Pepys, Elizabeth (wife)

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She was born in 1640 with the surname of St. Michel. Latham & Matthews state that “by December 1655 [Samuel] Pepys had married [her,] the fifteen-year-old daughter of a penniless Hugeuenot exile,” adding “This is the date of the civil ceremony. It seems likely that a religious ceremony had taken place in the previous October.” (p.xxii)

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Description of Elizabeth and the marriage
from Bryant’s Pepys bio:

“He had not long left Cambridge when he met his match. She was the daughter of a French Huguenot who had come over to England with Queen Henrietta Maria, lost his place at Court…, and married the daughter of an Anglo-Irish gentleman… She was very beautiful, with a little round face of almost unearthly pallor set in curls…

“He loved her and was intensely proud of her beauty, yet there were things to which he could not shut his eyes. She was careless and untidy—a child who could not even keep her own clothes tidy, let alone make a poor man’s home. And though he read to her continually, in the evenings and on long Sabbath afternoons, and tried to make her as learned and universally curious as himself, the plain fact remained that she was something of a fool. Her favourite books were long meandering French romances, whose tedious narratives she would even repeat in company in the most uncalled-for and irritating manner. Moreover she had a will of her own and, though she loved and admired her clever husband, liked to follow the bent of her own imperious little ways….

“Very early in their married life they quarreled seriously. It did not last long… but for a time they appear to have been separated, Elizabeth going into lodgings with friends at Charing Cross. These early differences were a very bitter memory to Pepys, who could scarcely bear his wife to remind him of them, and at his father’s house were long preserved the tell-tale papers of that warfare.”

(The reader should bear in mind that these condescending words were written seventy years ago by an Englishman born in the nineteenth century!)

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Has anyone read ‘The Diary of Elizabeth Pepys’, edited by Dale Spender.
It does put another view of Samuel—-not quite as unflattering as his view of her!

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‘The Diary of Elizabeth Pepys’ is actually fiction, as a letter by Pepys’ recent biographer, Claire Tomalin, makes clear 2/3 of the way down this page:
http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,814077,00.html

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Biographer Claire Tomalin’s description of Pepys’s marriage in an “interview” at the Penguin books website:

“Pepys’ account of marriage is one of the great themes of his Diary because it shows how fluid his feelings were — something I believe to be true of most of us, although not often acknowledged. He was both very happy with Elizabeth and very unhappy — proud of her beauty, her wit and artistic skill, tormented by jealousy, irritated by her careless housekeeping, frightened of her reaction should she discover his pursuit of other women.

“They shared a taste for reading, for shopping, for ordering new clothes and doing up the house. Their sexual relations were never good: she had a medical condition that affected things badly from the start. Children would have changed things between them, but there were none, a sadness to Pepys and probably to her, although he does not say so.

“None of her letters have survived, but now and then he lets us hear her voice, naming her favourite dressing gown which she liked to lounge about in ‘my Kingdom’ and calling him a ‘prick-louse’ (because he was the son of a tailor) or a ‘false, rotten-hearted rogue’ when she was angry. He hit her occasionally, but she fought her corner very successfully.”

For the full interview, click on this link, and when you get there, click on “interview” at the right-hand side of that page:
http://www.penguin.co.uk/Book/EnhancedBookFrame/0,1011,,00.html?id=0670885681&sym=SYN

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pricklouse ‘tailor’
(from the OED):

pricklouse (‘prIklaUs). Now dial. Also 8- prick-the(-a)-louse. A derisive name for a tailor.
1500-20 Dunbar Poems xxvii. 5 Betuix a tel3our and ane sowtar, A pricklouss and ane hobbell clowttar. 1668 R. L’Estrange Vis. Quev. (1708) 151 The poor Prick-Lice were damn’dly startled at that, for fear they should not get in. 1709 O. Dykes Eng. Prov. & Refl. (ed. 2) 117 What an ignorant Presumption..for an impudent Prick-lowse to set up for a Lawyer, or a Statesman. A. 1796 Burns Answ. to Tailor ii, Gae mind your seam, ye prick-the-louse, An’ jag-the-flae. 1828 Craven Gloss. (ed. 2), Prick-a-louse, a contemptuous name for a tailor.

(Great quote, Quidnunc; thanks!)

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Unusual ages to marry (14 and 22)

From a Toronto Globe and Mail review of Tomalin’s biography (the review is very positive but notes this as one of a few “small errors”:

“Tomalin is mistaken in assuming that there was nothing amiss when Pepys, a penniless youth of 22, married Elizabeth de Saint Michael, a penniless girl of 14. On the contrary, most of their contemporaries, male as well as female, postponed marriage until well into their twenties, choosing instead to amass a nest egg before setting up households of their own. Moreover, at 14, it is very unlikely Elizabeth was sexually mature; if she was like most other girls of the time, it would be four more years before she started menstruating. These details are important because they cast Pepys’s dalliances with other young girls in an altogether more sinister light; they may also help account for why Pepys met with frequent rejection in his own bedroom.”

— Jessica Warner, “The sex life of Mr. Pepys,” Saturday, 26 October 2002, page D17. From an attached note identifying the author:

“Jessica Warner is a scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, with a cross-appointment to the Department of History at the University of Toronto. She is the author of “Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason.”

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I would suggest that Tomalin is being more realistic than Warner. Don’t forget that Shakespere wrote of Romeo and Juliet (13 years old) being sexually active in their early teens also suggesting that “… younger than you, / Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, / Are made already mothers”
Why would the age of sexual maturity have risen so much in a hundred years?
Pepys has a well paying job for his age when the diary starts, and well able to support a household.

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Tomalin on “a child bride in our eyes”

“Child brides were common enough; marriage was legal for girls at the age of twelve.” — “Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self” p 52

Grahamt makes a good point: Unusual doesn’t equal “scandalous” or even “amiss” in the eyes of contemporaries. Tomalin points out that John Evelyn, a contemporary, married his wife when he was 26 and she was only 12 (cohabiting when she was 14).

And yet, Jessica Warner makes a fair point that it was still an unusual age for Elizabeth to marry, and that is definitely worth noting (Tomalin doesn’t), which is why I posted the quote. I’ve read elsewhere that marriages back then normally took place when both parties were in their 20s because most people weren’t as financially secure as Romeo and Juliet.

Financially, the match was imprudent — Pepys was only a servant to Montagu at that point. (The Exchequer job probably came sometime in 1656.) Both sets of parents probably disapproved, and he installed his new wife into his room at Montagu’s Whitehall lodgings without telling Montagu, Tomalin writes (p 53).

The age of sexual maturity has been decreasing, at least since sometime in the 19th century, due to better health (although girls in sports tend to mature a bit later). There’s always been plenty of variation, of course.

Tomalin seems to assume Elizabeth was already menstruating, since she mentions it but doesn’t cite anything on it (p 52). That seems like a fair assumption — Pepys commented in the diary (2 Aug. 1660) that Elizabeth had a medical problem which had hampered sex when they were first married, and if she hadn’t become sexually mature yet, he wasn’t too squeamish not to have mentioned it in the diary.


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Too many negatives!
“…if she hadn’t become sexually mature yet, he wasn’t too squeamish not to have mentioned it in the diary.”
I confess I’m not sure what you’re saying here; could you rephrase, O quintessential Quidnunc?

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Unclear writing often signals a weak case!

Or being in a hurry.

How’s this sound, O lettered LanguageHat? “If she were prepubescent when they married, Pepys might well have mentioned it in his diary, where he was typically frank.”

The clearer the prose, the weaker my point looks. He might well NOT have mentioned it, even in his diary. Revised opinion: We don’t know.

Frankly, I’m feeling pretty queasy about the whole subject.


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Very good points, but I wonder if we are not still projecting 21st century thinking onto 17th century mores. Pepys may have been “only a servant” when he married, but we know he was educated at St Pauls and Cambridge in an age when education, especially tertiary, was reserved for the rich and powerful. This suggests that being Montagu’s servant was just an “apprenticeship” for his later role. I think that the term “clerk” is also burdened with modern prejudice. Pepys at 26 was earning £50 p.a. which seems a huge amount considering my mother earned £90 p.a. as a nurse about 285 years later in 1945. (inflation since the war makes modern comparisons less illustrative)
All of this suggests to me that Samuel was a good catch (financially) for Elizabeth. He may have put off marriage until his career path was established, but the same constraints weren’t necessary for a young woman of modest means marrying a man with prospects. Was he really “penniless” as Warner suggests?
Even now, the age of consent is 14 in modern countries like Canada, Austria and Italy. Living in countries like the UK and US where the norm is 16-18 we may lose sight of the fact that Pepys was most likely not doing anything distateful, unusual or amiss in marrying a 14 year old.
We also have to be careful with - probably true - statistics like sexual maturity having started earlier since some time in the 19th century. That doesn’t tell us what haapened between the 17th and 19th. The general health, (plagues aside) of the British working classes plummetted during the industrial revolution, when the economy changed from rural to urban, and only started to recover when the Victorians (late 19th C) realised that cleaning up urban squalor, providing sewers and hospitals, and educating the population in basic hygiene kept the work force working longer. It is likely that this urban poverty caused a postponement of the age of menstruation, just as anorexia does today. I see no evidence so far in the diary that Samuel and Elizabeth were malnourished!.
(Sorry this is so long)

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Per Pepys the Perv: see Mitterauer, Michael. A History of Youth. Translated by Graeme Dunphy. Edited by Peter Laslett and Michael Anderson, Family, Sexuality and Social Relations in Past Times. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992; and Wrigley, E. Anthony, and Roger S. Schofield. The Population History of England, 1541-1871. A Reconstruction. London: Edward Arnold, 1981. The first discusses the average age of menses, the second the average age of marriage in early modern England.

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Interesting discussion. I wonder …

… if, in his own way, Pepys might have been recording his wife’s sexual immaturity by disclosing that she had a “medical condition” when they were first married. Which leads me to ask, how common might prepubescent relations with early married wives have been at this time in history? Should such be the case with Sam and Elizabeth, would Pepys be matching the norm, or conducting himself abnormally?

Dr. Warner, do you have data on this subject?

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Tomalin DOES cite a reason . . .

for thinking Elizabeth Pepys was past puberty when she married shortly before her 15th birthday — well almost. She says marriage and puberty came “more or less” at the same time. Tomalin also says, by the way, that 17th century opinion generally was that marriage was meant to help one advance materially and in society (pp 49-50), and Pepys flew in the face of that by marrying Elizabeth.

Fair warning: The following quote is not for the squeamish. Here’s an excerpt from footnote 15, page 53 (footnote appears on page 389; I’ve capitalized the most relevant phrase):

“Elizabeth probably was suffering from Bartholin’s abcess or cyst, a relatively common condition treated today with antibiotics and, if necessary, surgery; in the seventeenth century there was no effective treatment, and the condition tended to recur, as it clearly did in Elizabeth’s case. Although it was not caused by venereal infection but by bacteria living on the skin, Elizabeth may have suspected her husband of infecting her. It does not begin until puberty because it is the action of the glands that produces it, and IN ELIZABETH’S CASE PUBERTY PROBABLY COINCIDED MORE OR LESS WITH HER MARRIAGE. I am indebted to Patrick French for the medical information. [Tomalin then cites information from diary entries for 29 Oct. 1660 and 24 Oct. 1663.]”

Some uninformed speculation: I just bet that, in an age of such early marriages, there was some longstanding religious opinion on the morality of having sex with a wife who hadn’t reached puberty. And a Puritan opinion, and an opinion in society at large.

Thanks for the contribution, Ms. Warner!

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In response to Mr Walla’s question: Intimate details of this sort are understandably hard to come by; for hints on the average age at which working women became sexually active, see Rogers, Nicholas. “Carnal Knowledge: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-century Westminster.” Journal of Social History 23, no. 2 (1989): 355-75. Rogers finds that most of the women in question were in their early twenties; obviously, they were all sexually mature, as suggested by a pregnancy-rate of 100 percent.

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Cast of a bust of Elizabeth Pepys after a marble attributed to John Bushnell (1672) in the National Portrait Gallery.

http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/portrait.asp?search=ss&sText=pepys&LinkID=mp03509&rNo=0&role=sit

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I believe Elizabeth was suffereing from endometriosis, a condition that affects the uterus and causes great pain for about a week before menstruation begins. Symptoms include severe, agonising stomach pains, and sufferers are often left infertile. Having intercourse or experiencing orgasm brings on pain. Even today, medical science is unable to find a cure, they can only help to reduce the symptoms. Endometriosis helps to explain why Elizabeth and Samuel had infrequent sexual contact.

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But then again, horny Samuel never washed and elizabeth liked to take a bath. Maybe the reason for their infrequent sexual contact was that Samuel was far too smelly and dirty to make love to. Just imageine the smell there would be when he took his undies off. yuk! It wouldn’t surprise me if he you could smell his feet next door and his breath had all the freshness of an open sewer.

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My maternal grandmother married at age 14. Apparently young brides were common in turn-of-the-century (1914) rural Missippi.

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“It is a comment on [Pepys’s] quality as a husband that in a diary which only once (in 1668) fails to record his own birthdays, those of his wife are not mentioned.” —-This, from the entry on “Pepys, Elizabeth,” in the Vol. 10 Companion to the Lathem-Matthews Diary (p. 317). Every reader of this Website will find this copious volume fascinating, indispensable, and well worth its modest cost.

The entry on Elizabeth also confirms the suspicion, voiced in the annotations to 4 February 1659/60, “Nor does he ever refer to her by name.”

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You can find out more than you wanted to know about the age of onset of menstruation at http://www.mum.org/menarage.htm.

The study quoted (from “a Canadian student”, but with proper references) quotes average ages:

Medieval Europe 12-14
Manchester 1840s
…working class women 15.7
…upper class women 14.6
London 1855 (hospital patients) 15.5

The study agrees with the idea that body weight is an important factor, with on average the well-fed upper classes reaching puberty first, the poor and sick later.

The most interesting bit is that the idea of a recent marked fall in age is shown to be partly an artefact of earlier researchers’ concentration on the disadvantaged.

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In reference to Pepys’ supposed disinterest in his wife, I must say that I agreed at first with those who posted that he shows a lack of tenderness towards her, however as he is preparing to go to sea, I am feeling a renewed interest in their relationship.
Over the past few days they have spent a lot of time shopping together. He has gone out of his way to see that she will be comfortable with the Bowyers while he is gone. He sent for cabbages when she had a whim for them. And I was very touched when they spent the night “talking a great while” (Monday 12/3)
I think it sounds very romantic.
Just today they ate out at the Sun Tavern where over a piece of 8d salmon, he vowed that she should inherit all his worldy goods (except the books). It was a touching scene.
I have never read the diary before and I am greatly enjoying seeing the story unfold, and I must say that this moment will stick in my mind for some time!

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