KNATCHBULL, Sir John, 2nd Bt. (c.1636-96), 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



1685 - 1687
1689 - 1695

Family and Education

b. c.1636, 1st s. of Sir Norton Knatchbull, 1st Bt.†, of Mersham Hatch by 1st w. Dorothy, da. of Thomas Westrowe, Grocer, of London.  educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1652; I. Temple 1655.  m. 17 Jan. 1659, Jane (d. 1699), da. and coh. of Sir Edward Monyns, 2nd Bt., of Waldershare, Kent, 3s. d.v.p. 9da (7 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 5 Feb. 1685.1

Offices Held

Commr. sewers, Denge marsh Oct. 1660, Walland marsh Dec. 1660; corporations, Kent 1662–3; recusants 1675; freeman, New Romney 1660.2

Commr. privy seal 1690–2.3


After sitting in the Convention of 1660, Knatchbull had to wait 25 years before returning to Parliament. In the interim he played a leading role in county affairs as a member of various local commissions and as a deputy-lieutenant and j.p. The family had close links with the Finches, Knatchbull’s younger brother Thomas (later 3rd Bt.) serving as secretary to Heneage Finch†, successively lord keeper and lord chancellor. The Finch connexion may also explain why Knatchbull stood in 1680, albeit unsuccessfully, for election to the post of Levant Company ambassador to Constantinople, in succession to Sir John Finch (the lord chancellor’s younger brother). From his own evidence, Knatchbull resigned his commission as major in the militia two to three years before the death of Charles II, although he was still being referred to by this rank in February 1685. His father, dying just three days before Charles II, bequeathed his political interest to Knatchbull, who was returned to Parliament at the general election held six weeks later.4

Although linked to the Finches and, through marriage, to the Berties, Knatchbull’s politics were not unequivocally Tory. For example, his diary records that on 5 Nov. 1679 he gave half a crown ‘to the burning of the Pope as I came through London’. However, such gestures of anti-popery sit well with his opposition to James II’s religious policies and his determined espousal of the cause of the Prince of Orange. As a leading figure in the county his role was crucial in 1688, and potentially embarrassing, when the fleeing James II was captured at Faversham. When Heneage Finch, 3rd Earl of Winchilsea, proposed to rescue James, Knatchbull refused to accompany him. If the King subsequently were to have escaped, he wrote afterwards,

it would have been looked on as my advice; and though the prince might have been pleased with the event, I had little reason to expect any thanks for it; nay, according to the methods of state, it might have proved the ruin of me and my family.

Before the Revolution Knatchbull had been ready to contest an election with his partner of 1685, Sir William Twisden, 3rd Bt.* However, Twisden’s own equivocal attitude towards the Revolution, made plain by his refusal to sign the Association in defence of William, put Knatchbull in a difficult position. He realized that a renewal of the electoral alliance was unlikely to yield success at the polls, but did not repudiate Twisden. In the event Knatchbull was returned with Hon. Sir Vere Fane. Subsequently, he came to blame the political ambitions of his brother-in-law, Sir Edward Dering, 3rd Bt.*, for dividing the county, a suspicion confirmed by Dering’s actions in soliciting support for the next election as early as January 1689.5

While a member of the Convention, Knatchbull was approached by Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) in December 1689, as part of Nottingham’s drive to demonstrate to the King the strength of the Church party and thus encourage the creation of a much more Tory-inclined ministry. At their first meeting, on 1 Dec., Knatchbull was critical of the hard line taken by Convocation and stated that before Nottingham’s strategy could work the Church of England needed to ‘understand one another better’. When the two men resumed their conversation on 25 Dec. Knatchbull again voiced his suspicions of the Church party as being ‘the same persons that had all along in this Parliament opposed this King accepting the crown’. Nor was Knatchbull pleased with Nottingham’s hints of office should he agree to join him. Knatchbull clearly retained his independence, voting for the Sacheverell clause on 10 Jan. 1690, while fending off the attempts of Hon. Heneage Finch I* to draw him into the other lobby. As Knatchbull confided to his diary, he would not ‘list myself . . . of the Devil Tavern Club’. Later, in January 1690, Knatchbull accepted for his brother the office of commissary of the marine regiments, and in February he was himself appointed as a commissioner of the privy seal. Rather surprisingly, it was the Marquess of Halifax (Sir George Savile†), not Nottingham, who promoted his claims to office. Indeed, Knatchbull was afraid the latter would ‘sit on my skirts and give the King a character of me because of that which had passed between him and myself’. Halifax’s backing makes it unwise to construe Knatchbull’s appointment as a move by the King towards the Tories, rather than the employment of another ‘moderate’ man in the run-up to a general election.6

Initially, Knatchbull felt that his office might ‘in some measure affect my election for the county’, but the only challenger, Sir Stephen Lennard, 2nd Bt.*, declined a poll. In an analysis of the new Parliament the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) classed Knatchbull as a Whig, thereby confirming the distance that was generally perceived to separate Knatchbull from those Tories who were pushing for power. Possibly due to his administrative duties in the privy seal office, Knatchbull was not as active in this Parliament as he had been in the Convention. Despite his office, Knatchbull was classed as a Country supporter by Robert Harley* in April 1691. Perhaps this analysis took into account Knatchbull’s opposition to some Tory policies. It would certainly explain why he did not receive another office after February 1692 when the privy seal was taken out of commission, particularly as it was Nottingham’s friends who were generally favoured in the reshuffle. Despite his dismissal from office, Knatchbull was included on a list of Court supporters drawn up by Carmarthen in 1692. However, the fact that Knatchbull’s name appeared twice in this list, against that of both the Earl of Westmorland (his former colleague as knight of the shire, Sir Vere Fane) and Lord Nottingham, suggests confusion as to which was the best person to engage his support. His only recorded intervention in debate occurred on 11 Nov. 1692 when he supported Sir Thomas Clarges’* request that Admiral Edward Russell* explain the failure to follow up the victory at Barfleur and why English merchant ships were not better protected. Since the alternative target for attack was Secretary Nottingham, Knatchbull’s intervention can be seen as supporting a leading minister or, perhaps, a less partisan request for the matter to be investigated in the committee on the state of the nation, scheduled for the following day. On Grascome’s list of the spring of 1693, extended to 1695, Knatchbull was noted as a Court supporter and placeman. He clearly intended to contest the county in 1695 but pulled out from the election on the eve of the poll. He died on 15 Dec. 1696, aged 60, reportedly leaving a great estate to two daughters. The baronetcy, and presumably Mersham, went to his brother, Thomas.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Add. 5520, ff. 257–8; Berry, Kent Gens. 298–9.
  • 2. Centre Kentish Stud. New Romney bor. recs. NR/AC2, f. 429.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 956, 1828.
  • 4. HMC Finch, ii. 16; HMC 7th Rep. 478; Add. 33923, f. 435; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 26.
  • 5. H. M. Knatchbull-Hugessen, Kentish Fam. 58; N. and Q. ser. 3, vi. 21; Add. 33923, ff. 456–64.
  • 6. Add. 33923, ff. 464–5; H. Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, 108.
  • 7. Add. 33923, ff. 468, 480; 70081, newsletter 16 Nov. 1695; 5520, ff. 257–8; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 76–77, 105; A. Browning, Danby, iii. 182–3; Luttrell Diary, 218; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/49, John Verney* (Ld. Fermanagh) to William Coleman, 17 Dec. 1696.