living history


One of my favorite websites is dedicated to Samuel Pepys’ diary. Pepys was born in 1633 and was a prolific diarist in a period of great political and social upheaval:

In September 1658, Oliver Cromwell died, passing the title of Protector (king in all but name) to his son Richard. Pepys’ employer, Edward Mountagu was closely associated with the Cromwells’ reign and the 1656-7 attempt to make Oliver king (Oliver refused because he feared the army’s republicanism). Following Richard’s overthrow in April 1659 Mountagu found himself increasingly at odds with the government’s growing republican elements.

I find the Pepys diary website addictive because it is so well annotated — by the readers themselves, for the most part, who contribute to the text and discussion of the text. There are links to provide background on just about anything you don’t know about living in England circa 1660: the currency system, the difference between ale and beer, pancake day customs, the history of Bartholomew fair, 17th century coffee houses, and so on. I often consult the diary when I’m trying to sort out some sticky historical detail.