Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Le Neve, John

LE NEVE, JOHN (1679–1741), antiquary, born on 27 Dec. 1679 in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London, was only son and heir of John Le Neve, by his second wife, Amy, daughter of John Bent, merchant and tailor, of London; his grandfather, another John Le Neve, was first of Cavendish in Suffolk, and then of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, London. His father's first wife was Frances Monck, first cousin to the first Duke of Albemarle. One of his father's brothers, Richard, a sea-captain, died gallantly in action with the Dutch in 1673, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, while another of his uncles, Edmund (d. 1689), was a barrister of the Middle Temple.

John's mother died on 12 Dec. 1687, when he was eight years old, and he was sent to Eton as an oppidan when he was twelve. His father, who died on 20 July 1693 when John was fourteen, was, like both his wives, buried in Westminster Abbey. John succeeded to a little property, and his kinsman Peter Le Neve [q. v.], whose exact relationship has not been traced, became one of his guardians; another was his first cousin, John Boughton whose sister he married in 1699. From Eton he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was admitted in 1694 and matriculated in 1696, but left without a degree.

His first work seems to have been issued in 1712-14, under the title of 'Memoirs, British and Foreign, of the Lives and Families of the most Illustrious Persons who died in the years 1711 and 1712,' 2 vols. 8vo. This was probably suggested to him by his kinsman Peter, whose collections were freely at his service.

Le Neve's greatest work, his 'Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, or an Essay towards a regular Succession of all the principal Dignitaries,' &c., appeared in 1716 in folio. It was a work of immense labour. Le Neve utilised Bishop Kennett's 'Collections,' and Browne Willis said the bishop was its real compiler. But this is an exaggeration. Le Neve chiefly depended on original researches, which he pursued at a time when documentary evidence was difficult of access. The reception of the book did not encourage him to undertake a supplement, but before the end of the century twenty copies, fully annotated and brought up to date by eminent antiquaries, were extant. John Gutch was strongly urged to edit a new edition (cf. Nichols, Lit. Illustustrations, v. 342-4). At length, in 1854, Thomas Duffus Hardy issued at Oxford his elaborate edition, in 3 vols. 8vo, in which Le Neve's 11,051 entries were extended to thirty thousand. In 1716 Le Neve also issued the 'Life of Dr. Field, Dean of Gloucester,' London, 8vo, but of this he is only known to have written the preface. In 1717 he published in one 8vo volume, avowedly as 'a specimen of a much larger work,' 'Monumenta Anglicana, being Inscriptions on the Monuments of several eminent Persons deceased in or since the year 1700 to the end of the year 1715, deduced into a series of time by way of Annals; at the end of which year is added an Obituary of some memorable Persons who died therein, whose Inscriptions (if any yet set up) are not come to hand.' He quotes largely from MSS. P. L., which no doubt is Peter Le Neve MS. Diary, afterwards printed in part in the 'Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society.' Many of the inscriptions were communicated by the masons who set them up. In his modest and sensible preface he states that he was incited to begin the work by Weever's 'Funerall Monuments,' published in 1631. In 1718 he issued separately two more volumes, covering the periods 1650-1679 and 1680-1699. In 1718 appeared a fourth volume, covering the period 1600-49, and he announced that he was making collections of the same sort, beginning at the year 1400, but these collections—Harl. MSS. 3805-16, which are now in the British Museum—were never printed. Later in that year he issued a fifth volume, containing a supplement of monuments between 1650 and 1718, 'collected since the publication of the former volumes.' In 1720 he published in two parts 'The Lives and Characters … of all the Protestant Bishops of the Church of England since the Reformation, as settled by Queen Elizabeth, Anno Dom. 1559, by J. L., gent.' All his works were unsuccessful from a pecuniary point of view, and he fell into difficulties. In order to improve his position, and presumably on the suggestion of the Bishop of Ely, to whom his 'Fasti' had been dedicated, he took holy orders, though aged 41, and was presented by his patron to the Lincolnshire rectory of Thornton-le-Moor in January 1721-2. His creditors still pursued him, and he was imprisoned to insolvency in Lincoln gaol in December 1722. By a singular irony of fate, the exact day of his death is unknown, and if there is a monument raised to him who noted those of so many others, it is not now visible. A successor was appointed to the rectory of Thornton-le-Moor, 'vacant by the death of John Le Neve, the last incumbent,' on 23 May 1741.

Le Neve married by license, dated 25 January 1698-9, at St. George's, Southwark, his first cousin, Frances, second daughter of Thomas Boughton of Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, and Elizabeth Le Neve, sister of the bridegroom's father (Chester, Marriage Licences, ed. Foster, p. 964). By his wife Le Neve had eight children.

[T. Duffus Hardy's Life, prefixed to his edition of the Fasti, Oxford, 1854.]

W. R.