KNIGHTLEY, Sir Richard (1533-1615), of Fawsley, Northants.

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. 1533, 1st s. of Sir Valentine Knightley of Fawsley by Anne, da. of Sir Edward Ferrers of Baddesley Clinton, Warws. m. (1) Mary (d.1573) da. of Richard Fermor of Easton Neston, 3s. inc. Valentine 3da.; (2) Elizabeth (d.1602), da. of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, 7s. 2da. Kntd. 1565; suc. fa. 1566.2

Offices Held

Sheriff, Northants. 1568-9, 1581-2, commr. musters 1571-86, 1591-1603, 1605-12; j.p. from c.1573, q. from c.1583, dep. lt. 1569-71, 1586-9, 1603-5, by 1612-d. 3


The Knightleys were an old established Northamptonshire family. The name was preserved by a strict entail on heirs male, and by the nineteenth century the family had over four centuries of almost unbroken parliamentary service. Knightley himself was an active county official and a puritan. From 1569 to his death he was almost continuously concerned with musters and military matters in the area, either as a deputy lieutenant or, when there was no lord lieutenant, as a commissioner for musters. A mass of his correspondence on this subject has survived, including a muster book, covering his period of service from 1586. In 1605, when he was removed from the deputy lieutenancy for promoting a petition in favour of puritan ministers, he may have been found indispensable, for he was acting as commissioner again before the end of the year. He served on many Privy Council commissions and was often called on to arbitrate in local disputes, such as that which arose in Northampton over the erection of malt kilns. He was connected by marriage with the Seymours, and he arranged matches between his heir and a daughter of Sir Edward Unton, and between one of his daughters and Unton’s son. He was on good terms with the Earl of Leicester, who knighted him at Kenilworth in 1565, when the Queen was on progress. In 1567 Leicester promoted a suit to incorporate the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, Knightley and several other prominent puritans as governors of the possessions and revenues of the preachers of the gospel in Warwickshire.4

Still, with all his wealth, social position and official standing, he was only twice knight of the shire. In 1584 he was returned for Northampton, a centre of puritan activities. He served on several committees concerning church attendance (27 Nov.), ecclesiastical livings (19 Dec.), pluralities of benefices (13 Feb. 1585), the fraudulent conveyances bill (15 Feb.), draining the fens (22 Mar.)and a private bill (24 Mar.). In the next Parliament he again sat for Northampton, being appointed to only one committee (8 Mar. 1587), to confer on a petition to the Queen concerning reforms in the ministry. The Queen named him in 1586 one of those to be present at Babington’s execution; in the same year he attended Mary Stuart’s removal from Chartley to Fotheringay on 25 Sept. 1586, and in the following year witnessed her funeral.5

Until 1588 he gave little cause for offence by his puritanism, though the archdeacon of Lincoln complained that the travelling preachers of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire were carrying on exercises ‘accompanied, countenanced and backed’ by Knightley and his friends. However, in July or August that year John Penry, the supervisor of the notorious Martin Marprelate printing press, visited Northampton and while there persuaded Knightley to give the press shelter at Fawsley. In the October, Waldegrave, the printer, arrived in Northampton to complete the arrangements, and one of Valentine Knightley’s tenant farmers brought the press to Fawsley, where printing went on for two or three months. Knightley himself had been conducting the trained bands to London for the army, and was still occupied with his musters and local commissions, even claiming to have no knowledge of the press, though he had several of its tracts in his possession, one being read aloud in the evening by the schoolmaster.

In the meantime a new Parliament was summoned, and on 5 Oct. (Sir) Christopher Hatton I wrote to Edward Montagu asking him to support the election of ‘my good friend Sir Richard Knightley’, as knight of the shire, ‘a gentleman ... well affected to the good of his country’. Knightley was elected, but the session was postponed until February 1589. By that time Penry felt it necessary to move the press again, and Knightley made an unwilling John Hales, his nephew by marriage, take the press into his house at Coventry.6

During this session of Parliament, Knightley played no part in attempts to promote religious discussion. He was appointed to a private committee (20 Feb. 1589) and to two committees on the purveyors bill (27 Feb. 1589), and when the session was over returned to his usual county duties. The press had been removed yet further, to Roger Wigston’s house at Wolston, and he evidently felt himself out of danger. When questioned by Sharpe, the Northampton bookbinder, Knightley replied

Let me alone, the knaves dare not search my house: if they had, I would have cursed them, they know well enough.

But a servant Knightley had sent with copies of the new Martin to his brother-in-law Hertford, revealed, while drunk, where the books had been printed. Sharpe confessed, despite Knightley’s warning that ‘surely they would hang him’, and Hatton warned Knightley that he was in danger.7

By November 1589 Knightley, Hales and Wigston were in the Fleet for ‘close examination’. At his trial Knightley asked for consideration for his ‘simple wit and weak capacity’, affirmed that he was no sectary, and asked the judges, of whom Hatton was the chief ‘at whose hands he was sure to receive nothing but justice’ to intercede for him with the Queen. He was fined, £2,000.8

In the following years, after a settlement whereby certain of the family property was released to his eldest son and the rest settled in tail male, some of the family lands were sold. In the Parliament of 1593, in which Knightley did not sit, the Earl of Hertford promoted a bill to protect the interest that his sister, Elizabeth Knightley, and her children had in the property. Knightley was restored to his county position by the end of 1591, when he was again appointed to special commissions and acted as a commissioner for musters. In 1597 he represented Northamptonshire for the second time in Parliament, serving on committees concerning armour and weapons (8 Nov.) and the lands of his neighbour, Sir John Spencer (25 Nov.). All the knights of the shires were appointed to the following committees: enclosures (5 Nov.), the poor law (5, 22 Nov.), the penal laws (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.) and the subsidy (15 Nov.). As knight for Northamptonshire, he was appointed to committees concerning the town of Northampton (16 Nov.), and draining the fens (3 Dec.). Knightley’s friendship with the Earl of Essex did not go too far: after the rising he was appointed to examine a possible suspect, and given custody of his nephew by marriage, Lord Beauchamp. A rumour that on Elizabeth’s death he proclaimed Beauchamp king in Northamptonshire was proved untrue.9

In 1601 Knightley was returned for Orford, after the borough’s first choice, Henry Gawdy, had been elected for Norfolk. The matter was probably arranged by Knightley’s relative Edward Coke, the recorder. Knightley may not have planned to sit at all; for it should have been possible for him to find a seat nearer home. He served on several committees concerning privileges and returns (31 Oct.), the penal laws (2 Nov.), the order of business (3 Nov.), and the export of iron ordnance (8 Dec.). The session also brought his only recorded words in the House. Members disliked a bill to give any man who invented a trade a monopoly of it for life, and when on 11 Dec. the question arose as to whether it should be read a second time, all said ‘No’. But when the Speaker said ‘all that will have the bill read the second time say Aye’, Sir Richard Knightley said ‘No’, at which the House laughed.10

Knightley did not sit again. In 1604 he canvassed the county for his son. In 1605 they were both involved in the presentation of a petition in favour of puritan ministers in the shire, for which they were removed from the commission of the peace (and Sir Richard from his deputy lieutenancy) and fined. In February Sir Richard signed a formal submission for their offence, but his son resisted for some time longer. The fine was ultimately compounded through the intervention of Cecil. Once more Knightley returned to play an active part in county life. Though approaching 80, he conducted the musters of 1611 and 1613, himself, his last recorded appearance. He died 1 Sept. 1615 and was buried at Fawsley, the only property mentioned in his inquisition post mortem.11

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. M. Thorpe


  • 1. Folger V. b. 298.
  • 2. VCH Northants. gen. vol. 169 seq.; Baker, Northants. i. 382, 385; Bridges, Northants. i. 67; CPR, 1563-6, p. 530.
  • 3. Northants. Musters, Beacons, Subsidies, ed. Wake (Northants. Rec. Soc. iii), pp. xxi, lxiii, civ. 3; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 366, 376; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 21; APC, xxvi. 389; HMC Hatfield, v. 524.
  • 4. Wake, passim; HMC Buccleuch, i. 224, 225, 226; iii. 20, 21, 28, 41, 43, 48, 49, 50, 55, 63; HMC Montagu, 12-13, 26; HMC Hatfield, v. 524; ix. 363; APC, viii. 143; ix. 8, 278, 345; x. 33; xiv. 224, 293; xv. 156; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 304, 377; 1581-90, p. 28.
  • 5. D’Ewes, 333, 343, 349, 371, 372, 413; APC, xiv. 224; Lansd. 49, f. 171 seq., 103, f. 62; HMC Hatfield, iii. 232.
  • 6. Collinson thesis, 200, 946, 983; W. Pierce, Hist. Intro. Marprelate Tracts, 156, 157, 160, 161, 178, 180; Wake, pp. xcix-ci.; HMC Montagu, 21.
  • 7. D’Ewes, 435, 440, 443; Townshend, 19; Pierce, 178, 182, 202, 205.
  • 8. APC, xviii. 225; xix. 292; Howell, State Trials, i. 268; Pierce, 207.
  • 9. Baker, i. 380; APC, xxii. 52, 123, 442, 522, 546; xxiii. 258, 286; xxiv. 454; xxv. 87, 157, 392; xxx. 636, 650, 696; xxxi. 277; CSP Dom. 1591-4, pp. 332, 506; D’Ewes, 552, 553, 555, 557, 561, 563, 565, 567; HMC Hatfield, x. 102, 124, 152, 310; xv. 223.
  • 10. Orford act bk.; D’Ewes, 622, 623, 624, 672, 678.
  • 11. HMC Buccdeuch, iii. 77, 121, 125, 134, 154, 169; HMC Montagu, 32, 46; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 193, 200; 1611-18, p. 130; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 203; C142/358/105; Baker, i. 380; Wake, p. cxvii.