Library find casts a new light on Samuel Pepys's lost love

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One of the enduring secrets of the life of Samuel Pepys - what became of his 17-year-old inamorata Deb Willet after Mrs Pepys flung her out of the family home - has been solved by documents found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Pepys, whose nine-year diary provides an incomparable insight into life in late 17th-century England, took an instant shine to Deb, who was half his age, when she arrived to be a "waiting gentlewoman" to his wife Elizabeth. And she, the niece of a well-to-do Bristol merchant, returned his affection.

One fateful day in Oct 1668, Elizabeth "coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl [with] my hand [under] her [petti-]coats; and endeed I was with my [hand] in her. I was at a wonderful loss upon it and the girl also..."

This was not the last time the couple were found in flagrante delicto, although Deb never did bestow the "final favours" on her 35-year-old lover, according to Dr Kate Loveman of Leicester University, the academic who has uncovered previously unknown documents relating to Miss Willet.

"As far as we can tell, the relationship was not consummated, although Pepys did have several other mistresses," said Dr Loveman, who did her research in the Bodleian while a researcher at St Anne's College, Oxford.

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