KNYVET, Henry (c.1537-98), of Charlton, Wilts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

b. c.1537, 1st s. of Sir Henry Knyvet by Anne, da. and h. of Sir Christopher Pickering of Killingdon, Westmld. wid. of Sir Francis Weston (exec. 1536), aft. w. of John Vaughan (d.1577); bro. of Thomas Knyvet I and half-bro. of Sir Henry Weston. m. (1) 1563, Elizabeth (d.1585), da. and sole h. of Sir James Stumpe of Malmesbury by Bridget, 2nd da. of Sir Edward Baynton, 2s. 4da.; (2) by June 1595, Mary, da. of Sir John Sydenham of Brinton, Som., wid. of John Fitz of Fitzford, Devon. suc. fa. 1546. Kntd. 1574.1

Offices Held

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 1595.2


By his marriage to Elizabeth Stumpe at Lacock on 13 May 1563, two weeks after her father’s death, Henry Knyvet (his signature prefers the spelling Knyvett) obtained the manor of Charlton by Malmesbury as well as other lands in and near the two boroughs which were to return him to Parliament. The designation ‘of Charlton’ commonly attached to his father, Sir Henry, has been doubted, and it is possible that only his marriage made Henry Knyvet a Wiltshireman, but he was a kinsman of the Queen and his lineage little inferior to any in the county. His grandfather, Sir Thomas Knyvet (d.1512) of Buckenham, Norfolk, master of the horse to Henry VIII, married a daughter of the end 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 Charles V, in 1545 marshal of Hertford’s army in Scotland, and in 1546, the year of his death, captain of the horsemen at Guisnes.3

Of Knyvet’s early life nothing is known. Possibly he was a soldier like his father. A recognizance dated 15 Apr. 1559, binding him to attend constantly on the Privy Council, was cancelled in the following July. Early in 1560 he was appointed captain of 100 light horsemen in the army for Scotland. 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 June 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. That he served against the northern rebels in 1569—to the lord president of the north, the Earl of Sussex, he was ‘cousin’—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 March 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’. Possibly he had aspired to higher military employment, as is implied in a letter written by William Darrell in March 1579 from the Fleet prison, where he was facing a charge of infanticide. Darrell, by criticising Knyvet’s conduct during and after the trial resulting from the murder of one Brinde, had compelled Knyvet 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 Knyvet’s commercial interests—he is known to have contributed £25 towards the fitting out of Martin Frobisher’s two ships in 1577—and his loquacity became well known in the House.4

An end of a different kind nearly resulted from another of Knyvet’s quarrels. The point at issue was the ownership of land lying between Charlton and the neighbouring estate of Garsdon, then the property of Richard Moody, a relation by marriage of the Stumpes and consequently of Knyvet. As early as March 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. Knyvet was gravely wounded and had to remain in the nearby home of Anthony Hungerford for 26 days, Mistress Hungerford later complaining that ‘the physicians and surgeons sent by the Queen had the whole house’.5

In July 1588, when the Armada was in the Channel, Knyvet was at his house—later he calls it his lodging—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,

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. Knyvet 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 Knyvet’s letter to Walsingham and waited. Walsingham’s reply, dated 27 July, was terse. Pembroke, the lord lieutenant, had specially commended Knyvet 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 Knyvet had described them, and Darrell would do well to obey.6

In the autumn of 1592 it was Knyvet’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, ‘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.7

When danger again threatened the country in 1596 Knyvet sent to his ‘master’, (Sir) Robert Cecil, ‘a brief treatise’ setting out his views on the defence of the realm, ‘scribbled in haste and finished the 19th of April’, together with a ‘fair written version’ addressed to the Queen, Knyvet 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’.8

Knyvet was now an aging man, his treatise was committed to the limbo ordained for such pieces, and no new employment was found for him. He continued as a deputy lieutenant of Wiltshire, as appears by his receipt in September 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 Knyvet 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 November 1597 Knyvet was continued in office, with Sir Francis Popham as his fellow.9

When Knyvet 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 Knyvet himself first appeared as one of its Members. At both these boroughs Knyvet 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.

In his first Parliament Knyvet was named to one committee concerning tellers and receivers (23 Apr. 1571). In the first session of the 1572 Parliament he spoke on the subject of orphans (10 June) and was appointed to committees concerning calivers and days (22 May) and fraudulent conveyances (3 June). 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 February 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 Knyvet 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.). Knyvet 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.).

Knyvet 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 Edward 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.10

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 Knyvet’s causeless suits against them. He advised Burghley that Knyvet 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, Knyvet 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 Knyvet to settle his debt immediately, Knyvet ‘now being both in goods and yearly living and through his late marriage in Devon able ... to satisfy the same’. Able or not, Knyvet owed the Queen £4,000 when he died, intestate, at Charlton on 14 June 1598. He had disposed of much of his lands (possibly to provide marriage portions for his daughters), and when asking Cecil in the previous June 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 July 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 September of that year, he told of ‘troublesome causes with Poole, who lately hath vexed me with new process’.11

He left goods worth about £1,085, and the household at Charlton was well-provided, his cheese alone being valued at £5. He was buried on 25 July 1598 in Charlton church with suitable ceremony, and is commemorated there by a monument bearing large recumbent effigies of himself and his first wife and a coat of arms of 19 quarterings. Three daughters survived him, nobly. Katherine, 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, younger son of the 4th Duke of Norfolk. Elizabeth, the next surviving child, married Thomas Clinton, alias Fiennes, afterwards 3rd Earl of Lincoln. Frances, the third, married Sir William Bevill and secondly Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland.12

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

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


  • 1. Genealogist, n.s. xi. 248; xiii. 237-8; Wilts. N. and Q. viii. 448-9; Lansd. 78, f. 91.
  • 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 447; PRO Index 16774, 19 Eliz. p. 29; SP12/179; Lansd. 55, f. 19 seq.; VCH Wilts. iv. 435.
  • 3. E. M. Richardson, The Lion and the Rose, ii. 293-4; Nicolson and Burn, Westmld. and Cumb. i. 263; Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 640; VCH Surr. iii. 292; Knyvett’s Defence of the Realm, ed. Hughes, p. x, ftn.; LP Hen. VIII, xx(2), p. 755; xxi(2), p. 670.
  • 4. APC, vii. 86; HMC Montagu, 7; CSP Scot. 1547-63, pp. 351, 438; 1589-93, p. 172; HMC Hatfield, i. 209, 462; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, pp. 197, 253; H. Hall, Society in the Eliz. Age, 255, 286-92; Wilts. Arch. Mag. vi. 391-4; viii. 241; Lansd. 24, f. 162.
  • 5. APC, vii. 339; viii. 106, 118; Wilts Arch. Mag. xxiii. 165-6.
  • 6. HMC Foljambe, 55; HMC Hatfield, vii. 261; Wilts. Arch. Mag. vi. 207, 208-9.
  • 7. APC, xxiii. 372; xxiv. 21, 33-4.
  • 8. Defence of the Realm, ed. Hughes.
  • 9. HMC Hatfield, vi. 404, 506-7; APC, xxviii. 91-2.
  • 10. VCH Wilts. ix. 191, 193; CPR, 1569-72, pp. 194, 239; Lansd. 61, ff. 11, 48, 124; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. f. 61; Neale, Parlts. i. 338, 341, 343; ii. 162, 179, 182, 279; D’Ewes, 179, 221, 250, 252, 253, 254, 255, 260, 262, 288, 291, 300, 301, 394, 395, 396, 399, 410, 432, 433, 434, 435, 436, 439, 440, 448, 476, 477, 481, 484-5, 487, 489, 491, 495, 496, 499, 504, 509, 566; CJ, i. 85, 96, 100, 106, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 119, 129, 130.
  • 11. Lansd. 78, f. 91; E178/2450; HMC Hatfield, vi. 291, 404; vii. 261, 375; Wilts. N. and Q. viii. 450.
  • 12. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlvii. 597; Wilts. N. and Q. viii. 448-50.