KNIGHTLEY, Richard (1593-1639), of Fawsley, Northants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Family and Education

b. 3 June 1593,1 2nd but o. surv. s. of Edward Knightley of G. Inn, London and Preston Capes, Northants., and Mary, da. and h. of Peter Coles of Preston Capes.2 educ. G. Inn 1612.3 m. 4 July 1614, Bridget (d.1641), da. of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, Warws., s.p.4 suc. fa. 1598, uncle Sir Valentine Knightley* 1618.5 d. 8 Nov. 1639.6

Offices Held

J.p. Northants. 1620-6, 1628-d.;7 commr. oyer and terminer, Midlands circ. 1620-d.,8 subsidy, Northants. 1621, 1624;9 dep. lt. Northants. by 1623;10 sheriff, Northants. 1625-6;11 commr. Forced Loan, Northants. 1626-7,12 sewers 1627, 1633-4,13 gaol delivery, Northampton, Northants. 1629, 1637,14 inquiry, Grafton, Northants. 1635.15

Member, Virg. Co. 1618, Somers Is. Co. 1620, Providence Is. Co. 1630.16


Knightley, aged only five when his father died, became the ward of the latter’s ‘true and faithful friend’ (Sir) Thomas Smythe*, who promised to ‘bring him up in good learning’.17 At Gray’s Inn Knightley made the acquaintance of the inspirational preacher, Richard Sibbes, and other prominent puritans; however, he declined to follow his father into the legal profession. After a year of study he obtained a licence to travel abroad in 1613, but this was cancelled; another was granted in October 1618.18 Two months later he succeeded to the main family estate, and when the living of Fawsley fell vacant he was able to present the noted puritan, John Dod.19 Presumably at the behest of Smythe, governor of the Virginia Company, he invested in both the Virginia Company and its sister organization, the Somers Island Company, although his interest was more in the foundation of godly settlements than in colonial enterprise.

Knightley was first returned for Northamptonshire at the by-election for the third Jacobean Parliament occasioned by the ennoblement of Sir Edward Montagu*, thereby joining his stepfather, (Sir) Robert Bevill*, who was representing Huntingdonshire. With little more than a month before the prorogation, Knightley’s sole committee appointment was for a private bill concerning Sir Lewis Watson* (30 Nov. 1621).20 Ahead of the 1624 election, Montagu backed his kinsman Watson for a Northamptonshire seat, but he was unable to win the approval of the wealthiest magnate in the county, Lord Spencer of Althorp (Sir Robert Spencer†), who observed that ‘no man that knoweth them both but will say my cousin Knightley to be far the fitter man for that place’, and so with Spencer’s support Knightley was re-elected.21 In an atmosphere of heightened mistrust towards Catholics following the collapse of the Spanish Match, Knightley warned the House on 26 Feb. 1624 that he ‘hath heard active papists speak of their number, and therefore his fear is greater than any man’s else, and he would have a care taken as well of the papists in the country as those here about London’. He therefore proposed that all knights of the shire should ascertain the exact numbers of Catholics in their respective constituencies.22

Northamptonshire was predominantly a sheep-rearing county, and it was probably out of concern for the domestic wool industry that Knightley attacked the Merchant Adventurers on 22 April. The Company, having recently paid £50,000 to confirm their monopoly of cloth exports, attempted to pass the cost through to producers, but Knightley argued that ‘it was never known before that one subject should lay an imposition on another. He would have the merchants that gave the £50,000 bear the burthen of it, and not the commonwealth; for otherwise it would prove an ill precedent’.23

Like Montagu, Knightley seems to have been on good terms with the royal favourite, the duke of Buckingham, to whom was perhaps introduced by his friend Sir John Eliot*.24 Writing to Buckingham on around 28 or 29 Apr., Knightley condemned the delay in proceeding against lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), counting this, together with the conspiracies of papists at Court and the failure to issue a Proclamation against recusancy, among ‘the reasons of discomfort in men’s mouths which will certainly hinder the subsidies till they be blown over’, and adding that ‘you must excuse me if I write not that which will please you’.25 Once Middlesex’s impeachment was accomplished, Knightley was appointed to the committee to make his estates liable for his debts (28 May).26

Knightley sat again for the county in the first Parliament of Charles I. On 23 June 1625 he was named to a recusancy bill committee and ordered to attend a conference on the petition for a fast, and on the following day he was appointed to a committee to consider the heads of the petition on religion.27 During further debate on the latter Knightley lamented ‘the sleeping of the laws’ against recusants, which he blamed in part on the new king’s marriage treaty.28 After the dissolution, he was ordered, as a deputy lieutenant, to search recusants’ houses for arms. His conduct at Harrowden, the seat of Lord Vaux, was provocative and overbearing. Faced with a demand to open all his trunks and boxes, Vaux expostulated somewhat forcefully, only to be fined on the spot for swearing. Payment was refused, and Knightley commanded the constable to distrain goods to the value of 2s., whereupon Vaux’s brother struck both Knightley and his servant. A Star Chamber case ensued, as a result of which Vaux and his brother were both sent to the Fleet.29

Although not recommended by the judges, Knightley was pricked as sheriff on the same day that judgment was given in the Star Chamber case. Lord Conway (Sir Edward Conway I*) informed Buckingham that ‘never was [a] man so perplexed, arguing that all the world would think it was a punishment laid upon him for my Lord Vaux’. He further reported that Knightley, protesting the ‘continued and sole dependence he had upon your grace ... declared his speeches and the endeavours he had used in the Parliament for the service of the king and the honour of you’; Knightley was clearly looking to Buckingham to ‘justify him and repair him well with the king and all the world’.30 Still, undeterred from the task of disarming recusants, Knightley wrote to Montagu in December with unconcealed relish, that ‘I wish such care was taken that not one little papist should [e]scape’. He wanted the Commons to tally the number of Catholics ‘that so the king may (as in a glass) see the danger he [is] in’.31 Since as sheriff he was ineligible for the next Parliament, Knightley probably favoured Sir John Pickering* for the county, in a hotly contested election.32

There is no evidence that Buckingham responded to Knightley’s appeals, and in any case Knightley, like Eliot, was rapidly becoming disillusioned by the favourite’s handling of the war and his ambiguous stance on religion. Together with many other Northamptonshire gentry, Knightley therefore openly resisted the Forced Loan, despite having been appointed a commissioner for its collection. He appeared before the Privy Council on 19 Jan. 1627, and was sent to the Fleet for refusing to kneel ‘lest, as they interpret it here, he should seem to acknowledge a fault, and crave mercy where he is not guilty’.33 He continued to refuse payment, it was reported, even after threat of seven years’ imprisonment. He was transferred to the custody of his successor as sheriff; once released from restraint on 2 Jan. 1628 he was ordered to remain in the county, and was still listed in default for £30 on 14 February.34 Knightley was re-elected for Northamptonshire three weeks later. He was appointed to the committee for privileges (20 Mar. 1628), and named to attend a conference concerning a general fast (21 March).35 His other committees included one concerning billeting in Surrey (28 Mar.), a practice which he vigorously denounced during the martial law debate on 8 Apr., saying that troops had been billeted in Northamptonshire ‘only for punishment’. Complaining of the cost, he added that the soldiers were ‘papists, redshanks, and archduchess’s captains ... fitter to die in ditches, as others have done before them, than to be employed in any hope of good success ... Here is nothing but riots, luxury, and disorder’.36

Unsurprisingly, Knightley’s committee appointments were dominated by religious measures such as the Sabbath bill (1 Apr.), and another for the deprivation of scandalous ministers (19 April).37 In debate on 16 May he denied that the latter bill infringed Magna Carta, arguing that ‘it was never the intent of Magna Carta, so dearly bought, to protect injuries in the state, and least of all the church’, and that ‘the bishops, when they see such scandals punished, will be the more careful to present able and honest men’.38 Three days later he was named to a committee to examine Richard Burgess, the errant vicar of Witney.39 He was further appointed to report on the punishment of recusancy and the commissions for compounding with recusants (24 May).40 At the grand committee for grievances on 5 June, Knightley declared that ‘Jesuits are in councils against us. The north is almost half papists; so far as they go the king of Spain conquers [us] already’. Tellingly, he blamed the situation squarely on his erstwhile patron, Buckingham, whom he accused of high treason for allowing Catholics to infiltrate England’s armed forces. ‘If I look into the Palatinate’, Knightley concluded, ‘I see misery there and in all places. I think him [Buckingham] the cause: I count him an enemy, not to this state only, but to all Christendom’.41 On the following day he informed the House that he had heard a sermon at the university church in Oxford to the effect that only Arminian clergymen should be advanced. ‘How this may poison scholars, we may easily see’, he declared, at which point he proceeded to equate Arminianism with the dangers posed by Catholicism.42 In the 1629 session he was named to four committees, including those to enable people to hear sermons outside their own parishes (23 Jan.) and to codify the laws against recusants (28 January).43

Knightley maintained his friendship with Eliot, and after the latter’s incarceration in the Tower corresponded regularly with him, addressing him as ‘brother’ and assuring him that ‘my heart and affection you have always’.44 He refused to compound for knighthood in 1630 on the ground that as sheriff at the time of the coronation he would have been unable to leave the shire.45 A founder member of the Providence Island Company, he was also one of the patentees of Saybrook, Lord Saye and Sele’s settlement in Connecticut.46 He intervened to protect two Ship Money collectors accused of felony for distraining horses and goods in 1636, but in the following year organized a petition against the assessment for his part of the shire.47

Knightley died on 8 Nov. 1639 and was buried at Fawsley.48 In his will he left £100 to the poor of Preston Capes; all his servants received generous legacies, and to each of his godchildren he left a Bible and a copy of Samuel Crooke’s Guide to True Blessedness. The overseers were John Hampden* and John Crewe*.49 His widow, to whom he left his bedroom furniture, was found in the following year to be a lunatic enjoying lucid intervals.50 The next member of the family to enter Parliament was his cousin Richard, who sat for Northampton in the Short and Long Parliaments.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. C142/256/36.
  • 2. VCH Northants. Fams. 185.
  • 3. GI Admiss.
  • 4. VCH Northants. Fams. 185.
  • 5. C142/256/36; 142/375/65.
  • 6. C142/604/123.
  • 7. C231/4, ff. 97, 259; C193/13/2; SP16/405, f. 48.
  • 8. C181/3, ff. 5v, 258v; 181/4, ff. 11, 196; 181/5, ff. 5, 141v.
  • 9. E179/157/398; C212/22/20, 23.
  • 10. APC 1623-5, p. 95.
  • 11. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 94.
  • 12. C193/12/2, f. 39; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 145.
  • 13. C181/3, f. 218; 181/4, ff. 140v, 180v.
  • 14. C181/4, f. 44; 181/5, f. 65v.
  • 15. C181/4, f. 199.
  • 16. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iv. 157; A. Brown, Genesis of US, 803; T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 328; CSP Col. 1574-1660, p. 123.
  • 17. PROB 11/92, f. 317v.
  • 18. APC, 1613-14, p. 282; 1618-19, p. 285.
  • 19. Bridges, Northants. i. 168.
  • 20. CJ, i. 652a.
  • 21. HMC Montagu, 106; E.S. Cope, Edward Montagu (Amer. Phil. Soc. cxlii), 99-100; R. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 114.
  • 22. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 24; CJ, i. 719a; Ruigh, 169.
  • 23. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 170.
  • 24. C. Russell, PEP, 27.
  • 25. Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 196-7; Ruigh, 251-2, 337.
  • 26. CJ, i. 714a.
  • 27. Procs. 1625, pp. 227, 228, 240.
  • 28. Ibid. 249.
  • 29. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 56; CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 142, 156; APC, 1625-6, p. 238.
  • 30. EHR, xlvii. 41.
  • 31. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 257-8.
  • 32. Ibid. 262.
  • 33. Birch, i. 188, 190, 249; APC, 1627, pp. 25, 395, 430.
  • 34. APC, 1627-8, p. 217; E407/123; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 166, 168, 233-4.
  • 35. CD 1628, ii. 29, 42.
  • 36. Ibid. 168, 367.
  • 37. Ibid. 227, 564.
  • 38. Ibid. iii. 436.
  • 39. Ibid. 465.
  • 40. Ibid. 593.
  • 41. Ibid. iv. 120, 125, 126.
  • 42. Ibid. 157; Russell, 345.
  • 43. CJ, i. 921b, 923b.
  • 44. J. Forster, Sir John Eliot, ii. 489-92, 503, 534, 544, 714, 716.
  • 45. HMC Var. vii. 397.
  • 46. Rabb, 328; A.P. Newton, Colonizing Activities of Early Eng. Puritans, 59, 84, 242-3.
  • 47. SP16/333/2; CSP Dom. 1636-7, pp. 150, 510.
  • 48. Vis. Northants. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvii), 103-4.
  • 49. PROB 11/181, f. 386.
  • 50. VCH Northants. Fams. 185.