PEPYS, Charles Christopher (1781-1851), of 13 New Square, Lincoln's Inn, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



14 July 1831 - 26 Sept. 1831
30 Sept. 1831 - 20 Jan. 1836

Family and Education

b. 29 Apr. 1781, 2nd s. of Sir William Weller Pepys, 1st bt. (d. 1825), of Wimpole Street, Mdx. and Ridley Hall, Cheshire and Elizabeth, da. of William Dowdeswell† of Pull Court, Worcs. educ. Harrow 1795-7; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1797; L. Inn 1801, called 1804. m. 30 June 1821, Caroline Elizabeth, da. of William Wingfield† of Lincoln’s Inn, 7s. (1 d.v.p.) 9da. (3 d.v.p.). kntd. 26 Feb. 1834; cr. Bar. Cottenham 20 Jan. 1836; suc. elder bro. Sir William Weller Pepys, 2nd bt., in the baronetcy (1801) and to Ridley and Tandridge Park, Godstone, Surr. 5 Oct. 1845; cos. Hon. and Rev. Sir Henry Leslie, 3rd bt., rect. of Wetherden, Suff., in the baronetcy (1784) 9 Dec. 1849; cr. earl of Cottenham 11 June 1850. d. 29 Apr. 1851.

Offices Held

KC 24 Aug. 1826; bencher, L. Inn 1826, treas. 1837; solicitor-gen. to Queen Adelaide Nov. 1830-May 1832; solicitor-gen. Feb.-Sept. 1834; master of rolls Sept. 1834-Jan. 1836; PC 1 Oct. 1834; member, jud. cttee. of PC 1834; first commr. of great seal Apr. 1835-Jan. 1836; ld. chan. Jan. 1836-Sept. 1841, July 1846-June 1850.


Pepys came from the same old Cambridgeshire family to which the celebrated diarist belonged. His grandfather William Pepys, a youngest son, established a banking house in Lombard Street, London in about 1729, but died aged 45 in 1743. With his second wife Hannah Weller he had two sons, of whom the younger, Lucas Pepys (1743-1830), became one of George III’s physicians and received a baronetcy in 1784. The elder son William Weller Pepys (1741-1825), the father of this Member, was a master in chancery, 1775-1807, and was made a baronet in 1801. A man of learning and refinement, ‘well known in polite circles’ as one of the ‘steadiest abettors’ of Elizabeth Montagu and the Bluestockings, he was characterized by Hannah More as ‘the true high priest of conversation’ and twitted by Horace Walpole for ‘having a nose longer than himself’. In 1781 Dr. Johnson admitted to Mrs. Thrale that she had extolled Pepys ‘with such disproportion’ that he had been provoked to ‘lessen him, perhaps more than he deserves’. Pepys held liberal views and, as Walpole noted, was ‘not a little infected with ... the French disorder’ in 1791, when he pronounced the Revolution to be ‘one of the most wonderful and most important events in the history of mankind’.1 Over 30 years later Maria Edgeworth described him as ‘a most agreeable, lively, polite old gentleman, who tells delightful anecdotes of Mrs. Montagu, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Burke and Dr. Johnson, with whom he lived in former days’.2

Pepys doted on his three sons with the daughter of the Rockinghamite politician Dowdeswell, and took great pains over their education at home before sending them to school. The eldest, William Weller Pepys (1778-1845), succeeded to the baronetcy, but suffered from poor health and made no mark in public life. The youngest, Henry Pepys (1783-1866), took holy orders and became bishop of Worcester in 1841. The second, this Member, was at Harrow with Lord Althorp*, whose memories of him were recorded, and perhaps embroidered, by his friend and biographer Denis Le Marchant†:

A stout, sturdy, thickset boy, of blunt speech and cold disposition, aiming at no distinction, making few friends, and exhibiting no traces of the peculiar discipline to which paternal care had subjected him. His proficiency in scholarship was respectable, but unaccompanied by a spark of genius. No one could say that he was clever; some of his schoolfellows pronounced him dull. His dark, searching eyes, massive forehead, and expressive lips, refuted the charge; and he had an air of independence and determination which indicated an inward consciousness of superiority.

In 1797 his father was pleased to see that he was ‘developing very fast those good qualities, which, I never doubted, would by time and opportunity, expand themselves’, and the following year, hearing good auguries of his university examinations, had ‘no doubt that I shall always have reason to be glad, that I indulged him in his request to pass some time at Cambridge’. At Lincoln’s Inn he was a pupil of William Tidd and was advised for a time by Samuel Romilly†. Although his indulgent father rejoiced in his ‘rapid and uncommon’ success at the chancery bar, his progress there as an equity draftsman was in fact exceedingly slow. Yet in time he built up a large practice on the strength of his reputation as, in Le Marchant’s words, ‘a lawyer of sound, though not showy parts, and of indefatigable industry’.3 He made a felicitous and fecund marriage, at the age of 40, in 1821, pocketed some £6,600 in bank stock by his father’s will, and at last got his silk gown in 1826.4

Pepys, who by 1813 had become legal adviser and auditor to the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam, was in the running for the post of solicitor-general in the Grey ministry in November 1830, but was passed over for Sir William Horne*, whom he replaced as solicitor-general to Queen Adelaide.5 At the 1831 general election lord chancellor Brougham pressed Fitzwilliam’s son, Lord Milton*, to return Pepys, as he was ‘most essential to my [legal] reforms and a most useful man in all ways, as well as a most respectable’, but subsequently advanced his own brother’s claims instead. In July 1831 Milton placed the surplus seat at Higham Ferrers at Pepys’s disposal, on condition that he ceased to audit the Fitzwilliams’ accounts, though he was retained as their legal adviser for ‘a regular annual fee’ of 100 sovereigns.6 According to Le Marchant, Pepys in return ‘insisted on being left to his own discretion as to attendance in the House’, in order to safeguard his professional livelihood, ‘a privilege which he used with such freedom, as to lose in the eyes of his party all claims to the honours of his profession’.7

Certainly he cut an undistinguished figure in the Commons where, in the words of an obituarist, ‘his unadorned oratory made but little impression’.8 He voted steadily for the details of the Grey ministry’s reintroduced reform bill in August, was in the ministerial majorities on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., and the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept., and voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. 1831. After transferring to Fitzwilliam’s borough of Malton he voted for Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct., and in his maiden speech, 13 Oct., defended Brougham’s bill to establish a separate bankruptcy jurisdiction. During the recess the opposition whip Holmes joked that Pepys was one of three men who were to ‘draw lots for the office of solicitor-general’.9 On 1 Dec. Pepys and other lawyers friendly to the reform bill met at Althorp’s to rehearse their defence of it, but he did not subsequently trouble the House on the subject.10 He voted for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and steadily supported its details, though he was in the minority of 32 against the Chandos clause enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb. 1832. He divided for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar. On the occasion of the government’s embarrassment over the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., he was reported to have felt that ‘we made our men feel the collar too much’ and did not vote, but he was in the ministerial majorities on the issue, 12, 16, 20 July, and on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb.11 He spoke and voted against Knight’s Irish master of the rolls bill, 22 Feb. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May 1832. Next month he was one of seven senior lawyers who protested to Brougham against the precipitate passage of four bills reforming real property law.12

At the 1832 general election Pepys was again returned unopposed for Malton. He became solicitor-general faute de mieux in 1834, and within two years, thanks to a fortunate concatenation of circumstances, attained the pinnacle of his profession, taking his title from Cottenham in Cambridgeshire.13 Joseph Jekyll,† playing on that village’s fame for its cream cheeses, joked that Pepys, ‘being bread to the bar, naturally took to the Rolls, and is now turned into Cheese’.14 Yet he soon belied his reputation for ‘mediocrity’ and, in the view of his cabinet colleague Lord Holland, proved to be ‘in his judicial capacity the very best [chancellor] since Lord Hardwicke, and his senatorial and political, useful, straightforward, conciliatory, acute, and intrepid’.15 John Campbell II*, Le Marchant and Lord Palmerston* also acknowledged his success, which was aided not a little by the welcome relief which his steady reliability offered after the unpredictable flashiness of Brougham.16 Lord Melbourne, the premier, asked how he got on with his new chancellor, was reputed to have replied, ‘Oh! capitally; I’m like a man who has broken for good with a termagant mistress, and married the best of cooks’.17 Le Marchant, who regretted only his indifference to judicial reform, later remarked that

the coldness of disposition and reserve which had characterized him at Harrow, clung to him through life. He concerned himself too little with the sympathies of others to do many generous actions, or have many friends ... He cared little for general society, and less for that of learned and able men. His conversation generally turned on the topics of the day, which he discussed with much shrewdness; and the downright view he took, both of men and things, was often enlivened by a vein of dry humour which gave much zest to his remarks.18

Pepys succeeded to both his father’s and uncle’s baronetcies, which became merged in his peerage. Failing health obliged him to relinquish his second tenure of the great seal in June 1850. He wintered in Malta, in the hope of recovery, but died in April 1851 on his way back to England at Pietra Santa, on his 70th birthday.19

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. W.C. Pepys, Genealogy of Pepys Fam. (1952), 49-51; Horace Walpole Corresp. xi. 30-31, 243, 264; xxxi. 213, 228, 242-3; Boswell’s Life of Johnson ed. G. Hill and L. Powell, iv. 65, 82, 487; A Later Pepys ed. A. Gaussen, i. 6-8.
  • 2. Edgeworth Letters, 386-7.
  • 3. Le Marchant, Althorp, 58-61; A Later Pepys, ii. 55, 203, 208, 211, 295, 330, 338, 348; Torrens, Melbourne, i. 47.
  • 4. PROB 11/1700/335.
  • 5. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F107/263; Life of Campbell, i. 490, 492; Brougham mss, Pepys to Brougham, 25 Nov. 1830.
  • 6. Add. 76371, Brougham to Althorp [11 May]; Fitzwilliam mss vol. 732, p. 35, Milton to Pepys, 8 June 1831.
  • 7. Le Marchant, 61.
  • 8. The Times, 8 May 1851.
  • 9. Life of Campbell, ii. 2.
  • 10. Hatherton diary, 1 Dec. [1831].
  • 11. Three Diaries, 197; Le Marchant, 391.
  • 12. Brougham mss, memo. [June 1832].
  • 13. Oxford DNB; E. Foss, Judges of England, ix. 239-42; Campbell, Lives of Chancellors, viii. 110, 121, 424, 479; Greville Mems. iii. 335.
  • 14. Disraeli Letters, ii. 475.
  • 15. Holland House Diaries, 332, 346.
  • 16. Le Marchant, 61-68; Life of Campbell, ii. 207; Lieven-Palmerston Corresp. 111.
  • 17. Torrens, ii. 174.
  • 18. Le Marchant, 67.
  • 19. Gent. Mag. (1851), ii. 84-85.