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 (Élisabeth de St. Michel) (1640–1669) was the wife of Samuel Pepys, whom she married in 1655, shortly before her fifteenth birthday.

Her father, Alexandre de St. Michel, was born a French Catholic but converted to the Protestant faith. 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[edit]

Much of the information on Elisabeth comes from her husband's diary. Samuel remembered their wedding day in great detail, even recalling that Elisabeth had worn a petticoat trimmed with gold lace. Although the couple had a civil ceremony on 1 December 1655, they always celebrated their wedding anniversary on 10 October as this was when a religious ceremony had been held.

It is well known that Samuel himself was unfaithful to Elisabeth, often with their own maids, 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 may have been due to 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."[2]

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."[3]

After the death of Elisabeth, Samuel commissioned the erection of a bust to be placed in St Olave Hart Street. When he himself died in 1703, regardless of the fact that he had had another long-term relationship after Elisabeth, he was placed to rest next to his wife on his own orders.

Works about Elisabeth[edit]

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.

References[edit]

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

External links[edit]

There are also two encyclopedic sites about Samuel Pepys, including information on his wife: