< Back to Article List

Elizabeth Pepys: Part 1

Alec Samuels


10 October 1655 Samuel Pepys married Elizabeth St Michel in a civil ceremony and 1 December 1655 at St Margaret’s Westminster in a church ceremony. They always celebrated 10 October as their wedding day. He was 22, she was 15. He was the son of a London tailor, connected though not closely to the Montagu family. She was the daughter of Alexandre le Marchant de St Michel, descendant of a French aristocratic family, who had been a very minor gentleman courtier to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, and of Dorothea, daughter of a Hampshire country gentleman. Elizabeth was born in 1640, in Bideford in Devon. She had a brother, Balthasar (“Balty”) who proved something of a liability to Pepys. She did not care for Pepys’ father or sister. Pepys had the stone problem; Elizabeth had a gynaecological problem; they had sexual difficulties throughout the marriage; and were childless. Their first home was an attic room or garret or turret in the Montagu suite in Whitehall palace, very cramped quarters. There were early matrimonial difficulties, and she moved out in 1656. In 1658 she returned and they went to live in Axe Yard, and Pepys took on a maid. In 1660 they moved to Seething Lane in the City of London, the Navy Office.

Elizabeth was good looking, attractive, vivacious, bright, lively, of an independent spirit, with something of a temper. She enjoyed nice clothes, low cut dresses, dancing and flirting, and romantic French novels. Pepys was always jealous, and anxious about other men having any contact with her. On occasions they came to blows. At that time (and indeed today) men expected higher standards from the women than they themselves observed. They appeared to enjoy a reasonably happy companionable marriage, reading, singing, playing cards and going to the theatre together. Despite his philandering he had a genuine love for her. The incident when in 1668 she caught him in a compromising situation with the servant Deb Willett caused much heartache to both. Although she had a companion or maid or servant, Elizabeth was constantly involved in the arduous duties of housekeeping, washing, cooking, shopping, sewing; and she often complained of loneliness, as Pepys was away from home a great deal. But she was kind to other women, and helped them in childbirth. She always had strong catholic leanings, when such leanings were unpopular.

In 1669, soon after returning from a holiday on the continent, Elizabeth fell ill with a fever and died, aged 29. She is buried under the chancel in St Olave’s Church. A bust of her by Bushnell to this day looks with a hint of a smile but also somewhat sternly down upon us. Pepys himself in due course was buried there too, and a memorial stands in his name. Pepys missed her, but did not remarry. He found solace and support without the necessity of marriage.