Sir Henry KNYVETT of Charlton

Born: 1539, Charlton, Wiltshire, England

Died: 1598, England

Father: Henry KNYVETT (Sir Knight)

Mother: Anne PICKERING

Married 1: Elizabeth STUMPE (d. 14 Jul 1585) 13 May 1563, Laycock, Wiltshire, England


1. Elizabeth KNYVETT (C. Lincoln)

2. Frances KNYVETT (C. Rutland)

3. Catherine KNYVETT (C. Suffolk)

4. Thomas KNYVETT (b. 1558)

5. Wroughton KNYVETT

6. Margaret KNYVETT

Married 2: Mary SYDENHAM (dau. of John Sydenham and Ursula Brydges) (w. of John Fitz of Fitzford) BEF Jun 1595

Married 3: Elizabeth GORGES

Associated with: ¿?


7. Anthony KNYVETT

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Son of Sir Henry Knyvett by Anne, dau. and heiress of Sir Christopher Pickering of Killingdon, Westmld, widow of Sir Francis Weston (exec. 1536), aft. widow of John Vaughan (d. 1577). Brother of Thomas; half brother of Henry Weston and uncle of Thomas Vavasour. suc. fa. 1546. Kntd. 1574. Gent. pens. 1560-c.63; j.p. Wilts. by 1573-d.; surveyor, south parts, duchy of Lancaster 1577-80; seneschal, Galtres forest, Yorks. 1577; sheriff, Wilts. 1578-9, dep. lt. by 1585-d.; receiver, Glos., Hants., Wilts. by 1587; dep. warden, Braydon forest, Wilts. by 1595.

A recognizance dated 15 Apr 1559, binding him to attend constantly on the Privy Council, was cancelled in the following Jul. Henry Knyvet (his signature prefers the spelling Knyvett) was a soldier who had "lost both limb and blood" during the seige of Leith against the French in 1560, after which he frequently served in Scotland where he was appointed captain of 100 light horsemen in the army. Henry recieved a special commendation from Elizabeth I, mentioned in a letter of thanks to Lord Grey in 1560.

At the siege of Leith he was shot in the arm, the Queen afterwards writing ‘we hear much commendation of divers, as of ... Knyvett (of whose hurt we be very sorry)’. In Jun he was named among the captains who had served best. Despite his wound he had taken charge of 200 footmen at Berwick, 50 more, according to him, than the oldest captain there commanded. Elizabeth then granted him a knighthood at Salisbury in Sep 1574 during a progress to Bristol.

His marriage with Elizabeth Stumpe, dau. and sole heiress of Sir James Stumpe of Malmesbury by Bridget, 2nd dau. of Sir Edward Bayntun, took place on his return from the wars in Scotland, two weeks after her father’s death. Through his wife's property round Charlton where they lived, he became one of the most important people in the county. The designation ‘of Charlton’ commonly attached to his father, Sir Henry, has been doubted, and it is possible that only his marriage made Henry Knyvett a Wiltshireman, but he was a kinsman of the Queen and his lineage little inferior to any in the county. His grandfather, Sir Thomas Knyvett of Buckenham, Norfolk, master of the horse to Henry VIII, married a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. His father, Sir Thomas’s third son, who by some writers is credited with the acquisition of Charlton, had lands in Surrey and was for several years a gentleman of the privy chamber, for two years ambassador to Carlos V, in 1545 marshal of Hertford’s army in Scotland, and in 1546, the year of his death, captain of the horsemen at Guisnes.

Henry was ‘cousin’ to the lord president of the north, the Earl of Sussex. That he served against the northern rebels in 1569, is suggested by his being granted custody of the goods and lands of Edward Dacre in 1570 (though it has also to be noted that one of his three sisters had married into the Dacre family and that Dacre lands in Scotland were granted to him in 1589 by James VI). In the following Mar he was consulted by Lord Scrope on the numbers needed to protect the border. Doubtless it is to these two episodes that he refers in his ‘Defence of the realm’, saying that after his captain’s command at Berwick he was twice ‘employed in your Majesty’s service in Scotland under the Lord Scrope that last died, and the Earl of Sussex, then your Majesty’s president at York’.

In his first Parliament Knyvett was named to one committee concerning tellers and receivers (23 Apr 1571). When Knyvett entered the Commons in 1571, becoming the first and only member of his family to sit for a Wiltshire constituency, the lordship and manor of Wootton Bassett were in the Queen’s hands and it is possible that his return was effected directly or indirectly by the lord treasurer, the Marquess of Winchester. As ‘the Queen’s servant’ he was granted power to search for concealed lands shortly before the Commons were dismissed. At Malmesbury, his alternative seat, his wife’s family had an interest: her grandfather, the wealthy clothier William Stumpe, had represented the borough in 1529, as had her father in 1555, and it was in company with John Stumpe, her uncle, that Knyvett himself first appeared as one of its Members. At both these boroughs Knyvett was able to introduce outsiders during the 1580s and 1590s, and he himself sat in seven consecutive Parliaments, in one or other borough, participating more in the business of the House as his seniority increased.

Possibly he had aspired to higher military employment, as is implied in a letter written by William Darrell in Mar 1579 from the Fleet prison, where he was facing a charge of infanticide. Darrell, by criticising Knyvett’s conduct during and after the trial resulting from the murder of one Brinde, had compelled Knyvett to pursue him through the courts for criminal libel. The feud between them was intense, yet Darrell’s portrayal of his adversary may not be entirely grotesque:

"Behold your sheriff in this session sitting before you. The man of the world! A fleet and ruff now! The cloak that should have been for the service of the marshal of Berwick may now give countenance to the sheriff of Wilts. Methinks I hear him, how rising and mending his nightcap he cackleth like a goose. If he may have leave he will never make an end..."

The ‘fleet’ may allude to Knyvett’s commercial interests—he is known to have contributed £25 towards the fitting out of Martin Frobisher’s two ships in 1577.

He was appointed as the High Sheriff of Wiltshire in 1577 and between 1584 and 1597 served as a Member of Parliament for Malmesbury on four occasions.

In 1580 he almost lost his life in a duel with Richard Moody of Garsdon, whose widowed mother, Catherine, had been William Stumpe's third wife. The point at issue was the ownership of land lying between Charlton and the neighbouring estate of Garsdon. As early as Mar 1567 the Privy Council had ordered both parties to cease their ‘brablinge’, but in spite of this and an attempt by Lords Northampton and Pembroke to arbitrate, the quarrel continued unabated until about 1580, when the disputants decided to settle it by a duel. Knyvett was gravely wounded and had to remain in the nearby home of Anthony Hungerford. Fortunately he survived after being nursed by his opponent.

The account of the cause of the duel comes from the records of an action brought in the Court of Chancery, by Anthony Hungerford against Sir Henry Moody, the son of one of the duellists, about 40 years after the occurence. The account reads: "By reason of mortal and cruel hatred, there was a duel or single combat in Garsdon Marsh in which fight Mr. Richard Moddy did greviously and, as was supposed, mortally wound Sir Henry Knyvett, who being so wounded, the place of the fight being near the house of Antony Hungerford, was brought thither by Richard Moody and others. Moody did lead Sir Henry Knyvett by one of his arms thereunto, and find Antony Hungerford's wife there, her husband being absent, Mr Moody did earnestly and passionately request her that Sir Henry Knyvett might lack nothing that was in the house, or that she could do to save his life, and that he would see her satisfied".

He sent her messages after to the same effect. Hungerford's wife performed all this. Sir Henry Knyvett could not be removed for 26 days. The physicians and surgeons sent by the Queen had the whole house. Mrs Hungerford provided them with lawns and cambrics which were spoiled and stained with blood and worn out. Hay was consumed to the amount of 30 pounds and many great trees were cut down for firewood. There was a great concourse of friends of Sir Henry Knyvett, much meat and victuals consumed. The house like to be burned down by reason of great fires, if Sir William Knnollys and others had not been present, and by extraordinary pains, preserved the whole house.

In spite of Moody's promise to recompense Hungerford for his losses, the only recompense he got was that one of his sons was most dangerously and barbarously stabbed by one of the sons of Moody, by which young Hungerford was very likely to have died. He languished of his wounds 15 years, costing his father much money. No other compensation being made for all the expenses they had incurred after the duel, an action was brought and satisfaction sought in the Court of Chancery.

During the period immediately prior to the invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588, Sir Henry was actively involved in preparing the nation's defence, he was one of the Deputy Lieutenants for Wiltshire, and became responsible for raising the militia. He was one of the captains appointed to attend the Lord Chamberlain in London to work out the details of the defence. When the Armada was in the Channel, Knyvett was at his house in St. James’s park, Westminster, when ‘very late’ his brother Thomas came from the Queen and Council to order him to Wiltshire with all possible speed, there to arrange for 2,000 armed footmen to be sent up straightaway ‘to attend the Queen’s person’. He set off next day and from Newbury sent on to the same William Darrell instructions eloquent of the excitement of the time and of the man himself, in the Queen’s name earnestly requiring Darrell "... to see forthwith all soldiers within your division in present readiness to attend their captains, thoroughly furnished in manner following, at Marlborough on Sunday at afternoon at the furthest, if they hear no word to the contrary by the said captains, for that I think the fittest place of meeting. Item, that they be cleanly armed with their weapons fully furnished. Item, that there be levied for the conduct of every soldier 6s. 8d. ... Item, that there be provided for every caliver shot 3 lbs of powder at the least, or so much money as will buy the same after 14d.the lb, which I like better because they shall not spoil it by the way, and threescore bullets at the least. And for every musket 4 lbs of powder or money for the same, and 50 bullets. And for the more expedition of this service I pray you fail not to send this letter forthwith, you keeping the double thereof..." and to other justices in the county: "... whereby I do in like manner require them to see the contents of the same furnished on their behalf, the tenor thereof I hope they will accept, my haste considered. The rest of the justices from (Sir) Edward Baynton northwards I will advertise upon my coming home..." All this at two in the morning. Knyvett had dropped his libel proceedings against Darrell after two years, and civility had been restored, but here was a situation that might be turned to Darrell’s advantage. He sent a copy of Knyvett’s letter to Walsingham and waited. Walsingham’s reply, dated 27 Jul, was terse. Pembroke, the lord lieutenant, had specially commended Knyvett to the Queen because of his ‘sufficiency and forwardness in the marshall services’ of his country; the situation and needs of the time were exactly as Knyvett had described them, and Darrell would do well to obey.

In the autumn of 1592 it was Knyvett’s turn to suffer humiliation. For ‘furthering and permitting’ an outrage upon one sent to serve the Queen’s process upon a gentlewoman then residing in his house in Wiltshire, he was committed to the Fleet by the Lord keeper, Sir John Puckering, ‘from whence being after released he wrote a letter to the ... Privy Council, in the which he did presumptuously tax, slander and reprove the proceedings of the said lord keeper’. Marvelling at his audacity and vanity, the Council summoned him before them and on 21 Jan 1593 returned him to the Fleet to purge his contempt. On the 23rd he wrote his apology and on the 28th, ‘after some admonition given him’, was released. He continued to be employed in local affairs and was in London for the Parliaments of the same year and 1597, but probably it was this incident that put him out of favour at court.

By Jun 1595, he married Mary, dau. of Sir John Sydenham of Brinton, Som., widow of John Fitz of Fitzford, Devon. 

In 1596, when danger again threatened the country, Sir Henry wrote a pamphlet entitled "The Defence of the Realme" and sent it to his ‘master’, Robert Cecil, ‘a brief treatise scribbled in haste and finished the 19th of April’, together with a ‘fair written version’ addressed to the Queen, Knyvett hoping that it would incline her to renew her good opinion of him and to employ him so that he might be as serviceable to her as most others of his sort. He was convinced that in besieging and taking Calais ‘the Cardinal of Austria with 15,000 men ... only laboured for the like opportunity which ... Caesar thereby had to invade this realm, which long he would not defer’. The realm relied for its defence upon the fleet but the fleet could not be everywhere, and those who knew most were the most uneasy as to what might happen if a Spanish army were once landed in England. The manhood of the country should be trained and organized for war. A census conducted in his division of Wiltshire ‘without any muster or trouble to the people’ had enabled him after three or four days to list the names of 3,698 striplings under the age of 18, 3,676 able men for service from 18 to 50, and 1,316 old men above 50, with the number of all serviceable horses within every parish. From these figures the Queen could estimate the strength of her forces ‘which being reduced into the form of regiments, and so into several armies prepared, directed, provided for, and conducted as in the project and plot following may appear’ would ‘discourage the proudest enemy in the world ever from daring to invade this your realm’. All men in his enlarged militia were to be trained in the use of the long bow, for he himself, though ‘maimed of both my hands after I was above 50 years of age’ had by practice within two years learned to shoot with his left hand so strongly as to keep up with the strongest archers, ‘not finding fault with the length or distance of any mark’. ‘Our modern warriors’, brought up in the civil wars of France and the Low Countries, would doubtless dismiss his advice as ‘but a falling sickness’, so he begged the Queen to remember his prowess at Leith, ‘when few or none of them were born’...

Knyvett was now an aging man, and no new employment was found for him. He continued as a deputy lieutenant of Wiltshire, as appears by his receipt in Sep 1596 of letters from Cecil and ‘my Lord’ —presumably Pembroke, the lord lieutenant— though the prior death of his fellow-deputy, Sir John Danvers, had actually ‘extinguished’ his power and only Cecil’s authority over him had emboldened him to open them. Lord Hunsdon’s subsequent complaint about the quality and late arrival of the trained bands sent from Wiltshire to the Isle of Wight, resulting in letters from the Queen and Council to Knyvett and the other colonels concerned, would have been pretext enough for dropping him from the commission, but when a new commission of lieutenancy was ordered in Nov 1597 Knyvett was continued in office, with Sir Francis Popham as his fellow.

Thomas Hobbes, the Philosopher, who was born in Malmesbury in 1588 told his friend Aubrey the Antiquary, that Sir Henry had some command at the Invasion of 1588 and shortly after his return "died of a feaver he got there". Though as a matter of fact he did not die until 14 Jun 1598. He died intestate at Charlton, and was buried on 25 Jul 1598 in Charlton church with great ceremony. The Knyvett memorial in the Charlton Church is one of the few memorials not desecrated by Cromwell's troops. There is no picture of him at Charlton but the effigy on his tomb in the parish church where he is shown lying beside his wife Elizabeth, makes him appear a person of strong character and fine physique and does not show what limb has been lost despite quotes stating that he had.

He left goods worth about £1,085, and the household at Charlton was well-provided, his cheese alone being valued at £5. Three daughters survived him, nobly. Catherine, who inherited Charlton and the London house in St. James’s park, married Richard, son of Robert, Lord Rich, and secondly, in 1583, Thomas Howard, later 1st Earl of Suffolk. Elizabeth, the next surviving child, married Thomas Clinton, afterwards 3rd Earl of Lincoln. Frances, the third, married Sir William Bevill and secondly Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland.

In the first session of the 1572 Parliament he spoke on the subject of orphans (10 Jun) and was appointed to committees concerning calivers and days (22 May) and fraudulent conveyances (3 Jun). In 1576 he spoke thrice in support of his friend Arthur Hall who subsequently and without his knowledge dedicated a book to him. His committee work during this session concerned pistols and dags (17 Feb 1576), aliens (24 Feb), fraudulent conveyances in the north (25 Feb), trials by juries (28 Feb, 5 Mar), unlawful weapons (2 Mar), collateral warranties (7 Mar), the Queen’s forests (8 Mar), excess of apparel (10 Mar), the Queen’s marriage (12 Mar) and a private bill for Lord Stourton (14 Mar). On 7 Mar 1576 he was put in charge of a bill concerning benefit of clergy. He is not known to have spoken during the last session of the 1572 Parliament, but he was appointed to the following committees: subsidy (25 Jan 1581), seditious words and practices (1 Feb), libel (3 Feb), linseed (23 Feb), the defence of the frontier with Scotland (25 Feb), Carlisle (27 Feb) and the Family of Love (27 Feb).

On 8 Nov 1586 he spoke in the debate on the Queen’s safety, and was one of those appointed on 11 Nov to deliver the House’s petition on the subject to the Queen. In the debate of Feb 1587 on the strategy to be used against Spain he sided with those who wished the Queen to accept the proffered sovereignty of the Low Countries, though he had no confidence in the Dutch (‘to be sure of them, we must take the sovereignty and be there in greater strength than they’). To embarrass Spain still further, and because wars were best fought on foreign, not on English soil, he advocated help to Don Antonio, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, so as to raise rebellion in Portugal and close its ports and seas. In addition, he was appointed to committees concerning Mary, Queen of Scots (4 Nov 1586), the Norfolk elections (9 Nov), the city of Westminster (24 Feb. 1587), a bill of attainder (25 Feb) and the better execution of justice (27 Feb).

In the following Parliament of 1589 Knyvett spoke on the fraught issue of purveyors on 15 Feb. On 17 Feb he supported a speech by Sir Edward Hoby concerning liberty of speech in the House and also moved to commit the purveyors bill in the face of the Queen’s displeasure. He was appointed to committees on the subject (15, 27 Feb, 18 Mar). Knyvett spoke in the debate concerning captains and soldiers on 26 Feb, and was appointed to a committee on the subject the same day and to a further committee on 19 Mar. His remaining committee work during this Parliament concerned fines (14 Feb), two private bills (20, 21 Feb) and outlawries (25 Feb).

Knyvett made two speeches in the 1593 Parliament concerning the subsidy. On 28 Feb he hoped "...that it might be lawful for every subject to annoy the King of Spain that would; that weak forces might not be sent against him, but a royal army; that we should not wrestle with him on our own ground but abroad..."

To help meet the cost, he advocated pressure on the Queen’s debtors: "All her woods to be viewed, and the great timber to be for sale, the copy wood to be sold to increase the revenues ... the whole benefit of inns and alehouses to come to the Queen. A great benefit to come to the Queen by this new statute against recusants. Their children to be committed to persons of sound religion. The whole benefit of their relief and living to come to the Queen, deducting only charges for education of children..."

A week later, on 7 Mar, he explained that the value of imported foreign wares was more than the value of English goods sold overseas, so that money was carried out of the country. The national economy he likened to ‘a pond fed with a spring, but having a breach through which more passeth than cometh in’, a homely figure to describe an adverse balance of trade. To finance the wars he proposed a yearly levy based on a new survey of all men’s lands and goods or, ‘if this were misliked, every man upon his word and power to deliver what were the profits of his lands and worth of his goods, and so a proportion to be had accordingly’. The proposal was thought naive and he was found tedious. Nevertheless, he was named to committees concerning the subsidy on 28 Feb and 1 Mar. On the issue raised by the arrest of Thomas Fitzherbert he spoke ‘as it would seem’ for Fitzherbert on 2 Mar but having ‘never a new reason’ went on to complain about the changed attitude of Members towards the privileges and ancient customs of the House, ‘and that men gave not audience to them that spake and pleased not them, but were ready to interrupt them’. Perhaps it was on this occasion that his ‘I mean not to be long’ provoked the observation ‘You shall please the House the better’. Next day (3 Mar), reverting to the Fitzherbert affair, he entered on a recital of the earlier Ferrers case, only to be reminded by the Speaker that the Fitzherbert matter had already been settled. On 5 Mar 1593 he, rather unexpectedly, took a courageous stand against Cecil and the Queen on the tale-tellers controversy, moving ‘for the freedom of the House, that it might be concluded amongst us a matter answerable at the bar for any man to report anything of men’s speeches, or matter done in this House’. His committee work during this Parliament included a legal matter (27 Feb), recusancy (28 Feb), salted fish (5 Mar), the naturalization of aliens (5 Mar), two private bills (8, 20 Mar), the deprivation of Edmund Bonner, late bishop of London (9 Mar), the relief of the poor (12 Mar) and alien retailers (23 Mar). On 1 Dec 1597 he was licensed to depart ‘for his necessary business’ and may not have returned, leaving with the clerk, as was required, 10s. for the poor and 3s.4d. for the minister who said prayers.

The nature of his ‘business’ may be surmised. Debts and lawsuits, spectres present together at many Tudor deathbeds, were closing in upon him. Eighteen months previously an unidentified member of the Inner Temple, alleged that he and others in Wiltshire were being harassed at law by Knyvett’s causeless suits against them. He advised Burghley that Knyvett had conveyed his goods to his brother Thomas for the benefit of his unmarried daughter, and his lands to the Lord Thomas Howard, with the apparent intention of defrauding the Queen of the debt due to her ‘in respect of his late office of receivership in Wilts. (of which he hath of long time found a favourable forbearance)’, as well as the rent for certain woods in Braydon forest, now many years in arrear, and fines arising and due to her within the duchy of Lancaster, Knyvett being of opinion that he had spent much in her service and could leave his debt unsatisfied. The writer —his name has been removed from the document— suggested that Burghley should require Knyvett to settle his debt immediately, Knyvettnow being both in goods and yearly living and through his late marriage in Devon able ... to satisfy the same’. Able or not, Knyvett owed the Queen £4,000 when he died. He had disposed of much of his lands (possibly to provide marriage portions for his daughters), and when asking Cecil in the previous Jun to obtain for him a grant of certain revenue from a water course in Gloucestershire had described himself as ‘content to play at small game rather than sit out’ and the sum involved as ‘too mean for one that has spent many a thousand pounds less in the Queen’s service’ than he had done. Possibly it was his marriage that involved him in litigation. Writing to Cecil on 28 Jul 1596 he had reported that Lord Mountjoy, at the last assizes in Exeter, had obtained a verdict against him ‘upon a new point unlooked for’. Later, in Sep of that year, he told of ‘troublesome causes with Poole, who lately hath vexed me with new process’.

Anthony Knyvett, his illegitimate son could not therefore inherit. His future welfare was protected by the reversion to a lease on the estates of Thomas Borough, fifth Lord Burgh.


Bindoff, S. T. / E.L.C.M.:

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