Friday, 6 May 2016

The Peter Lewis Gift Collection

Hannah Hogan of the Department of History introduces the Peter Lewis Gift Collection

Historians of fifteenth-century France will no doubt be familiar with, if not partly indebted to, the work of Peter (Shervey) Lewis (1931-2014), the 'doyenne' of British historians of medieval France and a quintessential Oxford don.

Peter Lewis was a Fellow of All Souls from 1953 until his retirement in 1998, Fellow Librarian for The Codrington Library from 1982 to 1998, and an Emeritus Fellow until his death in 2014. A hugely respected scholar on both sides of the Channel, Lewis held memberships not only to the Royal Historical Society but also l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Société de l'Histoire de France. Lewis' research addressed the political and social history of France during the Late Middle Ages, particularly royal power and political institutions during the fifteenth century. His interests also included iconography, propaganda, and contemporary historians and chroniclers of France such as Jean Juvénal des Ursins (1388-1473).

The Peter Lewis Gift Collection was donated to the University Library in August 2015 and was integrated into our own collections in January of this year. It pertinently reflects the research interests of an eminent scholar, and will certainly be of interest to anyone studying French history and historiography, literature, and medieval Europe more generally. The collection is made up of twentieth-century French language historical works which span the political, religious, economic, and cultural life of France during the High to Late Middle Ages. These range from definitive works by major historians (and contemporaries of Lewis) including Jean Favier, Bernard Guenée, and Philippe Contamine, to catalogues of archival material and literary works translated from Middle French.


Cataloguing the personal book collection of an academic can provide a tantalising, sometimes moving, and often entertaining glimpse into scholarly life. This is no less true of the Peter Lewis collection, which frequently turned up forgotten notes, drafts of review articles, letters from colleagues, and invitations. My favourite is an invitation from 1958 to a claret-tasting in All Souls, which aptly fell out of a book on the history of French wine-making (Dion, Histoire de la vigne et du vin en France des origines au XIXe siècle).

In addition to the Library's Peter Lewis label, look out for Lewis' lovely personalised bookplate. It's now a life ambition to have an ex libris like this one in my own books one day…


Portrait of Peter Lewis courtesy of l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. All other images (details from Avril (ed.), Les Grandes Chroniques de France…, written inscription in Maurice, Un grand patriote: Thomas Basin and bookplate in Maurice, Thomas Basin) photographed by Paul Shields.

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