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Samuel Pepys was society’s first sex offender, says author

Bumping their way through London’s cobbled streets as they journeyed home from church, the two married couples chatted idly about the christening they had just attended. But the thoughts of one of this foursome were far from godly. He had long fantasised about the young woman beside him named Betty.

Now, in the darkness, with his wife and Betty’s husband sitting opposite, he decided to seize the moment. Reaching furtively for Betty’s hand, he pulled off her glove and placed her hand under his coat and on to what he termed ‘his thing’.

Either a willing participant or else simply shocked, Betty neither objected nor withdrew her hand. As the coach continued to jolt through the dimly lit streets, she gave him sexual satisfaction beneath his coat, while their spouses remained oblivious.

Today, he would be deemed, at best, a sex addict, at worst a serial sex offender

‘Being very much pleased with this, we at last came home; and so to supper…’ noted the satisfied man in his diary that night.

Nor was this act of debauchery a one-off. Over the course of his lifetime, the man would force himself upon woman after woman – barmaids, servants, shop girls, actresses, friends’ wives and mothers – almost no one was safe from his sordid advances. Some were complicit in sating his unquenchable desire. 

Many others were not – they were either coerced or bribed into taking part, or physically unable to fight him off.

Today, he would be deemed, at best, a sex addict, at worst a serial sex offender. Either way, he was a man who abused his position of power to prey on the vulnerable, just as the film mogul Harvey Weinstein would do several centuries later.

We know this not from scurrilous gossip but from his own faithfully kept records. For the priapic coach passenger was none other than Samuel Pepys. 

Ask his friends or colleagues about Pepys and they would have assured you he was a hard-working, God-fearing citizen with an unblemished reputation. 

Either way, he was a man who abused his position of power to prey on the vulnerable, just as the film mogul Harvey Weinstein would do several centuries later

Either way, he was a man who abused his position of power to prey on the vulnerable, just as the film mogul Harvey Weinstein would do several centuries later

He rose from humble clerk to become one of the most powerful men in the land: MP, president of the Royal Society and adviser to King Charles II.

But it was the private diary he kept from 1660 until 1669 that secured his place in history. Written in parts in a mix of foreign languages before being transcribed into an encoded format – what modern code-breakers might call double encryption – the celebrated diary provides a compelling insight into life in the 1660s.

Although historians have long been aware of Pepys’ racy private life and marital infidelities, a new study has succeeded in translating all the encrypted passages and decoding the accounts of every sexual incident. As the resulting book – The Dark Side Of Samuel Pepys, by historian Geoffrey Pimm – reveals, the true extent of his lechery was far greater – and more disturbing – than either his contemporaries, or posterity, were aware…

Samuel Pepys was 22 when he married his 14-year-old bride Elizabeth. She was beautiful, French and fiery, but she suffered from a recurring, painful genital abscess, which often made sex difficult. So Pepys sought satisfaction elsewhere – continually.

During the nine years of his diary, begun when he was 26, he recorded more than 50 sexual encounters with other women, from regular mistresses to casual affairs. Even in church Pepys’ sexual antennae were twitching. He used a telescope to ogle women in low-cut gowns and also tried to grope them. During one sermon he stood by ‘a pretty, modest maid, whom I did labour to take by the hand and the body, but she would not, but got further and further from me, and at last, I could perceive her to take pins out of her pocket to prick me if I should touch her again’.

Once, in chapel, he became so aroused at the sight of the King’s mistress, the sultry Lady Castlemaine, that he ‘did make myself to do la cosa [ejaculate]’. Even the mere sight of Castlemaine’s lace-trimmed undergarments hanging on a washing line made him feverish with excitement.

His diary entries reveal a common progression of events: Pepys chats up girl. Pepys touches girl. Pepys progresses to serious groping 

His diary entries reveal a common progression of events: Pepys chats up girl. Pepys touches girl. Pepys progresses to serious groping 

Pepys never tried it on with those who outranked him socially, but other women were not safe around him. He was a groper, assaulting them wherever and whenever he could, or stalking and following them home. Like many of his contemporaries, he regarded his servants, mostly teenage girls dependent on him for a home and a wage, as fair game. During the period of the diary, no fewer than 32 female servants were employed by his household. Some lasted only days – others stayed for years.

His diary entries reveal a common progression of events: Pepys chats up girl. Pepys touches girl. Pepys progresses to serious groping. Pepys tries to get girl somewhere where he can have sex with her. Mrs Pepys probably guesses something is going on and finds a reason to get rid of girl. Pepys subsequently meets up with girl and tries to take up where he left off.

A typical example would be Nell, a young cookmaid. A diary entry from 1665 described how he ‘had my head combed by my little girl to whom I confess that I am too friendly, recently often putting my hands in the two things of her breast’.

In 1665, Pepys was appointed surveyor-general of victualling for the Navy, enabling him to dispense patronage – at a price  

In 1665, Pepys was appointed surveyor-general of victualling for the Navy, enabling him to dispense patronage – at a price  

Two years later he was still at it with Nell, ‘playing with her breasts,’ as he recorded on June 18, 1667, progressing to touching ‘her thing, which I was afterwards troubled for’. But he wasn’t too troubled – he did it again a few nights later.

Deb Willet, an attractive 17-year-old, was another victim. Employed as Elizabeth Pepys’ companion, Pepys soon pounced, kissing her and letting his wandering hands roam over her body, while she combed his hair, although she resisted his efforts to touch her ‘thing’. Once, in a coach with his wife and Deb, Pepys put his hand up Deb’s skirt – presumably Elizabeth was asleep – and this time succeeded in touching her, ‘she being troubled at it – but yet did give way to it’.

A week later, he had his hand up Deb’s skirt again when Elizabeth walked in on them. Furious, she insisted that Deb be sacked and even threatened to slit her nose.

But Pepys remained determined to ‘have the maidenhead of this girl’. With the subject of his ardour no longer in his home, he scoured London until he found her and, on one occasion ‘with great force’ made her touch him ‘but she was in great pain to be made to do it’. Nor was his abuse of power confined to his own domestic staff. He frequently used his position in public life to further the careers of subordinate men, in return for sexual favours from their wives.

In 1665, Pepys was appointed surveyor-general of victualling for the Navy, enabling him to dispense patronage – at a price. So when Mrs Daniel, the heavily pregnant wife of a lieutenant, came to petition Pepys, ‘I took her into my chamber, and there it was to help her husband to the command of a little new pleasure boat building, which I promised to assist in,’ in return for his kissing and touching her breasts. Sometime later she came back asking another favour. Pepys obviously made her some promises, as she allowed him to put his hand under her skirt and touch her, after which he returned home ‘in much heat of body and breath,’ arousing Elizabeth’s suspicions. But when Mrs Daniel came to Pepys for a loan, he refused, ‘having no opportunity to do anything with her’.

Rejection only served to stoke his ardour. Take Betty Mitchell, his companion in the coach. As a young girl she so captivated Pepys that he stalked her around Westminster.

After she married a shopkeeper, he found Mr Mitchell some business through the Navy Office, and began stealing kisses from Betty.

Pepys took Mrs Bagwell to an alehouse and ‘endeavoured to caress her’. However, when he tried to go further, she rebuffed him 

Pepys took Mrs Bagwell to an alehouse and ‘endeavoured to caress her’. However, when he tried to go further, she rebuffed him 

He was so consumed with filthy thoughts about her that ‘I do play with my thing even in the church’. Having obtained sexual satisfaction from her in the coach, a few nights later, once more in a coach with the Mitchells, he tried again. This time Betty withheld her hand, but Pepys confessed that he ‘did take her hand with some little violence, and so in every motion she seemed to go against her will, but yet did whatever I wanted her to by rubbing and touching my thigh’.

Another cuckolded husband was ship’s carpenter William Bagwell, who had a very desirable young wife. ‘Young Bagwell and his wife waylaid me to desire my favour about getting him a better ship; which I shall pretend to be willing to do for them, but my mind is to know his wife a little better,’ Pepys wrote on August 7, 1663.

He was not averse to using violence to get his way. Once, having quarrelled with his wife, striking her ‘over her left eye such a blow as the poor wretch did cry out and was in great pain’, Pepys took Mrs Bagwell to an alehouse and ‘endeavoured to caress her’. However, when he tried to go further, she rebuffed him.

Pepys eventually delivered on his promise to find Bagwell a better ship – and this time there was to be no refusing him.

So is it time for a reappraisal of Pepys? Should he take his place among history’s villains for the way he treated women, using bribery, alcohol and even violence to get what he wanted?

So is it time for a reappraisal of Pepys? Should he take his place among history’s villains for the way he treated women, using bribery, alcohol and even violence to get what he wanted?

Entering Mrs Bagwell’s house under cover of darkness, he ‘had her company, though with a great deal of difficulty, however, finally I had my way with her’. The following day he found that he had sustained an injury to his forefinger in the struggle.

It is hard not to read this incident as rape – yet something about the diminutive predator (he was only 5ft) must have appealed, for Mrs Bagwell became his long-term mistress, with regular assignations at Pepys’ office.

Mr Bagwell became wealthy thanks to Pepys’ patronage. Whatever the agreement, it managed to prick the conscience of the diarist, who recorded that one night he was naked in bed with Mrs Bagwell and ‘did do all that I desired… Yet when I had done what I wanted I did both hate her and the thing [sex].’

So is it time for a reappraisal of Pepys? Should he take his place among history’s villains for the way he treated women, using bribery, alcohol and even violence to get what he wanted?

Having decoded all the evidence against him, written by his own hand, it is simply too damning to ignore. Yes, he was a brilliant man. But history must now record that Pepys was also a monster.

© Geoffrey Pimm, 2018

::The Dark Side Of Samuel Pepys: Society’s First Sex Offender, by Geoffrey Pimm, is published by Pen & Sword at £19.99. Offer price £15.99 (20 per cent discount, including free p&p) until February 11. Order at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640.

 



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