KNIGHT, Robert (1768-1855), of Barrells Hall, Henley-in-Arden, Warws.
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Family and Educationb. 3 Mar. 1768, 1st illegit. s. of Robert Knight†, 1st earl of Catherlough [I], of Barrells and Jane Davies, da. of his tenant of Moat Farm, Ullenhall. educ. ?Queens’, Camb. 1785. m. 12 June 1791, Hon. Frances Dormer, da. of Charles, 8th Bar. Dormer, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. to estates in Warws., Lincs., Mdx., Worcs., Salop, Chester, Mont. and Flints. 1772.
Sheriff, Warws. 1797-8, Mont. 1803-4, 1808-9.
Knight, a former Friend of the People and an associate of Sir Francis Burdett*, joined the radical banker Douglas Kinnaird† in his attempt to wrest both seats at Bishop’s Castle from the control of the Clive family in 1820. They were involved in a double return, but the inquiry proved favourable to their opponents after a redefinition of the right of election. When Knight did return to Westminster in March 1823 it was in the unlikely guise of Member for Rye, where the Lamb family had customarily returned ministerialists. The patron, the Rev. George Augustus Lamb, decided to ‘introduce an opposition man’ as an act of vengeance against the Liverpool government, whose refusal to give him church preferment he largely blamed for the ‘poverty’ which compelled him to make the maximum financial gain from his electoral interest. Thus he turned out the sitting Member John Dodson, his sister’s brother-in-law, and sold the seat to Knight.1
Knight divided silently and somewhat spasmodically with the advanced wing of opposition. He was in small minorities for economy and retrenchment, 17, 18, 25 Mar., 9 June 1823. He voted against the naval and military pensions bill, 14 Apr., for repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and for parliamentary reform, 24 Apr. He paired in favour of Scottish reform, 2 June. He voted against the Irish insurrection bill, 12 May, 24 June, and in support of the Catholic petition on the administration of justice in Ireland, 26 June. He divided for abolition of the death penalty for larceny, 21 May, 25 June, and inquiry into the coronation expenses, 19 June 1823. He may have been in Rome in January 1824,2 and his next recorded vote was not until 10 May of that year, when he supported repeal of the assessed taxes. He voted for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 11 May, and proper use of Irish first fruits revenues, 25 May. He presented a Rye petition for inquiry into the circumstances of the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 10 June,3 and voted for Brougham’s motion on the subject the following day. He was in the small minorities against the Irish insurrection bill and the new churches bill, 14 June 1824. He voted steadily against the Irish unlawful societies bill and for Catholic relief in 1825. He presented Rye petitions for repeal of the coal duties and the assessed taxes, 23 Feb.,4 and voted for repeal of the window tax, 17 May. He divided against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 6, 10 June, for inquiry into chancery delays, 7 June, and against the judicial salaries bill, 17 June 1825. He was one of the voters for Hume’s amendments to the promissory notes bill, 20, 27 Feb., 7 Mar. 1826. He voted for army reductions, 3, 6, 7 Mar., to exclude non-resident voters from Irish boroughs, 9 Mar., to abolish flogging in the army, 10 Mar., and against giving the president of the board of trade a ministerial salary, 7 Apr. He voted for Russell’s motions on parliamentary reform, 27 Apr., and electoral bribery, 26 May, and for inquiries into the state of the nation, 4 May, and James Buckingham’s grievances against the Indian government, 26 May 1826.
Knight did not find a seat at the 1826 general election, but in December that year he came forward on a vacancy for the venal borough of Wallingford, claiming the support of its long-serving Whig Member Hughes and emphasizing his opposition politics. Dodson, possibly seeking revenge for the Rye episode, threatened to oppose him but thought better of it. Knight defeated the corporation candidate.5 His only known votes in the 1827 session were for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., relaxation of the corn laws, 9 Mar., and the opposition motion for supplies to be withheld until the ministerial crisis was resolved, 30 Mar. He presented a petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 21 Feb., and voted thus, 26 Feb. 1828. He was in minorities on the corn laws, 22 Apr., and chancery delays, 24 Apr., and voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. He divided against the provision for Canning’s family, 13 May, and the additional churches bill, 30 June, and to reduce the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. Only his votes for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., testify to his presence during the 1829 session. He was more active in 1830, after apparently missing the first few weeks, and voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5, 15 Mar., and against British interference in the internal affairs of Portugal, 10 Mar., 28 Apr. He divided against government on the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., and crown lands revenues, 30 Mar., and attended for most of the major divisions on economy forced by the reviving Whig opposition after Easter. He was for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He voted for Irish vestry reform, 27 Apr., abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May, and reform of the civil government of Canada, 25 May, but was not present to support parliamentary reform, 28 May. He voted for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830.
At the general election that summer he was returned in second place for Wallingford after a contest.6 The Wellington ministry naturally listed him among their ‘foes’, and he duly voted against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented petitions for the abolition of slavery, 22 Nov., 8, 23 Dec. 1830. He supported his Whig friends in power, voted for the second reading of their reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., and addressed the Warwickshire county reform meeting, 4 Apr. 1831.7 At the ensuing general election he came in again after a token contest.8 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and was a steady supporter of its details in committee, though he was one of the reformers who voted against the division of counties, 11 Aug. It is not clear whether it was he or James Lewis Knight who voted against government on the civil list grants, 18 July; but he was certainly in the minority of 27 in favour of halving the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels, 25 July. He voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in ministers, 10 Oct. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again supported it in committee and divided for its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but was in the minority against recommitment of the Irish registry bill, 9 Apr. He voted for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June 1832. He retired from Parliament at the dissolution that year.
Knight’s first son Henry had died in Paris in 1800, aged five, and he evidently never acknowledged the paternity of his reputed second son Henry Charles (1813-87), who took holy orders in 1838. How far this repudiation was connected with his wife’s adultery with his sister’s brother-in-law, Colonel Joseph Fuller, for which he was awarded £7,000 damages in 1805, is not certain.9 There clearly were grounds for doubting Henry Charles Knight’s legitimacy, for his cousin Charles Raleigh Knight threatened to contest his right to take possession of the entailed Barrells estate on this score. Robert Knight apparently sought to depreciate its value through neglect. After his death in January 1855 a survey put the cost of necessary repairs to buildings and undrained lands at £25,000. Rather than risk litigation, Henry Charles Knight agreed with his cousin to sell the estate and share the proceeds, and it was sold in 1856 to William Newton of Whately Hall.10 In his will, dated 28 July 1854, which made no mention of his son, Knight left the residue of his real and personal property to his then unmarried daughter Frances (she married Henry Edward Gooch in 1857), with remainder to his younger daughter Georgiana, wife of Edward Bolton King*. He allowed £1,000 for the expenses of his funeral and directed that his remains should be taken for interment in the family vault at Chadshunt from the nearest railway station, followed by one coach ‘containing two of my men servants only and not to be followed by any other person’.11
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. E. Suss. RO, Monk Bretton mss MOB 35.
- 2. Jerningham Letters, ii. 288.
- 3. The Times, 11 June 1824.
- 4. Ibid. 24 Feb. 1825.
- 5. Berks. Chron. 2, 9, 16, 23 Dec. 1826.
- 6. Reading Mercury, 2 Aug. 1830.
- 7. The Times, 11 Apr. 1831.
- 8. Reading Mercury, 2 May 1831.
- 9. Gent. Mag. (1800), ii. 1215; The Times, 12 Apr. 1805.
- 10. W. Cooper, Henley-in-Arden, 124-5, 130-1, 150-60; VCH Warws. iii. 141, 180, 212-14; v. 32.
- 11. PROB 11/2206/135; IR26/2037/70.