Samuel Pepys and corruption

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Knights, Mark (2014)

Picking up a theme that runs through David Hayton's work, this article examines corruption in the later Stuart period through a case study of Samuel Pepys. The latter's diary can be read alongside the public record of parliamentary inquiries and vilification in the press, allowing us a rare opportunity to study corruption simultaneously through the eyes of a perpetrator and his critics. Pepys reveals ambiguities in how corruption was defined and defended. At the same time as he criticized corruption in others, he took bribes and extorted favours but either lied about them when confronted, or excused them as lawful gifts from friends and those grateful for his services, arguing that his acceptance of them never worked against the king's interest. His critics, on the other hand, queried the compatibility of his private advantage and the public interest, and depicted him as greedy, hypocritical and unjust. Pepys thus illustrates contested notions of corrupt behaviour. The attack on Pepys also shows the political motives behind campaigns against corruption: the libel published against him was part of the murky world of popish plot intrigue, with clear overtones of both catholic and sexual misdemeanour. Popery and lust were associated with corrupt behaviour. Pepys's story was part of a larger one about long-term shifts in the nature of officeholding, state formation, the public interest, patronage and the culture of gift-giving that needs further exploration.
  • References (6)

    4 Arthur Bryant, Pepys: Saviour of the Navy (Cambridge, 1938); Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys. The Unequalled Self (2002), p. xxxvi.

    5 Robert Latham and William Matthews, The Diary of Samuel Pepys (10 vols, Berkeley, CA, 1970-6), i, pp. cxxiii-iv.

    6 The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews (11 vols. 1970-83), x, 131, 133.

    7 Noonan, Bribes, 387.

    8 Noonan, Bribes, 385.

    9 I have used The Diary of Samuel Pepys MA, FRS, ed. Henry Wheatley (10 vols, 1893-9) [hereafter cited as Diary, with date of entry], since it is the basis for an online edition (at that is readily accessible. The text is reasonably reliable when compared with The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Latham and Matthews, though the latter's notes are superior. Diary, 2 Oct. 1663.

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