GALLY KNIGHT, Henry (1786-1846), of Firbeck Hall, Yorks. and 69 Grosvenor Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



12 Aug. 1814 - 25 Apr. 1815
1831 - 1832
31 Mar. 1835 - 9 Feb. 1846

Family and Education

b. 2 Dec. 1786, o.s. of Henry Gally (afterwards Gally Knight), barrister, of Langold Park, Yorks. and Selina, da. of William Fitzherbert† of Tissington Hall, Derbys. educ. Eton 1799; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1805; tour of Spain, Sicily and the Near East 1810-11. m. 13 July 1825,1 Henrietta, da. of Anthony Hardolph Eyre of Grove Park, Notts., wid. of John Hardolph Eyre, s.p. suc. fa. 1808. d. 9 Feb. 1846.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Notts. 1819-20.

Capt. S.W. Yorks. yeomanry 1808.


Gally Knight, a ‘very bald-headed’ man of ‘middle height’ who was ‘rather stoutly made’, had resigned his seat for Aldborough in 1815 because his support for Catholic relief put him at odds with the patron, the 4th duke of Newcastle.2 He subsequently joined Brooks’s, 7 May 1816, and became one of the Fitzwilliam circle of Whigs. In December 1820, however, he cautioned his friend Lord Milton*, Fitzwilliam’s son, against the course the Whigs seemed embarked upon in the Queen Caroline affair. Although, unlike Milton, he believed the queen to be guilty, he warned against holding county meetings, which would ‘increase the popular ferment’, as ‘they will appear to be party measures, they will not be free from violence [and] the discussion will wander from the question’. Instead, he recommended the sending of petitions from the counties ‘signed by principal persons of all parties’.3 Yet when a Nottinghamshire county meeting proposing a loyal address to the king was called in January 1821, Gally Knight suggested to the duke of Portland that he move an amendment criticizing the conduct of ministers. At the meeting, 25 Jan., he declared that the address as it stood meant ‘nothing but the support of administration’. Despite attempts by Newcastle to prevent him, he proposed an amendment which gave ‘an opinion as to the real cause of the present agitation and a hope that all further proceedings on the subject of the queen might be abandoned’. It was carried by a large majority and the meeting ended with three cheers for Gally Knight.4 During the rumours of a dissolution in September 1825 Fitzwilliam offered to help him secure a seat for Grimsby, but he declined, telling Milton, 26 Sept., that ‘many reasons ... dissuade me from wishing to return to Parliament. I have lately refused an offer of the same nature which makes it impossible for me to accept any other’.5 However, he later told John Evelyn Denison* that he regretted his decision not to contest Nottinghamshire at the 1826 general election.6 He maintained his pro-Catholic views and in 1828 wrote a pamphlet on the Foreign and Domestic View of the Catholic Question, in which he urged

the Senate ... to bring back the cup of promise and send forth the fiat of justice ... I invoke the patricians of the state to wash the speck from their ermine and shake the dust from their robes ... Let your Majesty complete the glories of your reign with the pacific triumph of the restoration of Ireland.

It generated a hostile rejoinder from Abraham Bagnell, dedicated to Newcastle.7 In March 1828, with the prospect of the East Retford franchise being extended into the hundred of Bassetlaw, Gally Knight ‘ventured to make himself a candidate’ for a future election by issuing an address.8 A correspondent of his kinsman Sir Henry Fitzherbert thought it ‘rather premature’, for ‘should not the bill pass into law, his canvassing becomes ridiculous’, while Lord Wharncliffe considered it ‘a strong reason for throwing East Retford into the arms of the Birmingham button makers’.9 Gally Knight, realizing his error, attempted to withdraw it, but was too late to prevent its publication for a second week. On 20 July 1828 Newcastle noted, ‘Knight has been so wavering that he has lost his chance and indeed he has made it over to Granville [Venables Harcourt] Vernon*’, his brother-in-law.10 Travelling through France in September the following year, Gally Knight informed his friend John Nicholas Fazakerley*:

Since I have been abroad I have been mortified by the total change of the sentiments of the continent with regard to England, in consequence of the anti-liberal spirit in which our foreign policy has latterly been conducted ... Having had nothing else to do, I have given vent to my spleen in a letter to [the foreign secretary] Lord Aberdeen.

He asked Fazakerley to oversee its publication in England and wrote to him again, 19 Sept., explaining that his object was to ‘shame them into a more liberal line of policy’.11 When the letter appeared Lord Ellenborough, a member of the cabinet, dismissed it as ‘a poor flimsy production’ and ‘a peacock’s feather in the hilt of a Drawcansir’s sword’.12 Gally Knight, though, was pleased with its reception and urged Fazakerley to make sure that the leading Whigs received a copy. Like his earlier pamphlet this one also provoked a reply, from Sir James Wedderburn.13

Back in England for the 1830 general election, a correspondent of the Nottingham Review addressed a letter to him on behalf of the independent freeholders, inviting him to stand for the county. He declined, explaining to the Nottingham Journal that having been kept in suspense as to whether or not East Retford would be thrown into the hundred, and being under the impression that this would not be effected that session, he had accepted an invitation from St. Albans, where he was now pledged to come forward, with the backing of Lord Althorp*.14 Writing to Milton, 21 July, he lamented:

Bassetlaw exists. I will not say how I grieve not to go there where I should be amongst my friends and where I should probably be safe for life, but my new friends at St. Albans would think me shabby were I now to desert them, and the Whig cause and the Spencer interest would certainly go to the wall, were I to quit the field. Under those circumstances I feel myself bound in honour to remain at St. Albans and there abide my fate.15

Two weeks earlier, however, Althorp had advised his father that he had told Gally Knight ‘not to persevere for the sake of preserving our interest, unless he thought it useful for himself to do so’, as the family did ‘not care about this interest’.16 Despite Althorp’s nominating him, by the second day it was clear he had little chance of success and he agreed to an early closure.17 Harcourt Vernon was also defeated at East Retford, but Denison told Fazakerley that ‘Gally would have carried Bassetlaw’, 21 Aug.18 Writing again to Milton, 12 Aug., Gally Knight observed:

The sting lies in Bassetlaw, where they accuse me of losing the independent cause by my absence. I don’t feel it is wholly the case, but it is most painful to me to know that those amongst whom I have lived, and am to live, think so ... All I long for now is quiet and calm for I have really felt stunned since my defeat ... Government did all it could against me, but the corruption of St. Albans did at least as much.

Adding his views on the Yorkshire election, for which Milton had asked, he added:

I cannot say how much I regret [Henry Brougham] is come in for Yorkshire and I wish to heaven you had never resigned ... How I wish [John] Ramsden* would have declared ... It was shilli-shalliness and jealousies that opened the door to what I am sure no true Yorkshire man can like.19

He did not attend the Nottinghamshire county meeting in March 1831, but sent a letter ‘highly approving’ of the Grey ministry’s reform bill.20

At the 1831 general election Gally Knight was returned unopposed for Fitzwilliam’s pocket borough of Malton.21 He proposed Denison for Nottinghamshire, 5 May.22 Soon afterwards he went to Normandy where he spent the rest of that month and early June travelling with an architect with a view to publishing an account of the local buildings.23 He was appointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 28 June 1831, and again, 1 Feb. 1832. In his maiden speech, 4 July 1831, he declared that ‘this time last year I was no reformer’, but that he now gave his ‘unqualified support to the present bill’, as

when the franchise of East Retford was refused to Birmingham, when the petitions of the four great towns were uniformly disregarded, when I saw the safety-valve advisedly and resolutely nailed down, I despaired of the gradual process.

He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and gave general support to its details, though he was in the minority for giving Stoke two Members, 4 Aug. He divided with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He was absent when the reform bill passed the House, 21 Sept., but present to divide for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and again gave general support to its details, though he divided against Gateshead’s inclusion in schedule D, 5 Mar. 1832. He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar., and the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired, 10 May. He paired for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to increase Scottish county representation, 1 June. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July, when he declared that it would be ‘extraordinary’ if the House disregarded its obligation, and 20 July. Commenting on the situation in Portugal, 9 Feb., he urged that France be made ‘aware that we should not permit a foreigner to take a further advantage of opportunity than the reparation of injuries requires’, but pleaded, ‘let us not interfere’, for ‘by interference we have done enough harm already’. He was in the government majority later that day. In a speech which encompassed European affairs, 26 Mar., he declared that ‘a good understanding’ between England and France was ‘essential to the peace of Europe’. On 13 Apr. he opposed a reduction in the number of royal palaces, deeming them ‘appendages of the crown’, and went on to argue for the establishment of a national gallery, the lack of which he considered a ‘disgrace’. He looked forward to ‘the complete extinction of slavery’, 24 May. He condemned Russian interference in Poland, 28 June. He spoke and voted in favour of Sadler’s proposal to introduce legal provision for the Irish poor, 19 June, and advocated an alteration of the Irish tithes collection system, 5 July 1832.

At the 1832 general election Gally Knight did not stand. He returned to the House at a by-election in 1835 as Member for Nottinghamshire North, a seat he held until his death, and soon became one of the ‘Derby Dilly’ who gravitated to the Conservatives.24 James Grant observed of his speaking abilities in 1838:

He has got a tolerable voice, but the evil of it is, he has got no ideas in the expression of which to employ it. He speaks seldom: in that he is wise ... He attempts none of the loftier flights of oratory: a most commendable resolution; for he never was destined to soar. He contents himself with giving utterance, two or three times a session, to thirty or forty sentences, not sentiments; and this done, he resumes his seat, with a look of infinite self-complacency, just as if he had thereby relieved his conscience of a burden which was pressing on it.25

His book, An Architectural Tour in Normandy, was published in 1836. That year he went to Messina to compile a companion volume, which was published in 1838 as The Normans in Sicily. In 1842-4 he published a two-volume work, Ecclesiastical Architecture of Italy from Constantine to the 15th Century. He was working on another architectural study when he died at his London residence, 69 Grosvenor Street, in February 1846.26 By his will, dated 19 Mar. 1845, he provided a number of legacies for Harcourt Vernon and his family and directed that his Langold estate be sold for the benefit of his friend and neighbour Sir Thomas Wollaston White. He left his estates at Firbeck, Kirton and Warsop and his London house to his wife for her life, and ordered that after her death £6,000 from the sale of Firbeck should go to the ecclesiastical commissioners, with the remaining estates passing to Fitzherbert.27

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. IGI (Notts.)
  • 2. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Lords and Commons (1838), ii. 110.
  • 3. Fitzwilliam mss 102/9.
  • 4. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland mss PwH 855-8; The Times, 29 Jan. 1821.
  • 5. Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 6. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Denison diary, 25 June 1826.
  • 7. A. Bagnell, Antiquated Scrupulosity contrasted with Modern Liberality: occasioned by H.G. Knight’s ... "Foreign and Domestic View" (1829).
  • 8. Nottingham Rev. 28 Mar. 1828.
  • 9. Derbys. RO 239M/F8651, 8656.
  • 10. Nottingham Univ. Lib., Newcastle mss Ne2 F3/1/250.
  • 11. Add. 61937, ff. 105, 107.
  • 12. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 126.
  • 13. Add. 61937, f. 111; J.W. Wedderburn, A reply to H.G. Knight’s Letter to the earl of Aberdeen (1829).
  • 14. Nottingham Rev. 2 July; Herts Mercury, 17 July; Nottingham Jnl. 24 July 1830.
  • 15. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G2/11.
  • 16. Althorp Letters, 152.
  • 17. Herts Mercury, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 18. Add. 61937, f. 114.
  • 19. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G2/11, 27.
  • 20. Nottingham Rev. 17 Mar. 1831.
  • 21. Yorks. Gazette, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 22. Lincoln and Newark Times, 11 May 1831.
  • 23. Gent. Mag. (1846), i. 432.
  • 24. R. Brent, Liberal Anglican Politics, 89.
  • 25. Grant, ii. 106-7.
  • 26. Oxford DNB; Athenaeum, 14 Feb. 1846.
  • 27. The Times, 21 Feb. 1846; PROB 11/2033/203; IR26/1744/134.