White Kennett 1660-1728

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White KENNETT 1660-1728

Kennett's last bookplate, as Bishop of Peterborough, Franks 17002 (Blickling Hall, Historical collections, London, 1706)

Biographical Note

Born at Dover, son of Basil Kennett, rector of Dymchurch. BA St Edmund Hall, Oxford 1682, MA 1685. Vicar of Ambrosden 1685, rector of Shottesbrooke, Berkshire 1694, curate of St Botolph, Aldgate, London 1700. This early part of his career was marred by a personal injury in 1689 (leaving him scarred), and the early death of his first wife Sarah Carver in 1694.

Kennett became an active participant in the doctrinal controversies of the early 18th century, writing numerous tracts which gained him notice. He became a prebendary of Salisbury and archdeacon of Huntingdon in 1701, a royal chaplain in 1707 and Dean of Peterborough in 1708. He was appointed Bishop of Peterborough in 1718. Active in his diocese, he also wrote numerous historical works (his 3-volume Compleat history of England (1706) was several times reprinted), and he was a leading figure in the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.


Kennett acquired books all his life; beyond that, he was actively interested in the value of books and the development of libraries, and he was in many ways a pioneer of ways of collecting which were innovative in their day. As Dean of Peterborough, one of his first acts was the reforming of the Cathedral Library; he bought or gave many books from 1708 onwards. He also assembled a distinct collection of (mostly) English books, printed before 1603, designated as a Bibliotheca antiquaria and kept in a separate room in the Cathedral from the main library sequence (a catalogue of this collection, from his time, survives as Peterborough Cathedral MS 78).

In his capacity as a founder member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel between ca.1700 and 1713 he assembled a collection of books relating to America, aiming to form as complete a collection as possible of relevant printed and manuscript works. This is one of the earliest examples of this kind of subject-oriented collecting of books in Britain. The books were presented to the SPG in 1713, and a catalogue of the whole was printed (Bibliothecae Americanae primordia, London, 1713). The collection was largely kept together until 1917, when much of it was auctioned at Sotheby's. Over 2400 of Kennett's books survive today in Peterborough Cathedral Library (now deposited in Cambridge University Library), but many more are now dispersed around the world.

Kennett's inscription, from British Library Ames 2/309, P. Anderson, The ground of the catholike ... religion, 1623

Characteristic Markings

Kennett regularly inscribed his name "Wh: Kennett" on his titlepages (or in his later years as Bishop, "Wh: Peterbor."). He was also an active user of bookplates, and he had several made during the course of his career, reflecting its various stages as Dean and then Bishop (Franks 17000-2; he favoured a bookpile design). The books from the Bibliotheca antiquaria were given distinctive shelfmarks incorporating the imprint year. He did not spend beyond what was necessary on bookbinding, and one of the striking features of his books at Peterborough/Cambridge is the quantity of 16th and 17th century books surviving in simple English bindings of their time, often in limp parchment.


  • Bennett, G. V., White Kennett 1660-1728, London, SPCK, 1957.
  • Gambier Howe, E. R. J. Franks bequest: catalogue of British and American book plates bequeathed to the ... British Museum. London, 1903.
  • Goff, Frederick R. (ed), The Primordia of Bishop White Kennett, the first English bibliography of America, Washington, 1959.
  • Hall, J. J. (ed), Peterborough Cathedral Library: a catalogue, Cambridge, 1986.
  • Lee, B. N., British bookplates, Newton Abbot, 1979, no.61.
  • Okie, Laird. "Kennett, White (1660–1728), historian and bishop of Peterborough." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Wilkie, Everett C., White Kennett's books in the Huntington Library, Huntington Library Quarterly 74 (2011), 71-83.
  • Peterborough Cathedral Library, Cambridge University Library.