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Pepys, Magdalene and the Law

Alec Samuels

Not being a professional historian nor a man of letters and literature, what could I say to the illustrious members of the illustrious Pepys Club? As it happens, I am a Magdalene man, as an undergraduate I had rooms in the Pepys Building, I love my College, and I am a lawyer. So: Pepys, Magdalene, and the Law.

In 1650 Pepys initially enrolled at Trinity Hall, the college of his great-uncle and lawyer Talbot Pepys, apparently contemplating a legal career, though at that time the college was dominated by canon law and ecclesiastical law, not one might think likely to attract Pepys. However in March 1651 he transferred to Magdalene. John Turner, a fellow of Magdalene, was chaplain to the Montagu family to which the Pepys family were related; his tutor Morland was acquainted with the Montagu family; and the new Master, Sadler, was a neighbour in London of Pepys’ father. Pepys’ life as an undergraduate was a mixture of the pious and the profane. Prayers at 6 a.m.; studies included Cicero, Ovid, Aristotelian logic, mathematics, history, and shorthand. Although he displayed some academic abilities, and indeed was a scholar in 1651 and 1653, he was somewhat undistinguished in scholarship. His tutor said that Pepys could deceive us in his godliness but he could not deceive us in his scholarship. Despite what we would see as an inadequate university education, nonetheless he carried into life a strong power of intellectual analysis and an endearing love of language and literature and music. Otherwise it was a life of conviviality and pleasure, music, playing the lute, the viol and the flageolet, singing, poetry, walking along the River, boating, stewed prunes bought from the shop opposite the College, bellyfuls of buttery beer (which was “excellent”), drinking to excess, and bawdy songs. He was admonished by the Fellows for drinking to excess. He courted a lady, Betty, who was the sister of a lady named Mary Archer. He visited a Mrs Answorth, landlady of the pub at Cottenham, a lady of loose words and ill repute “whom I knew better than they think for”; and in his parlance “knowledge” meant carnal knowledge. He was already suffering from the stone. It has been said that Pepys was afflicted by all the deadly sins except sloth, a rather harsh judgement, though he was not averse to sloth as an undergraduate, but he was a very human human being. He graduated in 1654.

Visiting the College
Throughout his life Pepys always remained deeply loyal and affectionate to Magdalene. Coming from Cottenham, and having his family and the house at Brampton near Huntingdon, he often visited the College as he passed through Cambridge on his way to or from Huntingdon. After the restoration in 1660 the “old preciseness” of the 1650’s was replaced by a more relaxed and genial atmosphere in the College, more to his liking.
As a prominent public servant, constantly at court, with the ear of the King, knowing the leading men of the time, always in the thick of public affairs, Pepys was a welcome guest to the Fellows of the College, interested to hear the current gossip. In Spring 1660 he knew all about the impending Restoration, and indeed travelled to The Hague. Pepys liked to display his success in life and his carriage and his fine clothes. Also, it must be said, he was perhaps a little too interested to find out how his contemporaries were doing, and gratified that “none sped better than myself”. College hospitality (a handsome supper 25 February 1660) and the buttery beer continued to attract him. He enjoyed the old sights and sounds, walking along the River, sitting where he used to sit, crossing on the ferry, hearing the church bells (25 May 1668).

Pepys made a number of friends at Magdalene and kept in touch with a number of them in later life. Richard Cumberland, whom he had wished would marry his sister Paulina (Pall), became bishop of Peterborough. One of the best known of the friends is Robert Sawyer 1633-1692, with whom Pepys shared rooms as an undergraduate. Sawyer was MP for Highclere in Hampshire; Attorney-General 1681, knighted, prosecuted the Rye House Plotters (including Titus Oates), and successfully and triumphantly defended the Seven Bishops in 1688 against the charge of seditious libel for signing a petition claiming that to read the declaration of indulgence would be illegal and against their conscience and claiming the right to petition the King. Sawyer was known as the “darling of the Protestant crowds”. He left £50 towards the College library.

Gray’s Inn
The Walks, or gardens, in Gray’s Inn were a popular place for leisure and recreation. Pepys frequently walked in the Walks alone, or to meet a friend, or to admire the ladies (12 May 1661, 10 August 1661, 20 September 1668, 12 March 1669), or to walk with his wife after attending church (sometimes the Temple Church).
“And so I and the young company to walk first to Grayes [sic] Inn walks – where great store of gallants; but above all, of the ladies that I saw, or ever did see, Mrs Frances Butler (Monsieur L’Impertinent’s sister) is the greatest beauty (23 June 1661).
“Hence I to Grayes Inn walk all alone; and with great pleasure seeing the fine ladies walk there” (30 June 1661).
“And so to Grayes Inn walkes, the first I have been there this year, and it is very pleasant and full of good company” (6 April 1662).
“Thence to Grayes Inn walkes; and there met Mr Pickering and walked with him two hours till 8 a-clock, till I was quite weary (13 April 1662).
“… my wife and I walked to Grayes Inne to observe fashions of the ladies, because of my wife’s making some clothes” (4 May 1662).
“and then got a coach to Grayes Inne walkes – where some handsome faces” (12 April 1663).
Having had his portrait painted, Pepys visited a Mr Knight in his chambers in Gray’s Inn to buy a picture frame of “Tortoy’shell”, with which he was well pleased (27 June 1666).
Pepys visited Mr W. Howe (spelt How by Pepys), the keeper of the records of the Patent Office, who lived in chambers in Gray’s Inn, chambers described as “pretty, and little and neat” (12 March 1669). Howe subsequently became a Judge in Barbados.

Not a lawyer
Pepys was not a lawyer, and probably had a very proper distaste for lawyers. However, he did exhibit a number of laudable legal virtues: he was conscientious, meticulous, kept detailed and accurate records, was master of his subject, master of his brief. He did buy law books (14 July 1664). As a witness fighting his corner and advocating his case he showed very considerable skills, especially when being examined by the parliamentary committees and commissions in 1667, 1668 and 1670 inquiring into the conduct of the Dutch war and alleged malpractices. His evidence was most carefully prepared, “chapter and verse” always available when required, cogently presented. Exposition was clear, methodical, organised, lucid, authoritative, confident. Pepys was a fine public servant and a fine speaker. When refuting the accusation of popery before the House of Commons in 1674 he pointed to frequently taking communion in the Church of England.
As an MP, though largely inactive, Pepys was well aware of parliamentary and legislative processes.

John Jackson
Pepys’ nephew John Jackson, the son of his sister Paulina (Pall), entered Magdalene in 1686. Jackson subsequently became executor and heir of Pepys’ will and ensured that Pepys’ books went to Magdalene.

The will
Pepys’ last will and codicil was a professionally drawn legal will. His library of 3,000 volumes (including the MS diary) was left to Magdalene, to be housed in the New Building (i.e. the Pepys Building). The books and presses (bookcases) and furniture arrived in 1724. They are still there. Dr Latham worked there on the diary. Dr Richard Luckett is today the esteemed Librarian. The library was not to be added to. No books were to be removed; only the Master could do so, only ten books at a time, and only to the Master’s Lodge. Trinity College was to carry out an annual inspection. In the event of a breach of condition the Library was to go over to Trinity College. In fact over the years there have been breaches of condition; Trinity has not carried out the annual inspections. Question, a nice legal question, is the gift over to Trinity still valid and enforceable, or has it been forfeited by Trinity by failure to inspect?