1601 was written during the summer of 1876 when the Clemens family had retreated to Quarry Farm in Elmira County, New York. Here Mrs. Clemens enjoyed relief from social obligations, the children romped over the countryside, and Mark retired to his octagonal study, which, perched high on the hill, looked out upon the valley below. It was in the famous summer of 1876, too, that Mark was putting the finishing touches to Tom Sawyer. Before the close of the same year he had already begun work on 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', published in 1885. It is interesting to note the use of the title, the "Duke of Bilgewater," in Huck Finn when the "Duchess of Bilgewater" had already made her appearance in 1601. Sandwiched between his two great masterpieces, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the writing of 1601 was indeed a strange interlude.
During this prolific period Mark wrote many minor items, most of them rejected by Howells, and read extensively in one of his favorite books, Pepys' Diary. Like many another writer Mark was captivated by Pepys' style and spirit, and "he determined," says Albert Bigelow Paine in his 'Mark Twain, A Biography', "to try his hand on an imaginary record of conversation and court manners of a bygone day, written in the phrase of the period. The result was 'Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen Elizabeth', or as he later called it, '1601'. The 'conversation' recorded by a supposed Pepys of that period, was written with all the outspoken coarseness and nakedness of that rank day, when fireside sociabilities were limited only to the loosened fancy, vocabulary, and physical performance, and not by any bounds of convention."