Le Neve, Peter (DNB00)

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LE NEVE, PETER (1661–1729), Norfolk antiquary, is generally said to have been born in London on 21 Jan. 1661–2 (but the entry in the ‘Merchant Taylors' School Register’ gives the date as 2 Feb. 1661–2). Both dates would seem to be wrong, as he was baptised at St. Michael's, Cornhill, 22 Jan. 1660–1 (information from C. H. Athill, Bluemantle). He was the son of Francis Neve (the ‘Le’ having been dropped for several generations when Peter re-adopted it), a citizen and draper of London, by Avice, daughter of Peter Wright, a London merchant (from whom, no doubt, he took his christian name), and the grandson of Firmian Neve of Ringland, Norfolk. Sir William Le Neve [q. v.] was his third cousin once removed. Peter entered Merchant Taylors' School on 11 March 1672–3. In 1675–6 his father was described as an upholsterer of the ‘Crown,’ Cornhill, and he may have obtained his first taste for heraldry from the scutcheons and pennons supplied for funerals by his father. A transcript of a book belonging to Sir Philip Woodhouse, made in 1680 (now in the present writer's library), and apparently in Le Neve's handwriting, suggests that he was interested in genealogy at an early age. When nearly twenty years old (1681) his father died. He was then resident at the ‘Harrow’ in the Poultry. Soon afterwards Le Neve seems to have moved to Warwick Lane, ‘against the White Horse in Paternoster Row,’ where he was still known as ‘Peter Neve.’

Le Neve's abnormal powers of work rapidly gave him a high reputation, and in 1687, when he was only twenty-six, he was elected president of the Antiquarian Society, on its revival in that year. This office he resigned in 1724, after holding it for thirty-seven years. He was also a fellow of the Royal Society. Before 1689 he began the immense and careful calendars of the records relating to his own county of Norfolk. By that date he had completed a careful calendar of the fines of the county down to the reign of Edward II. On 17 Jan. 1689–90 he was made Rouge Croix pursuivant. In 1694–5 he was suffering from fistula, apparently in London, and in the same year probably took part in Queen Mary's interment (Le Neve, Letters). In 1696 he was at Doctors' Commons, no doubt at the college, and was well enough off to offer pecuniary help to his friend Millicent. From 1696–8 he was corresponding with Tanner, offering to help him with his description of Wiltshire, encouraging the undertaking of the ‘Bibliotheca,’ and helping him with the ‘Notitia’ and the ‘Monasticon’ (Tanner MSS. Bodl.) In 1699 his brother Oliver killed Sir Henry Hobart, father of John Hobart, first earl of Buckinghamshire [q. v.], in a duel, and had to leave the country. Le Neve watched his brother's interests in England with great care and zeal, and ultimately arranged for his safe return to England.

In 1698 he transcribed and annotated the ‘Visitation of Norfolk,’ made by Bysshe in 1664 (Rye MSS.) By 1701 he had made great progress in his projected ‘History of Norfolk;’ in a note to his ‘Fines Calendar of Edward II’ he mentions that he had transcribed the book, arranging his notes under the headings of the several towns in alphabetical order. In 1702 he reported on the Calthorpe MSS. (see Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. vii. p. 113).

He was still hard at work at the records in 1703, apparently spending most of his time in the Rolls Chapel (letter, No. 1770). In conjunction with John Lowe he reported on manuscripts in the chapter house (Hist. MSS. Comm. ii. 125). On 5 April 1704 he was made Richmond herald, and next month Norroy king-at-arms (Russell, Diary, v. 426). He had been previously appointed one of the deputy chamberlains of the exchequer, but seems to have been obliged to give up the office in 1705–6.

Between 1703 and 1706 he appears to have been very ill (cf. letter, No. 1800). He also suffered at the time from some mysterious imputation on his character, and in 1704 quarrelled with his intimate friend Millicent. In 1706, however, fortune smiled on him again, and he was sent to take the Garter to the young Prince of Hanover, Prince Ernest of Osnaburgh (ib. No. 2024). In 1706 he went to Bath, probably for the waters, and in the next year moved to Burlington House, where he had a nurse, and was described in a letter as being ‘more likely to die than live.’ Soon after he seems to have settled at Bow. He died on 24 Sept. 1729, and on 1 Oct. was buried in Great Witchingham Church, Norfolk (Hist. Reg. 1729; Chron. Diary, p. 54). His characteristic will was dated 5 May 1729 (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. i. 415), and he also drew up a long whimsical epitaph in Latin (ib. iv. 184–5), and an account of his creed. The latter is among the Rawlinson MSS. in the Bodleian Library, and was printed in ‘Notes and Queries,’ 2nd ser. xii. 105. He was a unitarian in religious belief. Despite the unamiable traits on which he dwells in his epitaph, he seems to have been personally jovial, liberal in money matters, fond of sport and the pleasures of the table. It may be presumed that he was in comfortable circumstances during the last few years of his life, for he succeeded to some property on the death of his brother Oliver, who had married successively into the good Norfolk families of Gawdy and Knyvett. After some litigation, Le Neve's Norfolk estates reverted ultimately to John Norris.

Le Neve married, first, Prudence, daughter of John Hughes, a Bristol merchant; and secondly, in 1727, Frances, daughter of Robert Berston or Beeston, a miller. He left no issue. His first wife seems to have been a shrew, and the second, who survived him, married very soon after his death his executor, ‘Honest Tom Martin’ (1697–1771) [q. v.] Martin succeeded to the bulk of Le Neve's collections, and finally dispersed them. Le Neve's library, with some of his manuscripts, was sold at the Bedford Coffee-house, Covent Garden, in February 1730–1731, and a supplementary sale followed on 30 March.

Le Neve's industry in collecting was very remarkable, but though at one time he contemplated additions to ‘Camden's Britannia,’ he seems to have printed nothing. All his work was characterised by strictest honesty. He chiefly devoted himself to compiling calendars and collecting material for a history of Norfolk and its families. This ultimately formed the backbone of the well-known county history, begun by Blomefield, and completed by Parkin. Many of Le Neve's notes on Norfolk history are now in the Bodleian Library, while others are in the British Museum, in the Heralds' College, in the possession of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological Society, and of a private firm at Norwich. Martin owned at one time, and afterwards sold, Le Neve's calendars of all early fines of Norfolk, viz.: ‘Richard I’ (now in the Record Office); ‘Edward I;’ ‘Edward III;’ ‘John to Edward II,’ a folio vol. of 297 pp., done in the year 1689 (now in the writer's possession); ‘John to Henry VII;’ ‘Henry VIII;’ as well as ‘A Dictionary of the Arms of the Gentry of Norwich and Norfolk, with Explanations, Coats, Armours, and Drawings;’ ‘An Ordinary of Arms,’ containing many hundred arms properly blazoned and finely preserved; ‘An Alphabet of Arms, with some hundreds of Arms of the Gentry of Norfolk;’ ‘Le Neve's Ordinary of Arms,’ a folio manuscript, with some thousand coats of arms; ‘Grants of Arms, by Peter Le Neve;’ ‘Notes from the Pipe Rolls relating to Norfolk and Suffolk, from Henry II to Edward III, and Copies of Norfolk Pipe Rolls;’ ‘Norfolk Patents;’ ‘Placita Coronæ, Quo Warranto, Jurat. et Assis. in Norfolk, temp. Edward I;’ and ‘Proofs, Pedigrees, and Names of Families, by Mr. Le Neve,’ a very large collection. An annotated manuscript copy of Bysshe's ‘Visitation of Norfolk,’ 1664, and a volume of ‘Norfolk Pedigrees,’ fol. pp. 86, with arms in colours, and a transcript of a roll of arms, and ascribed to him, belong to the present writer.

An annotated manuscript copy of Harvey's ‘Visitation of Norfolk’ of 1563 belongs to General Bulwer. Le Neve's catalogue of knights between Charles II's and Anne's reigns (Harl. MS. 5801–2) was edited for the Harleian Society by Dr. Marshall in 1873. A similar work in 3 vols. on baronets is still in manuscript at the Heralds' College. Some of his diary and memoranda on heraldry, which were given by his literary executor, Tom Martin, to the Rev. Thomas Carthew, were communicated to the ‘Topographer and Genealogist’ (iii. 25 et seq.) and the ‘Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological Society’ (ii. 23, 111, 369) by G. A. Carthew [q. v.] Three volumes of his letters are in Harl. MSS. 4712–13 and 7525, and there is a great mass of his collections and writings among the Rawlinson MSS. (Oxford).

[Authorities cited; Robinson's Merchant Taylors' School Reg. i. 279; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. passim; Le Neve's Letters in Brit. Mus.; manuscripts in writer's possession.]

W. R.