KNIGHT, John I (c.1656-1708), of Beaufort Buildings, Strand, and Somerset House, London
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Family and Education
b. c.1656, s. of Henry Knight, bell-founder, of Reading, Berks. m. Elizabeth, 1s. 2 other ch.1
Apprentice, Goldsmiths’ Co. 1668, freeman 1676.2
Comptroller of first fruits 1687–97; asst. to receiver-gen. of customs 1689–91, receiver-gen. 1691–7; auditor of vacant bishoprics. 1691–?3; receiver of million pound lottery 1694; commr. taking subscriptions to Bank of England 1694, dir. 1694–7; receiver of salt tax 1694; trustee, Exchequer bills 1697.3
Knight, a financier and member of the Goldsmiths’ Company, came to prominence through his connexion with the Fox family. A longstanding business associate of Sir Stephen Fox*, he was appointed as assistant receiver-general of the customs under Fox’s nephew, Thomas, in February 1689. Knight made himself extremely useful to the government as a loan broker in the City and by making loans himself, often acting as a nominee for Sir Stephen Fox, now one of the commissioners of the Treasury. In March 1691 he was granted £913 as royal bounty in acknowledgment of these services and shortly afterwards received a more substantial reward in his appointment as auditor of vacant bishoprics. Following the death of Thomas Fox, he succeeded to the receivership of the customs in September 1691. His brother William took over as assistant receiver. In June 1694 he was one of the receivers of the subscription to the Bank of England and in the following August he was elected a director. The following year he began his financial co-operation with Bartholomew Burton and on 2 Sept. they were jointly awarded £2,093 for their services in raising government loans.4
Returned on the government interest at Weymouth in 1695, he proved loyal to the Court in the Commons. He was forecast as a probable government supporter in the division of 31 Jan. 1696 over the proposed council of trade. He signed the Association in February and voted with the Court on fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March. On 25 Nov. he voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. Knight’s parliamentary career ended in scandal and disgrace, however. Through his connexion with Burton, now receiver-general of excise, Knight had obtained the appointment in June 1697 of his friend Reginald Marriott* as Burton’s deputy-teller. Knight certainly owed Marriott a favour. Two years previously, when Knight’s house in Beaufort Buildings was destroyed by fire, he and his wife had been given temporary accommodation by Marriott. For his part, Marriott showed his loyalty to Knight by agreeing to make false endorsements of Exchequer bills to the value of some £7,000. Such bills circulated at 10 per cent discount, but were accepted at face value if used for the payment of taxes. Knight and Burton used the funds in their hands to buy bills at the discounted rate, and then paid them into the Exchequer, where they were accepted at their full value. Knight used both Marriott and his own brother, William, to endorse bills for him, but the fraud was discovered by one of the clerks to the trustees for Exchequer bills. After a vain attempt to buy back the bills, Knight and Burton persuaded Marriott to take all the blame upon himself in return for the promise of an annuity of £500 plus an office of equal salary. On 12 Oct. 1697 Marriott made his bogus confession to the lords of the Treasury, but proved unable to convince them that he alone was responsible. Knight’s share in the forgery soon became apparent. He sought the help of Sir Stephen Fox, who deposited £30,000 worth of tallies as security for him while he made up his accounts. But not even Fox could prevent Knight’s dismissal from the receivership of the customs on 26 Oct. and from the paymastership of the lottery office on 1 Nov. James Vernon I* reported soon afterwards that Knight and Burton had sold all their stock in the Bank of England (amounting to some £15,000), and predicted that they might flee the country. At a meeting of the Treasury lords on 20 Nov., conducted in the royal presence, Fox argued in favour of allowing Knight to keep his remaining office of comptroller of the first fruits. He also vouched for Knight’s character and pointed out his usefulness to the Court in raising money. The Earl of Sunderland replied that it was ‘not likely this is the first fault though not discovered till now’, a view that was supported by John Smith I* and Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt.* The King ordered that Knight be removed from office and severely punished. He was arrested the next day but released on bail. The Commons started its own inquiry on 4 Jan. 1698, when Marriott presented a full confession, detailing his relationship with Knight and Burton, the abortive cover-up, and the attempts which Knight had made to suborn Fox, Smith and Charles Montagu*. Knight was heard in his own defence. His arguments, delivered ‘with the most audacious impudence’ according to Edward Harley*, were deemed unsatisfactory and he was committed to the Tower. On 7 Jan. he submitted a written defence, denying all charges, but this was also rejected by the House, and on 1 Feb., after a debate in which only Fox spoke in his favour, he was expelled. Shortly afterwards Fox severed his remaining business connexions with Knight. A bill confiscating two-thirds of Knight’s estate passed the Commons but was rejected by the Lords. Instead, the Lords addressed the King for a prosecution. Meanwhile, a Lords’ committee, established on 16 Mar., heard evidence on the case but never reported. Knight himself was released from custody after the prorogation in July. In the same month he was incorrectly listed as a placeman with a seat in the Commons. In May 1699 he was tried in the court of King’s bench. He escaped with only a fine, having been found guilty on the charge of false endorsement, but was acquitted of making any personal profit. Knight never returned to Parliament, although he stood unsuccessfully for Wareham at the first election of 1701. He spent the remainder of his life struggling to clear up his accounts. On 17 Mar. 1704, following a report of the public accounts commission, the House resolved that the payment of £15,436 in February 1696 to Knight and Burton for discounting tallies, was a mismanagement of the public money. At the time of his death Knight held Bank of England stock worth £2,000. He was buried on 17 Sept. 1708 at St. Vedast’s in Foster Lane, and was succeeded by his son, John II*.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Paula Watson
- 1. IGI, Berks.; CJ, xii. 195.
- 2. Goldsmiths’ Hall, apprenticeship bk. 2, f. 175; Index to apprenticeships and freedoms.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 1637, 2168; ix. 1176, 1302, 1373; x. 36, 549; xii. 8; N. and Q. clxxix. 41.
- 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1627, 1666, 1742–3, 1752, 1754, 1862, 1975, 1983; x. 407, 412, 435, 549, 772, 823, 906, 911–12, 917, 1192, 1405–6, 1469; xi. 6–7, 23, 27, 95, 99; C. Clay, Public Finance and Private Wealth, 41, 234–5, 245, 249–50; Evelyn Diary, iv. 222–3; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 549.
- 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 4–5, 8–9, 12–13, 16, 24, 29, 35, 264; CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 11, 15, 41, 55–56, 58, 65, 115, 146, 178, 183–4, 248, 250; 1697, pp. 434, 436, 445, 449, 450–1, 464, 481, 483, 492; 1699–1700, p. 189; Clay, 251–2; Luttrell, iv. 311, 318–19, 327, 328, 339, 341, 346–7, 354, 380, 399, 402, 443, 451, 516, 518–19, 526; HMC Lords, n.s. iii. 146–72, 191; HMC Portland, iii. 595; Egerton 3359, (unfol).