It’s a gift – Samuel Pepys and Sir William Warren, an account of gifts, bribes and kickbacks

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Purpose – This study aims to investigate an individual’s boundary crossing with regard to bribery, gifts and favouritism in rewarding contracts. Samuel Pepys’s diary was written in the 17th century and through detailed accounts gives insight into his inherent professionalism and his negative opinions around bribery but also his acceptance of “gifts” and awarding of contracts to “friends”.

Design/methodology/approach – The research uses a narrative approach to study a detailed and reflective personal diary identifying the diarist’s self-exploration and attitudes around the receipt of gifts and the awarding of contracts. This microhistory is presented with a narrative account of a case study of the relationship between the diarist, Pepys and a supplier, Sir W. Warren.

Findings – The diary illustrates how Pepys crosses these boundaries and how the lack of accountability within his role enables him to do this. This detailed study enables answers to questions that with time, legislation and lack of acceptability, have become more difficult to ask and to answer, about the crossing of boundaries and ethical decisions around the acceptance of bribes and kickbacks.

Originality/value – A contribution of this paper is the use of a diary, at least a diary as self-reflective as Pepys’s written up as a narrative account. The use of a detailed diary in an accounting microhistory of this nature gives insight and assists in answering difficult to ask questions around personal motivations for bribery and corruption and contributes in this area. The research contributes in developing research around boundaries and the corruption equation using the insight gleaned from this narrative account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-932
Number of pages20
JournalAccounting Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number3
Early online date19 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2023


  • corruption
  • gifts
  • narrative inquiry
  • bribery
  • microhistory
  • Samuel Pepys


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