In celebration of the birthday of the famous diarist Samuel Pepys on 23 February we take a look at his connection with Trinity Hall. Surely some mistake? Everyone knows that Samuel Pepys went to Magdalene College, Cambridge, which has the world renowned Pepys Library. Well, on 21 June 1650, Samuel Pepys was admitted to Trinity Hall!
Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was the son of a London tailor and the family lived above the shop in Salisbury Court, just off Fleet Street. They had important relations in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire and in 1643 Samuel was sent to his uncle, Robert Pepys, in order to attend the “Free Grammar School” of Huntingdon. Three years later Samuel returned to London to finish his education at St Paul’s School and to apply to Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
Why Trinity Hall? Well, Trinity Hall was the college of Samuel’s great-uncle, Talbot Pepys. As Recorder of Cambridge (1624-1660) and M.P. for Cambridge from 1625, Talbot Pepys was a man of considerable power and influence. He had a large manor house at Impington and was a leading figure in raising taxes to fund Cromwell’s armies. Perhaps, then, it was natural for Samuel Pepys to choose Trinity Hall.
But Samuel never actually attended Trinity Hall! Sadly, we don’t know the reason why. Trinity Hall was a law college and Claire Tomalin, in her life of Pepys, speculates that perhaps Samuel was not keen on the idea of a career in law, adding “or it may have been too expensive to pursue”. Instead Samuel migrated to Magdalene and matriculated there in 1651.
The choice of Magdalene may have been influenced by the fact that the new Master of Magdalene, John Sadler, was a London neighbour at Salisbury Court. Moreover, Samuel had even more influential relative in Edward Montagu, the Parliamentarian soldier, whose mother was Samuel’s great-aunt. Tomalin tells us, “Montagu’s patronage probably came into it too; his chaplain had a Magdalene connection, and Samuel Morland, who claimed his friendship, had just been appointed to a fellowship there and became Pepys’s tutor.” So it was that Samuel Pepys studied at Magdalene for his Cambridge degree.
Trinity Hall and the Civil War
The Master of Trinity Hall in 1642 was Thomas Eden, who was also the M.P. for Cambridge University. Crawley tells us that Eden was “known by 1642 as one of the rare civilians [i.e. civil lawyers] who leaned towards the Parliamentarian cause”. Eden seems to have been skilful in navigating difficult times and, according to Crawley, “he may have had some influence in saving in saving the College silver from requisition either by the king or by Cromwell”.
In 1644 Edward Montagu (a relative of Samuel Pepys’s) and the Earl of Manchester came to Cambridge to purge the university of senior members with Royalist sympathies. Crawley tells us that twelve of the sixteen Heads of Houses were turned out and replaced with Puritan scholars – but Thomas Eden was not one of them! In February 1644 Eden had signed the Solemn League and Covenant and in 1645, a few months before his death, he was appointed to serve on a Parliamentary Committee for Admiralty affairs. Parliament took an interest in (or interferred in!) the appointment of Eden’s successor and it was not until 1546 that a mutually acceptable candidate was found at last. John Bond, who had strong Puritan credentials, was appointed Master. He served as Vice-Chancellor in 1658 and retired at the Restoration in 1660.
During the Commonwealth the discipline of the ecclesiastical courts was abolished. This had a direct impact on our civil lawyers. However, civilians still had probate and Admiralty business. College’s links with Admiralty law may account for a charming manuscript in the Old Library dating from about 1660-1690 called “Sea terms and geography”. It contains a glossary of nautical terms, the names of the winds and geographical descriptions of the world.
Samuel joins the Admiralty
After obtaining his degree, Samuel Pepys returned to London and worked as a clerk for his patron Edward Montagu, who had risen through the army to become Cromwell’s General-at-Sea. The navy flourished under Cromwell, it was well run and gained enormous respect among the European powers. After the Cromwell’s death the Commonwealth began to fall apart under his son Richard. In the interests of stability, a number of the ruling elite, including Montagu, began to think the un-thinkable and work covertly for the restoration of the monarchy.
At such a time Montagu needed a man he could trust and he chose Samuel Pepys as his secretary. Thus at the age of 27 Pepys joined the Admiralty. On 23 March 1660 Pepys set sail with Montagu aboard the “Swiftsure”. According to Tomalin “Pepys enjoyed his snug cabin, set out to learn sea terms, walked on the deck to keep sickness at bay as they put to sea.” From the “Swiftsure” the party transferred to the “Naseby” (soon to be renamed the “Royal Charles”) which sailed to the Netherlands to bring Charles II and his brother James back to England.
Montagu had royal favour for the part he played in the Restoration and through his influence Samuel was appointed clerk of the acts at the Navy Board, at a salary of £350 a year! Pepys turned out to be an admirable civil servant: a hard worker and loyal to his royal master James Duke of York. He was also a canny businessman. Dealing with naval supplies, he managed to amass a considerable fortune and a wonderful library!
Two members of the Pepys family attended Trinity Hall: Talbot Pepys, Samuel’s great-uncle and John Pepys, Talbot’s second son (and Samuel’s cousin).
Talbot Pepys matriculated as a pensioner at King’s in about 1595 and became a scholar of Trinity Hall in 1601. He was Recorder of Cambridge and M.P. During the 1640s and 1650s Talbot Pepys sided with Parliament, being appointed to numerous parliamentary commissions and serving on the committee of the Eastern Association. Shortly before the Restoration, aged 77 and with failing eyesight, he resigned the recordership in favour of his eldest son, Roger, who also became M.P. for Cambridge
John Pepys was admitted as pensioner at Christ’s in 1636 and was admitted to Middle Temple in 1640. In 1641 he obtained an LLB from Trinity Hall and was appointed a fellow. In 1647 he was called to the Bar and obtained an LLD from Trinity Hall.
“Samuel Pepys: the unequalled self” by Claire Tomalin. London: Penguin Books, 2002
“Trinity Hall: the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1975” by Charles Crawley. Cambridge: Trinity Hall, 1976
“Alumni Cantabrigienses: part 1, From earliest times to 1751” compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1924
The Pepys Library, Magdalene College Cambridge, opening times