KNYVET, Sir John (1394/5-1445), of Southwick, Northants., Hamerton, Hunts. and Mendlesham, Suff.
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Family and Education
b.1394/5, s. and h. of John Knyvet* by his 1st w. m. by 1412, Elizabeth (d.1441), da. of Constantine, 2nd Lord Clifton (1372-95), of Buckenharn castle, Norf. by his w. Margaret, sis. of Sir John Howard*, and h. of her bro. Sir John Clifton (d.s.p. 1447), 2s. 2da., poss. at least 6 other ch. Kntd. by Dec. 1418.1
Sheriff, Northants, 7 Nov. 1427-4 Nov. 1428.
Commr. of array, Suff. Jan. 1436.
The most striking feature about the subject of this biography is a curiously negative one, for although he was both rich and influential, with many important connexions, he seems to have been either unwilling or unable to exploit these assets to the full. As the grandson of Sir John Knyvet, sometime chancellor of England, he inherited estates in seven counties (centred on Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, but extending into Essex, Rutland and Lincolnshire, too), to which were added the widespread Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire properties left to him by his late mother. Yet for most of his life he avoided the responsibilities of office for which his wealth and status as a rentier so obviously qualified him, choosing instead to live quietly out of the public eye, when he was not campaigning (with limited success) in France.2
Knyvet was said to be about 24 when his father died, and he appears to have been knighted already during the latter’s lifetime. He was, however, still an esquire in September 1414, when he witnessed the will made at Barsham in Norfolk by his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Tye. Because of their common name, we cannot be entirely sure which of the two John Knyvets was present at the siege and fall of Harfleur in September 1415; but it was clearly the son who took part in Henry V’s second invasion of Normandy two years later. Indeed, during the assault on Rouen he was billeted as a ‘loggyng fellow’ with another brother-in-law, Sir John Clifton, and the two distinguished captains, Sir William Oldhall† and Sir Henry Inglose†. Knyvet had by then married his wife, Elizabeth, who was not only the daughter and eventual heir of Constantine, 2nd Lord Clifton, but also, through her mother, a grand daughter of Robert, 3rd Lord Scales, and niece of the influential Norfolk landowner, Sir John Howard. Unfortunately for Knyvet (as had been the case with his grandfather before him) it was his son, rather than he himself, who benefited financially from the match. On the eventual death of his maternal uncle, the aforementioned Sir John Clifton, in 1447, the young man inherited Buckenham castle together with a substantial amount of property in Norfolk, which was retained by his heirs. Yet although he did not live to enjoy such good fortune, Knyvet at least acquired a number of influential connexions through his wife’s family.
Nothing else is known about him before February 1419, when he took formal possession of all his late father’s estates, save for the manors of Hamerton and Winwick, which had been settled upon his widowed stepmother. She retained Winwick until her death, shortly before 1430, but evidently agreed to lease Hamerton to him straight away, because by September 1421 he was firmly in possession. It was then that an assize of novel disseisin was begun against him, as a resident of Hamerton, at Huntingdon by a group of men including John Fray* and the London merchant, John Gedney*, possibly in connexion with the latter’s acquisition of land in the county.3 Knyvet did not follow his father’s example by representing Huntingdonshire in the House of Commons, but sat instead for Northamptonshire (where he was also a landowner of note) in the second Parliament of 1421. He otherwise showed scant enthusiasm for the business of local government, and is not known ever to have been returned again. Six years later he undertook to serve a term as sheriff of Northamptonshire, but this, too, marked his only real experience of administrative affairs. Perhaps he was still involved in the war with France, for despite having fallen briefly into enemy hands during the course of an engagement near Senlis, early in 1421, he apparently returned to the field not too long afterwards. Protracted absences abroad would certainly explain why so little evidence has survived to cast light upon his activities at home. Most of this rather sparse information concerns his involvement in the affairs of others: in May 1422, for example, he went surety on behalf of his neighbour, Sir John Beaufo*, who had then been summoned to appear before the royal council; and not long afterwards he was a party to the acquisition of the Huntingdonshire manor of Little Gedding by his former adversary at law, John Gedney. By 1426, when he deemed it expedient to make a will (possibly because he was about to sail for France again), Knyvet and his wife had produced two sons and two daughters, and in the following year the couple received a papal indult for the plenary remission of sins at the hour of death. No doubt because of the need to pay off his ransom, Knyvet seems to have fallen heavily into debt by this date: at all events, between then and May 1430 he was pardoned four separate sentences of outlawry incurred for failing to appear in court while being sued for the recovery of sums totalling £161 13s. Most of this money had been lent to him by the goldsmith, Nicholas Lovet, so that he could repay a more pressing debt to Robert Whittingham*. Knyvet protested that he had discharged all the obligations involved, and actually sued Lovet in Chancery for attempting to obtain money under false pretences. Financial hardship may even have led him to sell the manor of Knyvet’s Hall in Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire, to one Gilbert Haultoft, whose title was confirmed, in March 1435, by the MP’s eldest son, John. The Knyvets also disposed of some of their property in and around the Northamptonshire village of Deenethorpe at about this time, the prospect of further alienations being temporarily postponed on the death of our Member’s cousin, John Stretch, part of whose estates came into his hands and were promptly used to raise the necessary cash. However welcome it may have been, this windfall was totally inadequate to off-set the crippling blow which now fell upon the family as a result of Sir John’s capture and ransom for the second time by the French while he was fighting with the royal army in Picardy. The enemy now demanded £1,000 for his release and it appears from a petition of June 1438, addressed to Henry VI by Elizabeth Knyvet, that most of his friends (without whose help the money could not be raised) were reluctant to do anything because he was believed to be ‘out of the King’s favour’. Moved by the plight of the petitioner and her ten children, Henry agreed to ‘receive and accept [Knyvet] as his faithful liegeman, the past notwithstanding’. No further hint is given as to the reason for Knyvet’s disgrace, which probably had something to do with the conduct of the war-effort. It is interesting to note that both he and his eldest son were co-feoffees of the East Anglian estates of William, earl of Suffolk, who played a prominent, if not altogether distinguished, part in the struggle to retain Henry V’s conquests in Normandy. The earl, in turn, became a trustee of the manor of Mendlesham for Knyvet, holding it from 1441 onwards to his use and that of his heirs, although a life interest was held by Sir Thomas Tuddenham† (coheir to John Stretch), to whom the property may well have been mortgaged in return for help with the ransom.4
Knyvet died on 9 Nov. 1445, having over the years settled most of his estates upon feoffees. His daughter, Joan, and her husband, John Lynne (d.1486/7), received the ancestral home in Southwick, but the rest of the property went to his son and heir, John, who had occupied the manors of Winwick and Great Weldon from the time of his marriage, in August 1430, to Lynne’s sister, Alice. This double alliance worked greatly to the advantage of the Lynne family, especially as it was stipulated that John Knyvet the younger would lose part of his inheritance should he attempt to divorce his wife.5
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C138/33/32; C139/122/27; CIPM, xv. nos. 364-72; CCR, 1413-19, p. 495; 1419-22, pp. 22, 26; CFR, xiv. 270; CPR, 1436-41, p. 177; VCH Hunts. iii. 67; VCH Northants. iii. 592; F. Blomefield, Norf. v. 161; CP, iii. 308. J. Copinger (Suff. Manors, iii. 279) is wrong in stating that Knyvet’s mother-in-law was Elizabeth, the da. of Robert, Lord Scales.
- 2. C138/33/32; SC8/88/4399; CIPM, xv. nos. 364-72; DNB, xi. 339; VCH Hunts. iii. 67; VCH Leics. v. 206, 332; VCH Northants. ii. 592; Copinger, iii. 279; CP, ii. 10-13.
- 3. C138/33/32; E101/47/39; JUST 1/1533 rot. 8; Gesta Hen. V ed. Williams, 266; CCR, 1413-19, p. 495; 1419-22, pp. 22, 26; CFR, xiv. 270; Reg. Chichele, ii. 168; VCH Hunts. iii. 109; William of Worcestre, Itins. ed. Harvey, 361; Blomefield (Norf. i. 378) confuses our MP with his son, John.
- 4. C1/7/319; CPR, 1422-9, p. 429; 1429-36, p. 19; 1436-41, p. 177; CPL, vii. 533; VCH Hunts. iii. 54; Add. Chs. 712-13; CCR, 1419-22, p. 260; 1429-35, pp. 360-2; Copinger, iii. 279; William of Worcestre, 361; Blomefield, vi. 170-5; Norf. RO, Kny 848.
- 5. C139/122/27; Genealogist, i. 345; VCH Hunts. iii. 121; CPR, 1436-41, p. 131; Add. Chs. 792, 804; Harl. Chs. 52F 50.