KNIGHT, Sir John (d.1718), of The Hill, Bristol and Congresbury, Som.
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Family and Education
2nd but 1st surv. s. of John Knight, sugar refiner, of St. Augustine’s Back, Bristol by 1st w., da. of one Parsons of Som. m. Anne, da. of Thomas Smith of Long Ashton, 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1678; kntd. 12 Mar. 1682.1
Member of merchant venturers, Bristol 1675, warden 1681-2; freeman, Bristol 1675; common councilman 1679-85, Oct. 1688-1702, sheriff 1681-2, mayor 1690-1; commr. for assessment, Bristol 1679-80, 1689-90, Som. 1689; dep. lt. Bristol 1685-?86, commr. for port regulation 1690.2
Knight’s father, the first cousin of John Knight, seems to have left Bristol during the Civil War and invested in land reclamation in the fens. He returned during the Commonwealth and founded a sugar refinery. Although described as a ‘fanatic’, he refused to serve on the corporation during the Interregnum. He accepted office in 1664, but, like Sir Richard Hart, only under duress.3
Knight passed his youth as a factor on his father’s plantation in the West Indies, where he acquired a bad reputation for ‘rude behaviour and insolence’. Both the West Indian property and the fenland adventure were inherited by his younger half-brother, leaving Knight only the Bristol sugar business and a small estate at Congresbury worth about £140 p.a. which had been in the family since Elizabethan times. The resultant lawsuits are unlikely to have improved his finances. In a natural reaction against his father’s religious sympathies he showed great severity to the dissenters during his shrievalty. The local Quakers complained of his brutality to the King, whose only response was to confer on him the honour of knighthood. ‘Eminent for integrity and loyalty’ he led the intrigues against the recorder, (Sir) Robert Atkyns. As a henchman of the Duke of Beaufort ( Henry Somerset) he undertook to secure a majority on the corporation for the surrender of the charter; but there were several defections among the moderate Tories, ascribed to ‘a jealousy of Sir John Knight’s having too great a sway’, and the motion was narrowly defeated. In consequence the governorship of the Leeward Islands which he had been promised never came his way, much to the relief of the inhabitants. Unabashed, he ‘set himself up for a Parliament man, personally desiring votaries with promises and menaces, whereby he put our citizens in a great ferment by dividing the loyal men one against the other’. In the closing months of Charles II’s reign, however, he was removed from the corporation at his own request ‘as the only expedient to secure him from envy and ruin’, and did not contest the general election of 1685. He stood at the by-election in December in opposition to Beaufort’s candidate, the town clerk; but both were defeated by Sir Richard Hart. In the following April Knight, no less zealous against Papists than against dissenters, personally took part in the arrest of a priest at mass, to the King’s displeasure at his ‘pretended zeal’. Shortly afterwards he was assaulted by Roman Catholics in the street, which encouraged him in ‘some extravagancies, as to go armed with blunderbusses, like an armadillo, and to expose the Popish religion with odious figures and representations’. He was summoned before the Privy Council and tried in November 1686 for seditious practices and ‘creating and encouraging fears in the hearts of his Majesty’s subjects’, but was acquitted by a Bristol jury.4
Knight resumed his seat on the common council on the restoration of Bristol’s charter in October 1688, and was elected to the Convention, probably unopposed. An active Member, he was appointed to 40 committees and made five recorded speeches. On 28 Jan. he demanded immediate action to regularize the constitutional position. As an Anglican stalwart, he moved that the House should observe the anniversary of Charles I’s execution, and was instructed to ask Dr Sharp to preach. Sharp gave offence by praying for James II, but Knight pointed out that he was obliged to do so by the Book of Common Prayer, and moved a vote of thanks for the sermon, which he and Thomas Done were ordered to convey. He helped to draw up the address for preventing ships from going to France and to consider the balance of trade. He voted to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant. He was appointed to the committees for the removal of Papists from the metropolitan area, to prepare a comprehension bill, and to consider the bill for the disarming of Papists. In the debate on the corn bounty bill on 3 Apr. he acted as teller for extending the measure to peas and beans. He was among those appointed to hear complaints against customs officials, to consider the bill for the export of beer, ale and mum, and to draw up an address of thanks for the King’s declaration to maintain the Church. He probably introduced the bill for the export of leather on 20 Apr. He served on the committee for the bill to rebuild Bristol gaol and to establish ‘courts of conscience’ for small claims at Bristol and Gloucester. In the second session he was appointed to the committees to inquire into the expenditure and miscarriages of the war. On 4 Nov. he asked leave of the House ‘to go into the country for his own security, for he could not safely abide here. ... At a committee a noble lord had laughed at him and offered him other abuses, and after that challenged him, and required satisfaction from him, all which he patiently bore.’ The House ordered Lord Brandon ( Hon. Charles Gerard) to attend in his place to answer Knight’s accusation, but nothing seems to have been done, and Knight was still at Westminster on 9 Dec., when he acted as teller against an additional clause to the supply bill forbidding reductions in tax assessments.5
Knight was re-elected in 1690, and distinguished himself by a violent attack on immigrants, especially Dutchmen. He did not stand in 1695, and was arrested as a Jacobite conspirator in the following year, but the evidence was insufficient to bring him to trial. He was defeated at the general election of 1698, and resigned from the common council four years later. His last years were spent in poverty on his Somerset property, where he died in February 1718. Nothing is known of his descendants.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. Vis. Glos. 1682-3, p. 105.
- 2. Merchant Venturers (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvii), 32; A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists, 203-5, 208, 225; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 189; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 620.
- 3. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. lxviii. 112-15, 135-6.
- 4. Ibid. 128, 159; J. Besse, Sufferings of the Quakers (1753), i. 59; J. Latimer, Bristol in the 17th Century, 423, 426; North, Examen, 253; CSP Dom. 1682, pp. 120, 129, 134; Jan.-June 1683, pp. 150-1; 1686-7. pp. 118, 136, 163, 164; Bristol RO, common council procs. 1670-87, ff. 159-61; SP29/421/50, 422/127, 436/80; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vii. 404; HMC Portland, iii. 396; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, p. 538; HMC Downshire, i. 172-3; Luttrell, i. 379, 389; PC2/71/283.
- 5. Morrice, 2, pp. 443, 646; Hardwick SP, i. 411; CJ, x. 14, 16; Grey, ix. 38.
- 6. Somers Tracts, x. 591-6; Luttrell, iv. 31, 38, 78, 106; Latimer, Bristol in the 18th Century, 120.