Peter Le Neve, the Society of Antiquaries, & the Anglo-Norman Peace of 1101 by Dr Hugh Doherty

This lecture will bring together three interrelated, but relatively unexplored subjects, with the help of a significant discovery in the library of the Society of Antiquaries. The lecture will examine, firstly, the significance of the career of the herald and antiquary, Peter Le Neve (1661–1729), as a collector and transcriber of materials for the history of the English kingdom in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Peter Le Neve never published a single work, but his contribution to the study of that kingdom was nevertheless considerable. Apart from two minor articles, and a solid ODNB entry, there has been no serious study of Le Neve’s learned interests and collections: this lecture will help fill that gap. The lecture will examine, secondly, Le Neve’s part in the foundation and early success of the Society of Antiquaries. Le Neve served as the Society’s first President between its foundation in 1717 and his retirement in 1724. In those seven years, Le Neve would demonstrate his learning and leadership of the society by presenting the texts of various medieval documents, including a number of valuable Anglo-Norman charters, for the edification and improvement of his fellow members. Among those documents—as the discovery in the library of Society of Antiquaries makes clear—was the text of a diploma drafted and sealed during the peace-making between Henry, king of the English, and his brother, Robert, duke of the Normans, in the late summer of 1101. This lecture will therefore examine, thirdly, the significance of that diploma for the nature of the peace negotiated and confirmed by King Henry and Duke Robert. This peace followed a series of dramatic events, including the violent death of King William II, the seizure of the English crown by Henry, and the seaborne invasion of the kingdom by Duke Robert. The lecture will thus study themes often explored in isolation—but, united by this discovery, will offer important insights into the early fortunes of the Society, the early seventeenth-century culture of charter-collecting, and the hard business of peace-making and kingship at a decisive moment in the history of the Anglo-Norman polity.