Elisabeth Pepys

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Elisabeth Pepys
Elizabeth Pepys.jpg
Elisabeth Pepys in a stipple engraving by John Thomson, after a 1666 painting (now destroyed) by John Hayls[1]
Born (1640-10-23)23 October 1640
Bideford, Devon, England
Died 10 November 1669(1669-11-10) (aged 29)
City of London, England
Cause of death Typhoid fever
Resting place St Olave's, London, England
Known for Husband's diary
Spouse(s) Samuel Pepys

Elisabeth Pepys (nee Marchant de Saint 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 Saint Michel, was born a French Roman Catholic but later converted to the Church of England. He married Dorothea, the daughter of Sir Francis Kingsmill, in Ireland. Elisabeth was born at or around Bideford in Devon on 23 October 1640. She died of typhoid on 10 November 1669.

Elisabeth was second cousin once removed to the writer Anne Kingsmill Finch.

Elisabeth in Samuel Pepys' diary

Much of the information on Elisabeth 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 the private diary.[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.[3] The wedding itself is remembered by Samuel Pepys in great detail and it is recalled 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 had been held and they formally started to live together. Richard Ollard attributes this lapse of time to Elisabeth's youth.[4]

It is well known that Samuel himself was unfaithful to Elisabeth, often with their own maids. The most well documented affair is one with the young maid, Deb Willet, whom Pepys became particularly fond of and is referred to in the second to last line of his diary.[5] However, it is clear that he held strong feelings for his wife throughout their relationship. When they were away from each other, Samuel greatly missed Elisabeth and, although they 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.

Samuel's changeable feelings for Elisabeth can be seen throughout his diary. A resentful sentence from 25 April 1663 suggests jealous feelings surrounding Elisabeth 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."[6]

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 4 weeks following her 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 with therewith, after a voyage so full of health and content, could have forced me to so long a neglect of my private concernments."[7]

Following her death, Samuel Pepys' continuing affection towards Elisabeth has been suggested through his succeeding relationship with Mary Skinner and his decision to not marry despite, as evidenced in Pepys' letters to John Evelyn, having acted as his wife in all but name.[8] Similarly, when he himself died in 1703, regardless of his long-term relationship with Mary Skinner, he was placed to rest next to his wife on his own orders.

Works about Elisabeth

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 17th century London.


  1. ^ National Portrait Gallery website: Elizabeth (sic) Pepys
  2. ^ Tomlain, 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.
  6. ^ "The Diary of Samuel Pepys", 25 April 1663.
  7. ^ S. Pepys to Captain Elliot, 3 May 1669–70
  8. ^ 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:

  • Mentions of Elisabeth Pepys in Samuel Pepys's diary entries.
  • Duncan Grey's pages on Pepys
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