KNATCHBULL, Edward (c.1674-1730), of Mersham Hatch, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1702 - 1705
1713 - 1715
1722 - 1727
29 Feb. 1728 - 3 Apr. 1730

Family and Education

b. c.1674, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Knatchbull, 3rd Bt., of Mersham Hatch by Mary (d. 1723), da. of Sir Edward Dering, 2nd Bt.†; neph. of Sir John Knatchbull, 2nd Bt.*.  m. 22 Dec. 1698 (with £6,000), Alice (d. 1723), da. of John Wyndham of Norrington, Wilts., sis. of Thomas, Ld. Wyndham [I], ld. chancellor [I] 1726–39, 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. as 4th Bt. c.1712.1

Offices Held

Sec. to envoy to Brunswick-Luneburg 1694–5; sub.-commr. prizes, Portsmouth June–Oct. 1702, Dover Oct. 1702–?8; muster-master gen. of marines 1704–9.2

Freeman, Rochester 1702, Hythe by 1728; warden, Rochester Bridge 1703.3


Knatchbull’s father seems to have been closer to the Finches than was his uncle Sir John Knatchbull, 2nd Bt.* Sir Thomas had been secretary to Lord Chancellor Finch (Heneage†) and then a sub-commissioner of prizes and commissary of marines, the latter certainly provided for him by Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). Knatchbull’s own public career began with a diplomatic posting to Germany as secretary to the envoy James Cressett. He received a pass in March 1694 to travel to Hamburg, and in the following year visited Hanover. His father’s material circumstances were altered for the better in 1696 when he succeeded as 3rd Bt., and this in turn probably explains how Knatchbull himself was able to make a favourable marriage in 1698. His position in Kentish society was recognized in July 1700 by his appointment to the county bench. Two years later he was elected for Rochester.4

Shortly before the 1702 election Knatchbull was appointed a sub-commissioner of prizes. Such a demonstration of official favour cannot have harmed his prospects at Rochester where he was unopposed. He was clearly a Tory, his election being noted by the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) as a loss for the Whigs. He told on the Tory side on 28 Nov. on the East Retford election. He also followed the Tory line on 13 Feb. 1703 in voting against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the abjuration oath. Knatchbull acted as a teller on 16 Feb. in an unsuccessful attempt to add a rider relating to muster-masters to the bill raising the militia. Likewise, he was a teller the following day for adding a clause on behalf of the marines to the bill for appointing commissioners of accounts to examine the debts due to the army and navy. It seems probable that Knatchbull’s promotion of these amendments was connected to his father’s attempts to collect his own arrears of pay and half-pay for service as muster-master-general of the marines. On 19 Feb. he was teller in support of a motion adjourning consideration of a Lords’ bill concerning the prosecution of war in the West Indies until 1 Mar., by which time Parliament had been prorogued. At the beginning of the next session Knatchbull acted as a teller on 15 Nov. 1703 in favour of a motion that the Queen’s Speech be taken into consideration, the prerequisite for a vote of supply. His only other tellership during the session was on 18 Jan. 1704 when he voted to commit the bill to prevent the licentiousness of the press. In February 1704 he was made commissary-general of musters for the marine regiments (held previously by his father). He experienced no political fallout following the dismissal in April 1704 of Lord Nottingham, and may indeed by this time have been closer to Nottingham’s successor, Robert Harley*. He was forecast by Harley in October 1704 as a probable opponent of the Tack, and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. Admittedly, his official posts in the administration may have determined his attitude, especially as Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) and William Lowndes* ensured that he knew what was expected of him, but his stance on occasional conformity hardly sits well with Lord Halifax’s (Charles Montagu*) description of him as ‘a creature of Lord Nottingham’s’. Furthermore, Knatchbull’s efforts to obtain office in 1711 included a reminder to Harley that he had ‘early ’listed in your service’. Such an interpretation is borne out by Knatchbull’s social contacts: on 31 Oct. 1704 he dined at Christopher Musgrave’s* with Bishop Nicolson, George Granville* and Thomas Mansel I*, the two latter certainly part of Harley’s circle; and also by his other activities in the Commons in the 1704–5 session. On 21 Feb. 1705 he was a teller in favour of bringing up a clause at the report stage on the bill prohibiting all trade and commerce with France. On 2 Mar. he moved that a message be sent to the Lords to remind them of two supply bills, actions consistent with his being a moderate Tory placeman. On a more personal note, on 3 Nov. 1704, he brought in a bill to naturalize Louise Marie Cressett, the wife of James Cressett, the former envoy to Hanover, whom Knatchbull had served as secretary in 1694–5.5

As early as June 1704 Knatchbull had realized that his political position at Rochester was precarious, since the naval hero Sir Clowdesley Shovell* would renew his candidature. To that end he seems to have tried to activate his Finch connexions, most notably the 4th Earl of Winchilsea (Charles), the newly appointed lord lieutenant of Kent, but in vain. A note in Harley’s papers dated 14 Feb. 1705 linked Shovell and Knatchbull together, suggesting Harley’s preference for this pairing to that of William Cage* and Sir Stafford Fairborne*, who were more obvious party men. It may be that Knatchbull’s appearance (and subsequent acquittal) at Maidstone assizes in March 1705, where he was charged with assault on William Colepeper, had an adverse effect on the election. On a parliamentary list of 1705 Knatchbull was classed as a placeman, a situation which his defeat did not change. In December 1706 he was in London dining with Musgrave, Nicolson and another group of Tories, some of whom were close to Harley, notably Sir John Bland, 4th Bt.*, Sir Robert Davers, 2nd Bt.*, and James Grahme*. Knatchbull lost his post in the prize commission, probably in November 1708, when Godolphin revoked it in toto, and he was dismissed as muster-master of the marines in December 1709. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Harley’s return to power in August 1710 saw Knatchbull offering his congratulations and the opinion ‘that in this corner of the world the joy is universal’. However, any hopes of preferment were swiftly disappointed, leading to periodic approaches to Harley reminding him that Knatchbull had been ‘in the worst of times what some are only of late’.6

The death of his father in 1712 or 1713 gave Knatchbull the opportunity to reassert his family’s political primacy in the county. He duly finished in first place at the 1713 election, being accounted a Tory on the Worsley list. His first task in the new Parliament was to rescue his constituents from charges of conniving at the export of unwrought wool, by promoting a petition for a bill to prevent such exports. Having been the first Member appointed to the committee on 9 Mar. 1714, Knatchbull reported to the Commons on the 15th ten resolutions which formed the basis for a bill. This he duly presented on 31 Mar., and acted as a teller on 7 Apr. in favour of its committal. When the bill stalled, its supporters being unable to force a sitting of the committee of the whole House, Knatchbull changed tack, securing a resolution from the House on 6 May for an address to the Queen for a royal proclamation promising further rewards for information on the smuggling of wool or woollen yarn, until such time as Parliament should enact legislation. Knatchbull’s importance to the Tories in the Commons can be shown by the invitation he received on 4 Apr. 1714 to a meeting at the office of Secretary Bromley (William II*) at which the ‘Lord T[?reasurer]’, Lords Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*) and Harcourt (Simon I*), (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II* (4th Bt.) and about 30 MPs met and, at the suggestion of the peers present, agreed to ‘exert ourselves and not let a majority in Parliament slip through our hands’. To this end, twice-weekly meetings would be held ‘for a mutual confidence and that any facts we wanted to be apprised of they would furnish’. In the wake of the Commons’ vote on 7 Apr. to order a committee of the whole House for the 15th in order to consider the state of the nation with regard to the Protestant succession, Knatchbull attended another ‘private meeting at the secretary’s’ at which it was ‘agreed to push the point of the succession with vigour, notwithstanding our whimsical friends differ from us’. The following day he was present at a dinner with Arthur Moore*, Bolingbroke, Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt.*, and others when this tactic was agreed. Possibly because Knatchbull was acceptable to both Oxford and Bolingbroke, and was a respected Tory knight of the shire, it was he who moved the resolution in committee of the whole on the 15th ‘that the Protestant succession in the house of Hanover is in no danger under her Majesty’s government’, claiming in his speech that

I shall be as willing as any in punishing such ministers as have done anything against the Hanoverian succession, but if they have not been guilty of anything of that nature I shall be as vigorous in coming to a resolution that it is not in danger and in acknowledging our safety in [the] present administration.

His diary, while taking no notice of his own role, recorded that a Whig motion for leaving the chair was lost by 256 votes to 208, before the resolution was carried. On less controversial matters, Knatchbull was given leave by the House on 7 May to propose an instruction to the committee on the bill for preventing the import of fresh fish caught by foreigners, to receive a clause to prevent the drying of shotten herrings caught after 11 Nov. each year. On 27 May Knatchbull acted as a teller at the report stage of the schism bill, against an amendment that exempted Dissenters from teaching writing, ‘which I thought destroyed the bill because under the notion of writing they learn to read’. Recording in his diary on 1 June the passage of the schism bill, Knatchbull dismissed Whig charges that it amounted to persecution and was against the Toleration Act of 1689,

because the Toleration [Act] meddled not with it, it was only for scrupulous consciences in being, and that they were not to deliver them down to posterity and propagate schism, and that it was likewise pursuant to the Act of Uniformity, which we hope was not infringed by the Toleration.

Knatchbull’s tellership on 2 June, against a resolution that the money earmarked to purchase lands in Chatham for the improvement of fortifications should be paid to the proprietors, related to a long-running saga instigated by the Acts of 1709 and 1710 dealing with the purchase of land for fortifying the harbours of Portsmouth, Chatham and Harwich. The following day, 3 June, Knatchbull was one of the appointees to prepare a bill for taking, examining and stating the public debts of the kingdom, which was managed through the House by Sir George Beaumont, 4th Bt.*7

Knatchbull was defeated at the 1715 election, but regained his county seat in 1722. His drift towards Walpole made him unacceptable to the Tories in Kent in 1727, forcing him into a Cornish bolt-hole in 1728. He died on 3 Apr. 1730. Lord Egmont (John Perceval†) recorded that ‘in the Queen’s time he was a pretty warm Tory, but gradually came off from violence’. The initial part of this assessment would seem to be valid for the last session of Anne’s reign, when he attended meetings at which Bolingbroke pledged to remove every Whig from office, though his earlier career suggests a country Toryism which fitted with Harley’s schemes of moderation.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. H. M. Knatchbull-Hugessen, Kentish Fam. 97; PCC 100 Auger.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 47, 364; xxii. 427; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 388; vi. 518.
  • 3. Info. from Medway Area Archs.; Add. 42593, f. 135; F. F. Smith, Rochester in Parl. 131.
  • 4. HMC Finch, ii. 16; CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 172, 439; 1694–5, p. 73; Add. 33923, f. 466; 46534, f. 30; info. from Prof. N. Landau.
  • 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 47, 441; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 478; 1702–7, pp. 18, 182; Bull. IHR, xli. 182; Add. 61458, f. 159; HMC Portland, v. 82; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 218.
  • 6. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 17, f. 294; Add. 70334, Harley’s notes on Kent, 14 Feb. 1704–5; 70200, Knatchbull to Oxford, 6 July 1712; Luttrell, v. 523; vi. 518; Nicolson Diaries, 402; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 105; HMC Portland, iv. 568; v. 82, 296–7;.
  • 7. Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 213–6; xlvi. 180; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 1346; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 15 Apr. 1714.
  • 8. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 91.