KNATCHBULL, Sir Edward, 8th Bt. (1758-1819), of Mersham Hatch, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1790 - 1802
1806 - 21 Sept. 1819

Family and Education

b. 22 May 1758, 1st s. of Sir Edward Knatchbull, 7th Bt., MP [I], of Mersham Hatch by Grace, da. of William Legge of Salisbury, Wilts. educ. Tonbridge 1769-70; Winchester 1770-7; Christ Church, Oxf. 1777-9. m. (1) 27 July 1780, Mary (d. 24 May 1784), da. and coh. of William Western Hugessen of Provender, Kent, 2s.; (2) 4 June 1785, Frances (d. 23 Nov. 1799), da. of John Graham, formerly lt.-gov. Georgia, of Canterbury, Kent, 4s. 4da.; (3) 13 Apr. 1801, Mary, da. and coh. of Thomas Hawkins of Nash Court, Kent, 2s. 8da. suc. fa. as 8th Bt. 21 Nov. 1789.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Kent 1785-6; capt. Provender cav. 1794, maj. 1797; lt.-col. commdt. E. Kent yeoman cav. 1814-d.


Knatchbull had no sooner come into his inheritance than he offered for the county ‘upon the most independent principles, as a friend to the present system of government and a zealous supporter of the constitution’.1 His success at the ensuing election gained Pitt a supporter, at an expense of some £15,000: he entertained 3,000 freeholders in his park. He attended the House regularly and in his maiden speech criticized the malt tax on behalf of his constituents, after expressing approval of the dog tax, 21 Dec. 1790. In April 1791 he was listed as an opponent of the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. On 25 May 1791 he spoke briefly on the ministerial side in the debate on Pitt’s Russian policy. On 27 Apr. 1792 he proposed that the abolition of the slave trade, which he supported, should nevertheless be deferred until 1796 and carried his point by 151 votes to 132. He attempted in vain to defer the Ramsgate harbour bill, 17 May. He approved the proclamation against sedition, and was sure his constituents concurred, 25 May. On 1 Apr. 1794 he defended the Kent magistrates alleged to have opened postal letters in pursuit of sedition. He raised a cavalry troop that year after offering his services to Pitt, with whom he corresponded on county affairs. It was he who moved the address, 30 Dec. 1794, approving renewed effort in the war against revolutionary France, and he who seconded ministerial opposition to Grey’s motion in favour of a peace negotiation, 6 Feb. 1795. On 25 Nov. he clashed with his Whig colleague Honywood as a critic of the Rochester petition against the anti-sedition bills, with particular reference to the disorderly conduct of its supporters. It would appear, however, that he was an unpolished speaker.2

In 1796 Knatchbull’s re-election was assisted by a subscription and by the goodwill of the government. He had ‘scarcely ever voted but with administration’, so his support of the restrictions on civil liberty and of the property succession tax (afterwards given up by Pitt) exposed him to criticism. He informed Pitt, 20 May 1796, that he stood alone, and hoped that his Whig colleague would be thrown out; his critics insisted that he had gone further and encouraged his friends to give their second votes to Sir William Geary, who then defeated Honywood for second place. He was acting chairman of the Southwark election committee which reported on 12 Nov. 1796. He was a spokesman against the export of grain, 7 Apr. 1797. On 22 Dec. he secured an exemption from the double tax assessment on horses for all medical practitioners, but voted for Pitt’s assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798. As the representative of East Kent he successfully opposed his colleague’s efforts to secure a bill for equalizing the rates for the repair of Maidstone gaol, 26 Mar., 30 Apr. 1800, but failed in a further bid, 5 May 1801. This was one of the factors supposed to have contributed to his defeat in the election of 1802, when he was again supported by subscription and by Addington’s ministry; another was his marriage to a young Catholic lady, which estranged his heir; but the main reason was Honywood’s revenge upon him by allowing his supporters to give their second votes to Geary.3

Knatchbull regained his seat in 1806 and had the satisfaction of ousting Geary, though he would have stood down if Viscount Marsham* had persevered. He was listed ‘friendly’ to the abolition of the slave trade, but voted against the Grenville ministry on the Hampshire election petition, 13 Feb. 1807. He was henceforward seldom heard in debate, except on local questions. He seconded a motion for a petition from Andrew James Cochrane Johnstone* to be received, 10 Mar. 1807, from a sense of duty. He was a silent supporter of Portland’s administration and a steward of the Pitt Club in 1808. Perceval’s friends were encouraged by his ‘most decided approbation’ of his ministry in November 1809, as one of the leading country gentlemen. He rallied to them on the address, 23 Jan. 1810, on the Scheldt questions of 23 Feb. and 30 Mar. and against the release of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr. The Whigs listed him ‘against the Opposition’. He was a spokesman on behalf of the penitent Member for Sussex, John Fuller, on 1 Mar. 1810. For 1811 no votes survive, but he spoke in favour of the Shoreham road bill, 11 Mar., and against the validity of the Kent meeting to petition for parliamentary reform, which he had attended, 11 June. He paired in favour of the orders in council, 3 Mar. 1812, lost a battle with Romilly over some clauses in a local poor bill, 13 Mar., and in his only known vote that session opposed the leather tax, 1 July.4

Knatchbull was listed a Treasury supporter after his re-election in 1812. He opposed Catholic relief throughout that Parliament. On 6 Apr. and 2 June 1813 he was a spokesman for the opposition in his constituency to the expense of the new county gaol at Maidstone. His London house was threatened by the mob because of his support of agricultural protection in 1815. He voted with ministers on the civil list, 8 May 1815, but on 30 June opposed them on the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill. On 4 Mar. 1816 he presented a petition from Woolwich against the renewal of the property tax, with which he sympathized, explaining next day that he was anxious for relief for the agricultural interest. On the hustings in 1818 he claimed to have voted against the property tax. He certainly voted against the farm horse tax, 14 June 1816. He thwarted the Ramsgate harbour bill, 6 May 1816. On 12 Feb. 1817 he opposed the repeal of the Game Laws, unless there was substitute legislation, and on 3 Mar. himself got leave for a game preservation bill to retain transportation for armed poaching at night and the prosecution of rogues and vagabonds. He opposed the Kent reform petition, 11 Mar. His only known vote that session was against Catholic relief, 9 May. A visitor to France, he is known to have voted once next session, on 15 Apr. 1818 when he joined opposition to the ducal marriage grant, though mustered by ministers in support of it. This was afterwards described as an ‘electioneering vote’.5

Knatchbull headed the poll for Kent in 1818, aided by subscription. He had faced no contest since 1806, but had spent some £40,000—his family thought £60,000—on elections. On 3 Mar. 1819 he spoke in favour of investigation of frauds in tax collection and a week later obtained sick leave for the first time. Next he resigned the chair of the East Kent quarter sessions. No further votes survive, though he was in the House on 10 June when he was prepared to countenance proposals for a more frequent gaol delivery. He died 21 Sept. 1819, regarded as a typical Tory squire.6 His heir at once obtained his county seat.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Kentish Chron. 23 Feb. 1790; Morning Chron. 26 May 1796; Sir H. Knatchbull-Hugessen, Kentish Fam. 148, 149; PRO 30/8/149, f. 236; John Gale Jones, Sketch of a Pol. Tour (1796), 82.
  • 2. Kentish Chron. 23 Feb. 1790; Morning Chron. 26 May 1796; Sir H. Knatchbull-Hugessen, Kentish Fam. 148, 149; PRO 30/8/149, f. 236; John Gale Jones, Sketch of a Pol. Tour (1796), 82.
  • 3. Morning Chron. 26 May 1796; PRO 30/8/149, f. 253; The Times, 12, 24 July 1802; Knatchbull-Hugessen, 156.
  • 4. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 24 Nov. 1809; Romilly, Mems. iii. 17.
  • 5. Sidmouth mss, Knatchbull to Sidmouth, 8 Mar. 1815; Add. 38366, f. 133; The Late Elections (1818), 160-1.
  • 6. Farington, viii. 198; Knatchbull-Hugessen, 161-2.