On 21st August 1698 the clash of
steel on steel ran out across Cawston Heath in Norfolk.
The two antagonists were a forty year old MP Sir Henry
Hobart, 4th Baronet of Blickling Hall
in Norfolk and the other Sir Oliver Le Neve a
lawyer aged thirty-six of Great Witchingham Hall of
Norfolk. It should have been no contest as Sir Hobart had
a reputation of being a fine swordsman whilst Neve
although a great sportsman, preferred the pursuit of
drinking and fishing to that of swordsmanship.
Hobart managed to wound Le Neve who was left handed in the arm but his sword is said to have got tangled up in Le Neve's coat so that Neve was able to retaliate by driving his sword into Hobart's belly, mortally wounding the MP.
Sir Henry who had been knighted at the tender age of 13 by Charles II was a member of parliament for the Whig party and represented the town of Kings Lynn. However, it seems that 'sleaze' abounded even in the 17th century and during the 1698 elections rumors began to circulate about Sir Henry and his conduct at the Battle of the Boyne, which the gossips said had been both cowardly and dishonorable. Resulting in Sir Henry not being re-elected. After some enquiries Sir Hobart reached the conclusion that the person spreading the rumors had been Sir Oliver le Neve, who was himself a member of the Tory party and therefore in opposition to the Whig's.
Unlike today Sir Hobart resorted to issuing a challenge to Sir Neve to a duel, though Oliver Le Neve protested his innocence of Sir Henry's allegations.
The day after the duel at Blickling Hall Sir Henry Hobart died of his wounds. The newly widowed Lady Hobart set about offering a reward for the apprehension of Le Neve.
Neve had already fled to Holland as the duel had been illegal as no seconds had been present. Here he remained for the next two years, only returning when he believed that he would receive a fair trial, which he did and was acquitted.
So it was that he was able to return to Great Witchingham, his wife and the life of a country squire. His first marriage had been to Anne Gawdy of West Harling who had died in childbirth in 1695. He then went on to marry Jane Knyvet in June of 1698 and therefore had only been married some few months at the time of the duel. His second wife died in 1703 or 1704. So Neve with the help of a friend set about finding Mrs. Le Neve number three.
As with his previous wives, money was the main reason for his decision on whom to marry. His third and final wife was Elizabeth Sheffield the elder daughter of Robert Sheffield of Kensington who stood to inherit between £3,000 and £4,000. She died suddenly barely three months after her wedding day on 8th November 1707.
Le Neve's only surviving son (from his first marriage) is believed to have had learning difficulties did not succeed to his fathers acquired wealth, dying just a few months before his fathers own death. At age 49 on 23rd November 1711 at the age of 49, Sir Olive le Neve died, he is buried in the chancel of Great Witchingham church along with his three wives.
To commemorate the duel, which is said to have been witnessed by a serving girl hiding in the bushes, a stone was erected on the site of the duel. This was later moved to the garden of the Woodrow Inn on the B1149 Norwich to Corpusty Road. The inn alas in no more and is now a petrol station. The little plot of land in which the Dueling Stone now resides is managed by the National Trust. This was the last duel to be fought in Norfolk.
According to legend and the National Trusts own reports Sir Henry Hobart's dying groans are sometimes heard at the Jacobean hall of Blickling, where he passed away.
Great Witchingham Hall was purchased by an auctioneers clerk in 1955 for just £3000 pounds. The Elizabethan manor house set in thirty acres of land was very dilapidated. The auctioneers clerk proceeded to fill thirty five of the halls rooms with turkeys his name was Bernard Matthews. The rest as they say is history!