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Library find casts a new light on Sam Pepys's lost love

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  • Michael Robinson
    Library find casts a new light on Sam Pepys s lost love By Ben Fenton (Filed: 14/10/2006) One of the enduring secrets of the life of Samuel Pepys - what became
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 14, 2006
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      Library find casts a new light on Sam Pepys's lost love

      By Ben Fenton
      (Filed: 14/10/2006)

      One of the enduring secrets of the life of Samuel Pepys - what became
      of his 17-year-old inamorata Deb Willet after Mrs Pepys flung her out
      of the family home - has been solved by documents found in the
      Bodleian Library in Oxford.

      Pepys, whose nine-year diary provides an incomparable insight into
      life in late 17th-century England, took an instant shine to Deb, who
      was half his age, when she arrived to be a "waiting gentlewoman" to
      his wife Elizabeth. And she, the niece of a well-to-do Bristol
      merchant, returned his affection.

      Samuel Pepys
      Samuel Pepys was caught by his wife

      One fateful day in Oct 1668, Elizabeth "coming up suddenly, did find
      me imbracing the girl [with] my hand [under] her [petti-]coats; and
      endeed I was with my [hand] in her. I was at a wonderful loss upon it
      and the girl also..."

      This was not the last time the couple were found in flagrante delicto,
      although Deb never did bestow the "final favours" on her 35-year-old
      lover, according to Dr Kate Loveman of Leicester University, the
      academic who has uncovered previously unknown documents relating to
      Miss Willet.

      "As far as we can tell, the relationship was not consummated, although
      Pepys did have several other mistresses," said Dr Loveman, who did her
      research in the Bodleian while a researcher at St Anne's College, Oxford.

      Elizabeth Pepys, however, was not one to admit defeat.
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      On Nov 18, 1668, Deb and Pepys were canoodling in a coach and Mrs P
      got wind of the continued affair.

      "The next day, Pepys describes how she threatened to 'slit Deb's nose'
      and she certainly threatened her husband with a pair of hot tongs, "
      said Dr Loveman.

      Deb was thrown out of the house and although Pepys continued to track
      her around various addresses in London, apparently still in love with
      her, by the time he ends his diary in May 1669, he says his "amours
      with Deb are past".

      "In fact, he cites that as one of the reasons why he is no longer
      going to keep the diary, because his life isn't interesting enough to
      write about any more."

      Until now, that is all that historians have known about Deb, but Dr
      Loveman discovered letters between Pepys and a parson named Jeremiah
      Wells.

      When tracing his life as part of a project to enter the names of the
      great diarist's contacts on a database, she discovered that Wells had
      married one Deb Willet in Chelmsford in January 1670, and 10 months
      later they had a daughter.

      Further research confirmed that this was the same woman who had won
      Pepys's heart and that he, in his position of Clerk of the Acts for
      the Royal Navy, had helped her new husband find a job as a ship's
      chaplain, Dr Loveman has written in the current issue of the
      Historical Journal.

      "Pepys seems to have got him a place on a ship called the Dover, and
      later he moved to the larger Resolution. He was undoubtedly on board
      that ship when she lost 120 dead out of her crew of 400 at the Battle
      of Sole Bay in June 1672, which must have been a traumatic place for a
      chaplain to be.

      "Pepys's actions in finding work for Jeremiah Wells might have been
      done out of benevolence, but it can be read in such a way as to
      suggest that he did have other motives.

      "And we certainly know that he did the same thing for the husbands of
      two of his other mistresses."

      The story has a tragic ending, for Deb died aged 27 in March 1678 and
      her husband the following year, at just 31. There is no record of what
      happened to their daughter.

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