A while back I asked for some questions to put to Dr Kate Loveman, who has written a lot about Pepys over the years… see our review of Samuel Pepys and His Books, and read more about her new abridged edition of the diaries.

We had some great questions, and I added a couple of my own, and Dr Loveman has provided some fascinating answers…


As I understand from Pepys Navy, the Navy was by far the largest economic unit/actor in Great Britain of the time, having a major impact on trade, employment, suppliers etc. Hence Pepys’ importance in managing the behind the scenes day to day working of the enterprise, while leaving strategy or fighting to the naval officers and aristocrats.

What I am less clear is how it was financed, something Pepys and his professional colleagues spent a lot of time worrying over.

Kate Loveman:

The navy got its funds ultimately from acts passed by parliament, which levied taxes to cover costs. In the 1660s, the conventional method was to pass acts to supply the King with funds rather than to pass acts directly to supply the navy’s costs. This caused problems, first because money intended for the war effort could be diverted elsewhere and, second, because parliament was aware that this diversion happened and so was reluctant to grant funds to the crown without the ability to scrutinize where those funds were going.

Since passing parliamentary acts and collecting taxes took time to actually raise money, Pepys and his colleagues sought loans from wealthy City goldsmiths, which were borrowed in expectation of the tax arriving to pay them off. There is quite a lot in the diary about Pepys dashing round London attempting to persuade goldsmiths to lend money, which the goldsmiths were understandably reluctant to do. When the navy had no cash to pay off sailors, they resorted to using ‘tickets’ (IOUs from the government), which led to riots.

This was not a situation with easy solutions, though Pepys’s former boss George Downing can take some credit for regularizing the government’s payment systems in the later 1660s.

From San Diego Sarah:

I’m curious about your understanding of Pepys’ relationship to religion during the Diary years. There’s a period when he almost seems to be going “church shopping” … his scare that Elizabeth will become Roman Catholic … his “vowes” which seem to be more about positioning himself to make money than to be an upstanding member of the community. Church attendance seems to be more politically-motivated than spiritually uplifting. The revelation that James didn’t care if his clerk was a Quaker must have been an eye-opener. I’ve read that the courtiers bad behavior was as much political protest as anything (my opinion is that the older ones had PTSD and were self-medicating). Are these impressions on the right lines, or was he an atheist hiding-in-plain-sight?

Kate Loveman:

Pepys’s religious beliefs are a difficult question, so I’m going to take a few paragraphs to answer!

On the one hand, there is a lot of evidence for Pepys’s taking religious commitments seriously: he was going to “Anglican” services before the Restoration, at a point when these were illegal; he regularly goes to church, often twice on Sundays; he thanks God for his health and for money; and in 1660 he argues with his mother in favour of ‘the Religion I was born in’ – apparently meaning the Church of England, as opposed to her more puritan inclinations. When he died in 1703, he did so with the last rites of the C of E.

On the other hand, he is evidently not devout, skips communion for the entirety of the diary, makes numerous snarky comments about self-serving clergyman, and describes himself as agreeing with Lord Sandwich in being ‘wholly Scepticall’ about the authority of the Protestant churches (15 May 1660).

My reading of all this is that Pepys believes God exists, but he is sceptical about the institutions that claim religious authority: in the 1660s, his church-going is much more about social obligation and sociability, rather than faith.

There’s support for this interpretation from a document he wrote in the mid-1680s on the relationship between personal faith, church and state. Here he is profoundly sceptical about the claims of institutional religion to know divine truth and dictate beliefs; by this point, he also does not think the Bible is a clear source of God’s guidance. He concludes that, beyond the ‘plaine Morall Doctrine’ — which, he says, Christians, Jews, pagans and most religions agree on — little could be known. Therefore, a safe course was to follow the religion of the country. Personal beliefs did not have to tally with outward religious observance, and this was not blameworthy.

Had Pepys voiced these statements publicly in the 1680s, they would certainly have led to him being called an ‘atheist’, because that term was used of anyone who seemed to attack the authority of Christianity, rather than just people who did not believe in God.

From Christopher David Robin Williams:

This question regarding “my valentine” as Sam wrote is a curiosity for me. I can’t imagine a woman/spouse in today’s world accepting another female as her partner’s valentine. Why not Elizabeth?

Kate Loveman:

Valentine’s Day customs in the 1660s seem to have been primarily an opportunity for fun, friendship and presents, rather than a means of declaring sincere love. There are a couple of principal traditions for choosing your valentine: one is by drawing lots, the other dictates that the first man that a woman sees on Valentine’s Day became her valentine. People have fun manipulating these customs. In 1661, Pepys cheerfully demands to know if the person behind his neighbour Sir William Batten’s door is a man or a woman so he doesn’t risk being matched to the wrong woman. He then takes Batten’s daughter as his valentine ‘only for complacency’ (i.e. to be civil), while Elizabeth takes Batten. The next year Elizabeth goes around her house shielding her eyes on Valentine’s Day morning to avoid seeing the painters who are working there – with success because she then claims a family friend as her valentine.

One of the reasons women are keen to get themselves a good valentine partner as that your valentine owes you a present – garters, gloves, stockings, jewellery…. Pepys is Elizabeth’s valentine in 1667 and 1668 (years when she also has another valentine), and he records the cost to his purse each time.

From Phil Gyford:

When compiling your abridged edition of the diary, what kind of rules of thumb did you use for what to entries to include and what to leave out? For example, there are some “plots” that run for some time across many entries but, as you’re using complete diary entries, I imagine it might have been tricky to keep these long-running themes coherent at times?

Kate Loveman:

It was very tricky! In terms of rules of thumb, there were some entries – on events such as the coronation, the Great Fire, etc. – that no edition could leave out. I then established what the main ‘plots’ were regarding Pepys’s family life, work, and politics and looked for entries that covered these well. There were other entries that I included because they were great examples of the variety of Pepys’s writing, of his evocative prose, or just because they were among my favourites. So the 29 November 1667 made it in: an entry almost entirely given over to Pepys and his wife cowering in bed, fearing burglars or a ghost – and then discovering the dreadful noises are from next door’s chimney being swept.

I did make some internal cuts to entries: often the details of navy office business (which Pepys finds fascinating but which tend not to grip readers) or comments where the amount of explanation that would be needed in my footnotes seemed to outweigh the merit of the passage.

I kept the ‘plots’ in my head, did read-throughs for coherence, and subsequently had a couple of willing victims who didn’t know the diary check that they could follow events.

From Phil Gyford:

Can you give some examples of the kinds of updates you made to annotations in your edition? I’m always in awe of the thoroughness of the Latham & Matthews footnotes but I imagine some knowledge has changed in the decades since they were written.

Kate Loveman:

The Latham and Matthews notes are great, and I was continually impressed how far they managed to track down information. They had the benefit of writing over several decades and with a team of researchers to do this. With my edition, I had much less time, but the benefit of the internet, and the work done on the Restoration since the L & M edition.

With access to online archives, I could identify and trace more people – especially women and the men from lower social ranks. I could also identify more of the poems, songs, and publications that Pepys talks about. As my edition is aimed at a more general audience than L & M’s, the notes do a bit more to explain matters such as parliamentary procedures or seventeenth-century religious affiliations where I thought these might be puzzling. I made the decision to translate the polyglot Pepys uses for his sexual encounters, something than hadn’t been done in any edition – sometimes what he means is clear, other times much less so.

An example of how the notes have been updated is a passage where Pepys ogles a woman in a bookshop on 23 Oct 1668:

to Duck-lane and there my bookseller’s and saw his moher, but ella is so big-bellied that ella is not worth seeing.

For this passage, L & M have a footnote to ‘my bookseller’ that reads ‘William Shrewsbury’ (IX.335). I went looking for the bookseller’s ‘moher’ in parish records — partly because I’m interested in encouraging readers to see the women that Pepys pursues as people with their own lives beyond the diary. This note now has a translation of Pepys’s polyglot and additional biographical information. Coming at the end of the sentence, it reads: ‘“his wife, but she is so big-bellied that she is not worth seeing.” Mary Shrewsbury, wife of William, gave birth in late November.’

In other cases, I was drawing on new work by other scholars. For example, the nature of Pepys’s eye problems, the attribution of plays, and our understanding of political divisions have all moved on since the majority of the L & M work was done in the 1960s and 1970s.

My thanks to Dr Loveman for taking the time to answer our questions so thoughtfully!

1 Comment

Third Reading

Ashley Smith  •  Link

Fascinating insight into an authors quandary of what to be or not to be (include in the book)

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