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Pepys and the Navy 1660-1668∗

Alec Samuels

Pepys’ greatest contribution, in terms of public service, lay in the administration of the Navy 1660-1668. In 1660 the Navy was in a poor state, bankrupt, and in debt. Pepys established, for the first time, what we would describe as a department of state, a ministry, a branch of the civil service responsible for the administration of the Navy, the Admiralty. He knew how to capitalise upon the genuine knowledge and support from Charles II and the Duke of York, later James II. He was an ideal public servant, bringing all his talents and industry and diligence to bear. He examined everything; he kept proper records and accounts; no detail was too small for his attention; he mastered the science and the workings of the ships, the masts, the fittings, the repairs, the contracts, the finances. He went for value for money, for efficiency, and the prevalent corruption was much reduced. Long before there was a regular system of taxation, money was always short. But recognising the threat from the Dutch, and then the French, Pepys did much to secure money for the Navy and for many new ships.
As Professor Rodger says, in the course of this magisterial study of the Navy throughout the centuries, Pepys left the Navy much more honest and efficient than when he started.