Samuel Pepys - Biography & Activities

Samuel Pepys' diaries have shed great light on life in Restoration-era England. Teach your pupils about this famous Londoner and his writings through a biography, a reading activity, and a journaling project.
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Born: 23 February 1633



Died: 16 May 1703
Birthplace: London, England
Best known as: Author of Samuel Pepys' diaries
Detailed and intimate, Pepys' diaries became a mainstay of British literature after their first publication in 1825. Pepys was educated at Magdalen College, Cambridge, and spent most of his career working in the British Admiralty; he also served as a Member of Parliament for three different terms between 1673-89. For 10 years, from 1660-69, Pepys kept an extraordinary diary, with running commentary on his daily rounds, his meals, his health, even his relations with his wife. Pepys never intended the diaries for publication, and he wrote them in an unusual shorthand which kept them from being read for many years. When the diaries were published in 1825, they were hailed as an intimate glimpse at life in the Restoration-era England. (His meticulous frankness was such that some of the more impolite details were omitted from publication until the 20th century.) Particularly famous are his firsthand accounts of the coronation of King Charles II and the Great Fire of London.
Extra credit: His name is pronounced peeps... Pepys was imprisoned in the Tower of London for six weeks in 1679 after being accused of involvement in the Popish Plot... Upon his death Pepys left his personal 3000-volume library to Magdalen College... Pepys' unusual shorthand is often called a "secret code," but in fact was his own version of an existing system called the Shelton shorthand.

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Lesson Planning Resources:

  • Read entries from Samuel Pepys' diaries. Discuss how these diaries contribute to our knowledge and understanding of life in Restoration-era England.
  • Give pupils a blank journal page and ask them to a.) write a diary entry for the day the Great Fire of London happened or b.) write a diary entry about the Great Plague.
  • Introduce children to journal writing.
  • Take a poll. How many of your pupils keep a diary? Is there a noticeable difference by gender? Graph the data and discuss the results.
  • Create packets with five or seven blank journal pages for each pupil. Inform your class they will begin writing their own diaries in the style of Samuel Pepys as a week-long (or year-long) project. Pupils should spend 10-15 minutes each day writing in their journal packet. This can be completed in the classroom, or assigned as homework.
  • Research and discuss Shelton shorthand. Challenge your pupils to create their own shorthand system.


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