KNYVET, John (1358/9-1418), of Mendlesham, Suff.
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Family and Education
b.1358/9, s. and h. of Sir John Knyvet (d.1381) of Southwick, Northants. chancellor of England, by his w. Eleanor (d.1388), da. of Sir Ralph Basset (d.1341) of Weldon, Northants. m. (1) by 1377, Joan (d.c.1417), da. and h. of Sir John Boutetout (d. by 1377) of Mendlesham by his w. Katherine, 1s. Sir John*, 3da.; (2) Joan (d.c.1429).1
Sheriff, Norf. and Suff. 21 Oct. 1391-18 Oct. 1392, Cambs. and Hunts. 18 Oct. 1392-7 Nov. 1393.
J.p. Hunts. 22 Oct. 1393-12 Nov. 1397.
Escheator, Norf. and Suff. 24 Nov. 1394-18 Nov. 1395
Commr. of kiddles, Hunts. June 1398; array Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403; to raise and collect a royal loan, Suff. 1405.
Collector of taxes, Suff. Dec. 1401, Nov. 1404, Dec. 1407, May 1416.
Described by Sir Edward Coke as ‘a man famous in his profession’, the MP’s father was indeed the most celebrated lawyer of his day, rising to become chancellor of England—a post held by only one other layman before him. He came originally from Southwick, Northamptonshire, where the Knyvet family had lived for at least two centuries, but by the time of his death, in February 1381, he had greatly extended his estates in that county, as well as buying up other property in Essex, Rutland, Lincolnshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire. He was also able to make an extremely good marriage, which, although valuable to him in social rather than financial terms, left his eldest son, the subject of this biography, coheir to the estates of the Bassets of Weldon. Knyvet held office as chancellor for four years, being replaced in January 1377, shortly before the death of Edward III, for whom he acted as an executor. With characteristic efficiency he himself made careful provision of his estates, some of which he settled upon his three younger sons, Robert, Richard and Henry, and his daughter, Margery; while a substantial part of the rest was held as a jointure by his widow, Eleanor. It was thus not until her death, in or shortly before 1388, that John Knyvet gained possession of several manors and other holdings in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire which made up the bulk of his inheritance.2 He had, moreover, previously experienced some difficulties in obtaining seisin of the land directly entailed upon him by his father, since the outbreak of the Peasants’ Revolt in the summer of 1381 caused such widespread disruption that the necessary inquisitions post mortem could not be held until the following year. Because of this, King Richard allowed Knyvet to take custody of his patrimony before the formalities were completed, although arrangements for the collection of the relief and the official surrender of the property by crown agents were still being implemented as late as December 1384. These delays were almost certainly connected in some way with the setting up in the previous July of a royal commission for the arrest of Knyvet and his brother Richard, who were to be brought before the King and council ‘to answer for their contempt’. The precise nature of this offence is not recorded, but it may well have resulted from their failure to make a sufficiently prompt payment of the money required of them.3 This is not to suggest that Knyvet was unable to raise the necessary sum, since even allowing for the fact that his mother then held the lion’s share of his inheritance, he could still rely upon a sizeable landed income. Through his marriage to Joan, the only surviving daughter of Sir John Boutetout, he had already acquired the manor of Mendlesham, which served as his principal residence for most of his adult life. Boutetout’s other estates in Hamerton passed temporarily to his widow by way of dower, but they too eventually came into our Member’s hands, and helped to consolidate his status as a Huntingdonshire landowner.4
Meanwhile, in May 1382, Knyvet bought additional property in Mendlesham, where he had already made his home. He must soon have become connected with the Huntingdonshire MP, John Herlyngton*, as in April 1383, a local man offered them joint securities of £20. Herlyngton also had dealings with Knyvet’s brother, Richard, on whose behalf he stood bound in sums totalling £150 a few months later. Other transactions, such as a general release of all legal actions made under heavy financial guarantees to one Albinus Enderby, and the sale of the advowson of a chantry at Cotherstoke in Northamptonshire to the judge, Sir John Holt, occupied Knyvet at this time. All the same, his duties as executor of his father’s will probably took up most of his attention. At some point before 1391, for example, he became involved in a lawsuit for the recovery of a debt of £5 which had been owed to the former chancellor, albeit without any real chance of success.5 Whatever disgrace he may have incurred during the early 1380s was clearly forgotten by October 1391, the date of his appointment as sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk. No sooner had he relinquished this, the first of his administrative posts, than he was transferred to the shrievalty of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and then, a few months later, given a seat on the Huntingdonshire bench. Although by no means as distinguished as his father, Knyvet was the only man to serve as both sheriff and escheator of Norfolk and Suffolk during Richard II’s reign. Surprisingly enough, in view of his wealth and connexions as a rentier he sat in only one Parliament, that of September 1397, in which the King finally triumphed over the Lords Appellant and their supporters. It would be tempting to regard him as a partisan of the court party, although his removal from the Huntingdonshire commission of the peace in the following November, no less than his immediate employment as a commissioner by Henry IV, suggests that his political sympathies lay in the other direction. His motives in standing for election may indeed have been far more personal, since he was then already caught up in a round of litigation for the possession of the Basset family estates. Asserting that their cousin, Ralph Basset of Weldon, had died in 1385 without issue, Knyvet and Sir John Aylesbury* (the son of Eleanor Basset’s sister, Joan) advanced a claim to the joint ownership of land in at least six English counties. The inquisitions post mortem recording the survival of a young son and heir named Richard were dismissed by them as entirely fraudulent, and in 1391 pleading between them and the boy’s attorneys began in the court of common pleas. Richard’s position as a royal ward meant that the Crown stood to lose heavily should the two cousins prove successful, so a writ of supersedeas was issued a year later halting proceedings until he came of age. Notwithstanding the restrictions thus placed upon them, Knyvet and Aylesbury continued to petition the King for redress; and it is more than likely that one of these appeals came before the Parliament to which both Knyvet and Sir John’s son, Sir Thomas Aylesbury, had both been returned, the latter representing Buckinghamshire for the second and last time in his career. Richard Basset’s violent death in January 1399, while still a minor, brought the dispute to an end, but, even so, ten years were to elapse before the inheritance was completely partitioned. His grandiose claims much reduced, Knyvet obtained the manor of Weldon and its appurtenances in Northamptonshire and an estate at Thorpe Langton in Leicestershire.6 At the time of his own death these two holdings were said to produce £14 a year, but they were probably worth much more. In all, he then enjoyed an annual landed income of at least £70, in addition to his revenues from Mendlesham, which are not known. He had, however, already disposed of at least three important properties, the first being an estate in the Northamptonshire village of Warmington, originally settled upon his brother, Richard, whose death, in or before 1395, gave him the opportunity to put it on the market. In December 1400 he sold his father’s former London residence, just off Fleet Street, to the tailor, William Balle. The securities of £54 which Balle took from him a few weeks later may have been little more than a formality, although it is possible that Knyvet was obliged to mortgage part of his own estates in order to meet the cost of litigation over the Basset inheritance. Ten years later, Sir Robert Tye, who had married one of his three daughters, secured a grant in tail-male of land in the Northamptonshire villages of Thurning and Deenthorpe, a reversionary interest being, however, retained by Knyvet and the girl’s sisters.7
The dispute over the Basset estates was not the only matter to bring Knyvet into the lawcourts. In 1394, for instance, he arraigned his neighbour John Tyndale*, on an assize of mort d’ancestor at Northampton, but although the case dragged on for at least three years, Tyndale never appeared to present his defence. Knyvet himself employed similar tactics in 1402, when he was being sued by the executors of a clerk named John Stacy for the recovery of debts totalling £85, which may, perhaps, be seen as further evidence of the financial problems facing him at this time. Knyvet was then also involved, as plaintiff, in an action for trespass, but this came to an abrupt end in the following year with the award of a pardon to the defendant, a baker from Lincoln.8 During the last years of Richard II’s reign, Knyvet had very little to do with local government, but after the accession of Henry IV he began to serve as a royal commissioner and tax collector. If not an active supporter of the house of Lancaster, he was certainly well disposed towards it, and in both 1401 and 1403 he was summoned to attend great councils at Westminster. He seems to have withdrawn from public life in about 1408, although he was recalled from retirement in 1416 to collect taxes again in Suffolk. His son, John, had by then come of age, and it was almost certainly he who accompanied Henry V on his first and second expeditions to Normandy in 1415 and 1417 respectively.9 He was knighted by the time of his father’s death, which occurred at Mendlesham on 4 Dec. 1418, and was named, along with William Leek, as an exec