth additional background and insights into the life and exploits of Alexandre de St. Michel, Elizabeth’s father. Delaforce draws this information from the Huguenot Societies of England and France, Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland, O’Hart’s Irish Pedigrees, Memoires du Duc de Sully, Journal de Jean Herouard Medecin du Roi (Henry IV et Loius XIII), “Weekly Intelligencer” of September 30, 1645 and the Duke of Portland MSS vol. 3 p.150. His sources are cited here as the “classification” of his book reflects a “Biography” according to the labeling in the book itself (British Library Cataloguing in Publishing Data), where the US Library of Congress lists it in it’s online database as historical fiction. The British Library (online) further adds to the confusion by listing it as both biography and fiction. The book is presented through the “voice” of Elizabeth (and others). One “stretching of fact” in this book is that, in order to tell her story, during her married years, she is sometimes given a broader view into Sam’s “private world” than what she actually had (ie. more extensive knowledge of Sam’s womanizing activities). Delaforce’s insights into the life and exploits of the extremely handsome, wild, restless and always extravagant Alexandre le Marchant, Sieur de St. Michel reflect a uniquely spirited and adventurous rollercoaster of a ride, which may help to provide a better understanding of the formative influences that Elizabeth was born into. The condensed summary below draws solely from Delaforce’s chapters on Alexandre (except as noted in one quotation from Bryant), Delaforce deserves full credit for bringing forth this wonderful detail. Anyone interested in reading a more delightful version of the life and times of Alexandre may enjoy actually locating the book (details below).
Alexandre was born in 1593, the only son to the High Sheriff of Bague in France, and the member of a rich and well connected family. His birth came at the time that King Henri IV acceded to the French throne. Unknowing to the young Alexandre, not only would he serve this King, but a total of 3 sovereigns. In 1610, at the age of 17 he was appointed “Gentilhomme Ordinaire” to King Henri.
In May of that year Alexandre was appointed to supervise King Henri’s escort in an open carriage through Paris from the Tuileries towards the Arsenal. During the journey the King’s guards had lagged behind the carriage, leaving an opening for a young Catholic fanatic to jump out of the crowd, onto the carriage step and to plunge his sword into the King’s side. The attack took all by surprise. Alexandre and the guards disarmed the young man. Alexandre took the King to the Duke of Sully’s home near the Arsenal. King Henri died almost immediately. Francois Ravaillac, the assassin was put to death within days.
“Alexandre was still a Catholic then, but a few years later he went to soldier in the Protestant Princes’ armies in the Palentinate and Bohemia, where he was converted. At the age of 21 he had failed to regain his inheritance from his father and uncle, but was accepted back into Court and became Gentilhomme Ordinaire to the young King Louis Treize” (p.16). This King had a love of hunting and chasing game. One day in May 1624 Alexandre and the King were riding in the countryside outside Fontainbleu. While chasing a large hare in close proximity to a river, the King’s horse stumbled and threw him into the deep water. Alexandre jumped from his horse and scooped the King up into his arms from the deep flowing river. He carried the King back to the palace on his horse where he was delivered to the King’s doctor, Jean Heroard, who pronounced him unharmed. “Alexandre may have failed to protect the father, but he certainly saved the son” (p.16).
After his loyal service to the two Kings he was chosen to serve the daughter of King Henri Quart, Princess Henrietta Marie. Upon her wedding to Charles I in 1625 Alexandre transferred to serve her Court. After her marriage her initial French retinue of about 70 people (mostly housed at Somerset House) swelled to over 400 people, including Alexandre. He served as Gentleman Carver to the Queen and Courier. During this time court scandals abounded (none credited to Alexandre) and Charles I, through the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain, sent several hundred of these French families back to France. Although Alexandre was among those sent back, he still maintained his role and provided service to the Queen. This tumultuous year included the start of the siege of the Huguenots at La Rochelle and the English assistance there under the first Duke of Buckingham.
In 1628, the Queen entrusted Alexandre to be the carrier of some valuable gifts from her two sisters (the Princess of Piedmont and Christine, now the wife of the Duke of Savoy). Henrietta had received gifts valued at 200,000 crown, including an Italian chest, crystal glasses, vases, silver and gold cloths. Alexandre was to gather these lavish items and transport them from France to England, which he did successfully. Given the thieves on land and sea, this was no small feat. In a letter to the Duke of Savoy, dated 9 April Henrietta thanked him for the “‘temoignages d’amitie… qu’il lui a envoye… par le Sieur de Saint-Michel.’ He carried out many such missions for the Queen both in England and France” (p.17).
The Queen was a devout and unbending Catholic. Alexandre had been born and raised a Catholic and was wise enough not to flaunt his conversion. Apparently the entourage of priests surrounding the Queen was not so complaisant as to look the other way and over time a physical confrontation of sorts took place between Alexandre and one of the monks. His position of Gentleman Carver was taken from him. He was given the role of Captain of the Queen’s Horse and his career took a shift towards the army.
Around 1632 Alexandre was serving in the army in Ireland where he met his soon to be wife (Elizabeth’s mother) Dorothea. She was born in 1605 and was the youngest child of Sir Francis Kingsmill, who had been knighted in Dublin in 1603 [note that this point regarding Dorethea’s parentage differs from Astin’s set forth above, but Delaforce presents the most commonly expressed heritage, which is consistent with Balty’s letter]. Dorothea had initially married Thomas Fleetwood in 1620. He had died in 1632 leaving her a widow with two children [of note, no reference is made again to these children, so it is not known if they were left behind in the care of the late father’s, or Dorothea’s family or if they died in their youth]. Dorothea (now 30) was charmed by Alexandre (now 42) and the two were married, much to the strong objections of her family. The marriage left her in the sad position of being cut out of all of the family wills and put her welfare solely into the care of her husband (and over time, as we will painfully see to the generosity of her one day son-in-law Sam).
The married couple decided to visit Alexandre’s uncle, a wealthy cleric living in Paris. Their intent was to discuss the Uncle’s offer to make Alexandre his heir. Rather naively, they traveled via the unsafe route of Dunkirk. Along the way, they were captured by privateers and made prisoners. Once freed, the couple continued the journey. Alexandre was told he could be considered for a portion of his uncle’s estate if he re-joined the Catholic faith. This visit proved fruitless as Alexandre would not give up his religion and return to the Catholic faith. It is of note here that after his conversion to the Huguenot faith, that nothing could sway him from his religious beliefs. His faith had unfortunately proved to be a lifelong roadblock to any consideration of inclusion in any family moneys.
During the years of 1638 -1641 the family was living near Bideford on the border of Devon and Somerset where Elizabeth and Balty were born (the exact location of her birth is debated in Section I above). Alexandre’s influence in both the French and English courts had diminished as Louis XIII had died and Henrietta Marie was now staying in Paris for a while and would return to live in exile in a few years.
During the beginning of the English Civil War Queen Henrietta formed her own army regiment in England consisting mainly of French soldiers. A Colonel Sir George Goring was the Master of the Queen’s Horse and Alexandre was second in command. “Colonel Goring had commanded an English regiment in the Low Countries under the States of the United Provinces in early 1639 and … Alexandre … had been with him on that campaign. In 1643 they fought some battles in the West Country and besieged Bristol. On the 29th March of that year the Queen’s forces defeated the Parliamentarians under Sir Thomas Fairfax at Seacroft Moor. At the end of ‘43 Colonel Goring went to France as Ambassador in Paris to be with his Queen in exile” (p.19).
In January of 1647, two years prior to the beheading of Charles I, Alexandre was in France, and entered into an episode which would shamefully be reported in the “Weekly Intelligencer” of September 30, 1645. Alexandre was Master of the Horse for the King and was a “firm friend” with a Mr Wittifield, a Scottish gentleman of Prince Rupert’s Horse. During their travels Alexandre won a sum of 60 pistoles from Colonel Sir Thomas Sandy’s and Colonel Ambrose Jennings, who were both senior officer to Alexandre. There was a quarrel that resulted because Sandys would not pay his debt or give Alexandre a bill in writing acknowledging his debt. Sandys feigned that he could not write. This insult brought the parties to a duel. Alexandre challenged Sandys “‘being come to the Rendevous with their seconds, having charged their pistols, one before the other: at the first discharge Col. Sandys received five bullets into his arm’” (p.19). Alexandre was hurt and “fallen down by the fear of his horse, in raising himself struck with his sword the same Colonel in the arm and both the seconds did so well pistol one another that a few hours after they died both. A priest who went by boasted that the said Mr Wittifield whom he exhorted, who professed to be a Protestant had been converted by him and was Roman Catholic” (p.19-20). This conversion didn’t save him and he died anyway. This incident caused Alexandre such disgrace that the family moved back to Paris at the end of that year.
During this same year, Alexandre then took on another avenue of interest and translated The Life of St. Eustace, martyr from Italian to French. In 1647 a Parisian printer named Charles Lambin produced this work. From here, the financial situation of the family took a turn for the worse as Balty’s letter describes the sad episode of the despondent Dorothea sending her children into the French nunnery and the boldly infuriated Alexandre pulling them out to bring the family back to England.
After saving them from the nunnery the family went to live in St. Martins in the Fields. During this time “Alexandre took out patents for curing smoking chimneys, for purifying water, for moulding bricks, and for keeping pond water clean and fit for horses to drink … Sir John Colladon, the Hugenot physician-in-ordinary to the King, who also lived in St. Martin in the Fields, and Sir Edward Ford of Harting in Sussex were partners with … Alexandre .. in the patent for curing of smoking chimneys” (p.13).
Amidst the whirlwind of her father’s wild episodes, adventures, misadventures and ongoing feckless inventions, the family “settled” into English life with Alexandre basically penniless and having only a distinguished sounding name to his credit. Somehow, Elizabeth and Sam met during this time, Sam being 22 and Elizabeth 15 when they were married. Arthur Bryant points to the Diary to tell us that Sam “loved her ecstatically, passionately, so that the very intensity of his emotion made him physically sick and he could not rest till he had her. It was all utterly illogical and unreasonable: she was penniless, a mere child, not even his countrywoman, and he himself was without money or prospects” (Bryant, p.26-27). Somehow, the poor but industrious student Sam brought one thing to the table that could not help but impress Alexandre, a strong and consistent Protestant background.
Sam and Elizabeth were “married at St. Margarets Church, Westminster. The banns were read on 10th. October and they went before a magistrate on 1st. December for the civic ceremony which Cromwell’s new laws insist upon. Samuel bought … [Elizabeth] … a ring at the goldsmiths near the New Exchange and … [they] … ate … [their] … wedding dinner afterwards on Fish Street Hill.” (p.13-14).
“The Register of the church shows the marriage as ‘Samuel Peps of this parish, Gent and Elizabeth De Snt Michell of Martins in the ffields, Spinster. Published October 19th., 22nd., 29th. (1655) and were married by Richard Sherwyn Esq. one of the Justices of the Peace for the Cittie and Lyberties of Westminster. December 1st (signed) Ri. Sherwyn’ (p.14).
V. Her Voice
Unless some lucky soul unearths the letters of Elizabeth or some other contemporary manuscript that references her, we are left predominately to draw from the Diary to gain an understanding of a most thought provoking and elusive women. Without the benefit of her perspective, we’ll only know her through Sam’s Diary entries which reflect a very fluid and ever changing perspective that defines his view of Elizabeth and his opinion about their marriage at any point in time.
Our annotations can add thoughts to ponder, viewpoints for considerations, creative dialogue to enjoy, lines of poetry, or even perhaps provide a heartfelt laugh at someone’s clever witticism. Unfortunately, getting to know and truly understand another person’s point of view includes listening to their voice, openly, without judgment and with an empathic heart. Without her voice, at best, we can only imagine who this woman really was, how she experienced her life, what she felt and what was in her heart.
As we each personally explore the landscape of Elizabeth’s life as set forth for us through Sam, and perhaps Balty, we can no doubt benefit from the collective views of similar travelers of the same path. The French writer Marcel Proust reminds us that “Real travel is not seeing different landscapes with the same eyes, but rather seeing the same landscape with different eyes.” Where Elizabeth is involved, it seems that the “destination” of the journey will most likely never be known, but an openness to share and explore our collective thoughts along the way can add to our pleasure. This writer would more than welcome corrections, additional “fact checking” and the sharing of any Elizabeth and/or her family related findings.
In spite of this, perhaps the final words and most fitting description of Elizabeth are best left once again, to her husband Sam. The bust at St. Olave’s reflects her beauty and was positioned towards the Navy Pew, perhaps with the intent of having her watch over Sam. “Most fittingly she turns towards the place once occupied by the Navy Pew, and where now is seen Samuel’s own monument, erected in 1884” (Astin, p.84). Her memorial, beautifully worded leaves her with a graceful departure from the world. If historians can not agree on the aspects of her life, the same applies with the translations of Sam’s words on her death. In addition to the translations provided below, our annotators have also offered their translations with hopes to better understand Sam’s last words for his wife (see the “people” background section on Elizabeth Pepys and the May 2, 1663 diary entry comments). As we open our intellectual minds to uncover the denotation of this epitaph, we need to also open our souls to experience the connotation. Some losses so engulf that heart that words are truly insignificant expressions of the emotional anguish left behind. In many ways it is more comfortable to focus solely on the translation of Sam’s “public” words as displayed on Elizabeth’s epitaph as opposed to even imagine for a moment his “private” thoughts and feelings resulting from this loss. We need to consider that Sam’s words are not “complete” without taking into account the whole, which is the epitaph along with the beauty and liveliness of Elizabeth’s spirit as captured in the bust that resides above those words. The combination of these artistic forms may offer a richer experience of who Elizabeth really was.
The Latin original and then Elizabeth’s biographer’s translations of that transcription follow. The original Latin inscription below and the first translation are exactly as they appear in Marjorie Astin’s Mrs. Pepys: Her Book (Astin, p.84-86). Of note, there are some slight variations from the actual plaque:
H. S. E
Cunas dedit SOMERSETIA, Octob: 23, 1640.
Patrem e præclarâ familiâ
de St. Michel,
Matrem e nobili Stirpe|
Samuelis Pepys (Classi Regiæ ab Actis) Uxor.
Quae in Cænobio primum, Aulâ dein educata Gallica,
Utriusque unà claruit virtutibus,
Formâ, Artibus, Linguis, cultissima.
Prolem enixa, quia parem non potuit, nullam.
Huic demum placidè cum valedixerat
(Confecto per amaeniora ferè Europae itenere)
Potiorem abiit redux lustratura mundum.
|Anno||Obiit 10 Novembris,
Arms.- Sable, on a Bend Or, between two Nags’ Heads erased Argent,
three Fleurs de Lis of the first; impaling Ermine, three Roses.
Marjorie Astin’s translation follows:
Somerset gave her cradle, Octob: 23, 1640,
Her Father of the glori-
ous house of St. Michel,
Her Mother of the noble
stock of the Cliffords,
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.
|She died the 10th of November
In the 29th year of her age,
In the 15th year of her marriage,
In the year of our Lord 1669.
And from the Deleforce book Pepys In Love: Elizabeth’s Story (Delaforce, p.7), this translation:
Wife of Samuel Pepys (Secretary of the Royal Fleet) who educated first at a convent, then at the French Court, shone in the virtues of both at once. For beauty, accomplishments, languages most highly esteemed without having borne issue, because she would not produce her equal. When at length she had peacefully said farewell to this world (having hardly completed her journeying in the more pleasant places of Europe) departed, returning to wander in a better world.
As we try to understand the words (and more importantly the intentions behind those words) of Sam, Balty, the historians and biographers presented herein, we can never lose sight of the fact that we do so with a limited view of the writer(s) of those words. Hopefully this experience of searching for the essence of Elizabeth’s voice will leave us open to learn something about ourselves, our perspectives and our judgment of others along the way. The experience of researching her life offers more questions than answers. The topics presented for consideration herein reveal a wide range of differences of opinion among her biographers and Pepysian scholars, many of whom interpret the same information from totally different points of view. What none can debate is that behind the man who was so revealing of his life, thoughts, feelings and flaws remains a most intriguing and elusive woman. Perhaps reading about Elizabeth and looking at her life with empathy and understanding of the world from which she came will move us all collectively to a “grander world” view of her, and perhaps our collective selves as human beings.
VI. Non-Fiction about Elizabeth
Marjorie Astin’s Mrs Pepys Her Book is a biographical tribute to Elizabeth. In the forward to this book she refers to this work as a “recital, however simple and unadorned, of her characteristics and surroundings, [which] may constitute a humble yet essential portion of Pepysiana” (Astin, p.5).
Patrick Delaforce’s Pepys In Love: Elizabeth’s Story offers expanded background to the St. Michel family with additional information on the life of Elizabeth’s father, Alexandre St. Michel. Delaforce tracks the Diary years and then provides details of the trip that the couple took to France after the Diary had closed. Appendix A gives information on the Huguenot links, Appendix B details the Colonel Scott Conspiracy and Appendix C (like Chapell’s essay below) entitled Paintings of Elizabeth — A Mystery provides background on pictures that have been attributed (albeit not always proven) to be Elizabeth. Note that the conflicting classification of this book as both fiction and non-fiction is set forth in Section IV. One additional note: In weighing the decision to include this work as non-fiction I relied on the criteria set forth by Dorrit Cohn in The Distinction of Fiction, chapter 2 entitled ‘Fictional vs. Historical Lives’. My personal belief is that although Delaforce’s book may move towards the “first person novel/fictional autobiography” quadrant in it’s “voice” (first person speakers) that his book truly belongs to be classified as a biography (See Cohn’s classification chart, p.19).
Edwin Chappell’s Elizabeth Pepys appeared in the 1933 in volume 32 of the Somerset Year-Book. He articulates the debate over Elizabeth’s place of birth and then delves into the question of what she actually looked like. He draws questions about portraits, etc. that have been suggested to be of Elizabeth. Chappell’s Eight Generations of the Pepys Family 1500-1800 lists the genealogy, but only lists Elizabeth as Sam’s wife (no other family background for her is provided).
Dora Nothcroft’s Famous Girls of the Past is a collection of mini-biographies and very general. The reading level is targeted at young readers.
Percival Hunt’s Pepys and Elizabeth Pepys is an article appearing in his book of essays Samuel Pepys in the Diary and covers the Diary years and the relationship of Sam and Elizabeth.
These books may be located via Used Book Search.
Books consulted and/ or quoted for this article
- Astin, Marjorie, Mrs Pepys Her Book, 1929
- Bryant, Arthur, Samuel Pepys: The Man in the Making, 1933
- Chappell, Edwin, ‘Elizabeth Pepys’, article from Somerset Year-Book, volume 32, 1933
- Chappell, Edwin, Eight Generations of the Pepys Family History 1500-1800, 1936
- Cohn, Dorrit, The Distinction of Fiction, 1999
- Delaforce, Patrick, Pepys In Love Elizabeth’s Story, 1986
- Heath, Helen Truesdell, The Letters of Samuel Pepys and his Family Circle, 1955
- Hunt, Percival, Samuel Pepys in the Diary, 1958
- Northcroft, Dora, Famous Girls of the Past, 1966
- Stevenson, Robert Lewis, Essays, English and American, with introductions notes and illustrations, 1910, available online
- Tomalin, Claire, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, 2003
© Jeannine Kerwin, 2006
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.