KNIGHTLEY, Edmund (by 1491-1542), of the Middle Temple, London and Fawsley, Northants.
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Family and Education
b. by 1491, 3rd s. of Sir Richard Knightley of Fawsley by Joan, da. and h. of Henry Skennard (Skynnerton) of Alderton, Northants.; bro. of Richard. educ. M. Temple, adm. 1 May 1505. m. settlement 16 Nov. 1520, Ursula, da. of Sir George Vere, wid. of George Windsor, 6da. suc. bro. 30 Mar. 1538. Kntd. by 1541.2
Bencher, M. Temple 1522, Lent reader 1522, 1527.
Attorney-gen. duchy of Lancaster Nov. 1522-Dec. 1526; commr. subsidy Northants. 1523, 1524, enclosures 1526, for suppression of monasteries 1536, musters 1539; other commissions 1513-40; j.p. Northants. 1524-d.; serjeant-at-law by 1532-9.3
Edmund Knightley followed his eldest brother Richard to the Middle Temple. In 1515 he was returned to Parliament for Reading with the mayor, John Pownsar. Reading, which had often returned royal servants before 1504, generally elected its own townsmen thereafter, although these might, like Nicholas Hyde and Richard Smith I, be also royal servants: even after 1523 when some outsiders intruded, these were nearly all neighbouring gentlemen or men who were acquiring property in the town or the shire. Knightley is unique among Reading’s early 16th-century Members in that he appears to have made no effort to establish himself locally, either before or after his election, save that within a few years he married the widow of a son of the keeper of the wardrobe, Sir Andrew Windsor, who owned property there; and in 1522 he became a feoffee of various Wiltshire lands for Thomas Tropenell in association with Thomas Vachell I, another Reading Member, and a fellow-Middle Templar Sir Thomas Englefield, a leading Berkshire gentleman. As Reading was not a true carpetbagger’s seat, Knightley’s appearance there is harder to explain than his return for Wilton in 1529. In 1513 the King had restored the borough of Wilton to Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, on whose patronage Knightley could call as a distant kinsman by marriage and perhaps also through Sir Thomas Englefield, father of the feoffee and himself a distinguished Middle Templar, who had been her steward. Knightley was doubtless returned to the Parliament of 1536, in accordance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members, but if he was again elected for Wilton to that of 1539 (for which the names are lost) it must have been under other auspices than the countess’s, for she was by then under detention and awaiting attainder. There is no trace of his part in the proceedings of any of these Parliaments.4
Knightley made an impressive match with a woman younger than himself, for Ursula Vere, a sister and coheir of John 14th Earl of Oxford, was only 24 years of age on her brother’s death in 1526. Two years later, with his wife and other relatives, Knightley petitioned Wolsey about possessions claimed by the new earl, Ursula’s second cousin. The chancellor was dismissed before the case could be settled and in October 1529 Knightley and Sir Anthony Wingfield, husband of Ursula’s elder sister, signed an agreement with Anne, dowager Countess of Oxford, over claims which had been submitted to arbitration. In August 1530 Knightley first appears in a case of political significance, vainly helping two priests to search the muniments of Cardinal College, Oxford, to see if Wolsey’s endowment of the foundation had been legal.5
Meanwhile, Knightley was engaged in a family feud with the Spencers of Althorp. Sir Richard Knightley and Sir John Spencer had arranged the marriage of Sir Richard’s eldest son to Jane Spencer and of his daughter Susan to Sir John’s heir, William Spencer. Despite these alliances, the Knightleys were later involved in quarrels with Sir William Spencer which reached the Star Chamber after an alleged assault in Cheapside on 9 Nov. (?1529, not long after the opening of the Parliament) on Edmund Knightley, his brother Richard and Sir Anthony Wingfield. On Sir William’s death in 1532 his widow Susan, claiming that he had died in debt, joined with her brothers to defraud the trustees of certain movables and the King of the wardship of the heir. For this last offence, committed soon after he was made a serjeant, Knightley was, in September 1532, imprisoned in the Fleet, whence he petitioned Cromwell for his release because of the danger of plague. The anti-papist chief justice of the common pleas, Sir Robert Norwich, himself perhaps a Northamptonshire man, also sought Cromwell’s favour for the prisoner ‘as he is one of our flock’ and as the injunction made at his committal had been executed. Knightley was free by the following month, not before he had so broadcast ‘his sister’s griefs and the causes of his own imprisonment’ that one of Sir William Spencer’s executors told Cromwell he should have been kept in the Fleet. Keeper Audley commented on the ‘ado’ over ‘Spencer’s matter’ that ‘though Knightley, the serjeant, will not openly show himself ... yet I hear that all is done by his counsel’. Another suit suggesting sharp practice was against Thomas Wake over the manor of Blisworth, Northamptonshire, bought from Wake’s father by Sir Richard Knightley, who settled it on his eldest son. Wake complained that a clause providing for its return on repayment of the purchase money had been frustrated by Edmund Knightley’s procuring his arrest for debt, while his brother Richard had extorted a surrender of the title in return for furthering his release. Sir Richard Knightley was unable to attend an examination on Wake’s suit in May 1534 and died on the following 8 Dec., whereupon Edmund’s elder brother succeeded, only to die less than four years later without male issue. The serjeant was now the oldest surviving son but the inheritance brought further troubles. Richard’s widow, the former Jane Spencer, married Robert Stafford, younger brother of Sir William, and Edmund had to fight a claim for £1,000 supposedly promised by Sir Richard Knightley to his eldest son at the time of his marriage to Jane. Other grievances flared up over the felling of timber in Farthingstone woods, which Stafford claimed through his wife; Knightley denied that the woods had been intended for Jane and sued Stafford for breaking an injunction against trespass issued in January 1541.6
More lawsuits sprang from Knightley’s own purchases. A case had been laid against him before Chancellor More about 1530 for having bought the Northamptonshire manor of Foscote, near Towcester, from an idiot, to the detriment of the vendor’s widowed mother. At some time after November 1538 Audley was informed that Knightley, claiming to have bought the manor of Shutford, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, had forcibly entered it, seized the title deeds and refused to recognize the rights of the heir, a minor. Such unscrupulous behaviour seems to have aroused mistrust in those whom Knightley could not afford to offend. Thus Sir William Parr wrote to Cromwell in October 1533 that ‘considering the grudges borne to me by the Knightleys it would be small comfort to me if any of them next year were sheriff of Northamptonshire’: Parr himself became sheriff that year and a Knightley did not hold the office again until 1554. For its part, the family made efforts to win favour, Edmund Knightley writing in May 1535 about his examination of a tailor at Blisworth who had trusted ‘to see the King’s head run upon the ground like a football’, and his widowed mother offering Cromwell the mastership of the game in her park and sending him a horse. When in the next year Knightley was named with three others to investigate local religious houses, he may have given offence by an oft-quoted recommendation for pity to be shown to Catesby nunnery, followed a week later by another for the continuance of Northampton abbey. He had nevertheless so far succeeded with the minister that when George Gifford, anticipating the suppression of the abbey, asked Cromwell for a lease of the property, which his family later secured, he feared ‘no man’s labour ... but Serjeant Knightley’s’.7
In October 1537 Audley recommended Knightley to Cromwell for a judgeship as ‘a man of great possessions’ who
needeth not to extort, and though he be wilful and full of fond inventions, yet it is to be thought if ever he will be an honest man that now he hath these great possessions and may have the estimation of a judge, he will leave all his own fancies and become a new man.
Not surprisingly, this assessment made no impression and Knightley had to rest content with the status of a landowner and magistrate. In September 1539 he even sent Cromwell a bill for the discontinuance of his serjeantship. If he had fallen from grace—perhaps in connexion with the execution in 1538 of George Lumley, who had married his niece—he seems to have regained it, for in January 1540 he was one of the esquires who greeted Anne of Cleves, and on 28 Apr. he asked Cromwell to excuse him from coming to London, as his wife was ill. Knighted by 1541, in November of that year he was nominated but not pricked sheriff.8
Knightley’s father is said to have held 41 manors in the central midlands. This hug