Knight, William (1476-1547) (DNB00)

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KNIGHT, WILLIAM (1476–1547), bishop of Bath and Wells, born in London in 1476, entered Winchester School as a scholar in 1487, and proceeded in 1491 to New College, Oxford, where he became fellow in 1493. He afterwards proceeded D.C.L. 12 Oct. 1531 (Reg. Univ. Oxf., Oxf. Hist. Soc., i. 166). In 1495 Knight went up to the court, where Henry VII is said to have made him one of his secretaries. He was frequently employed as an ambassador in the reign of Henry VIII. On 3 June 1512 he went with Sir Edward Howard to Spain, and, after many dangers from storms and sickness, reached Valladolid 18 Feb. 1512–13. He had received (30 Jan.) a commission dated 13 Dec. 1512, authorising him and John Stile to treat with Ferdinand of Aragon about the defence of the church. A long letter from Stile and Knight in cipher (of 3 March) is preserved in the British Museum (Cotton. MS. Vesp. C. i. 30). Knight remained at Valladolid till June 1513. On 3 April 1514 he was at Mechlin on the first of a long series of embassies to the Low Countries (cf. letter in Cotton. MS. Galba, B. iii. 13). Wingfield and Spinelly were with him (18 April), and on 12 June he was at the Hague with Sir Edward Poynings. In July he seems to have visited Switzerland (cf. misdated letter ib. Vesp. F. i. 54). Probably to better qualify him for diplomatic work, as well as in reward for past services, he received, on 14 July 1514, a grant of arms (party per fess or and gules, an eagle with two heads displayed sable; on its breast a demi-rose and a demi-sun conjoined into one, counterchanged of the field). In the grant he is described as prothonotary.

In May 1515 Knight is styled chaplain to the king, and in that month Henry lent him 100l.; in the same year he became dean of the collegiate church of Newark, Leicestershire. On 7 May he was appointed ambassador with Sir Edward Poynings to Prince Charles (afterwards Charles V), to renew the league of 9 Feb. 1505. They had a conference with Tunstal, 23 May, at Bruges, and an audience with Charles at Bergen-op-Zoom on 29 May. He remained in Flanders during the rest of 1515, and, like most of Henry's servants, found himself in pecuniary straits (cf. Letters and Papers, Henry VIII, ii. i. 1235). In February 1515–16 the treaty had been concluded (cf. Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 533, 539). He probably came to England in 1516, as he was in that year collated to the prebend of Farrendon-cum-Balderton in the cathedral of Lincoln (Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 150). On 30 Dec. 1516 he was, in company with the Earl of Worcester, again appointed ambassador to the emperor (for his instructions see Letters and Papers, ii. i. 2713), and he had an interview with Charles, 22 Jan. 1516–17. Throughout 1518 he was English representative to the Lady Margaret in the Low Countries, and sailed home from Calais 15 Feb. 1518–19. As one of Henry's chaplains and clerk of the closet he was at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 (Rutland Papers, Camden Soc., p. 33); and seems to have been made prebendary of Llanvair in Bangor Cathedral in the same year (Le Neve, i. 120). On 10 June 1520 he was commissioned, with Sir Thomas More, John Hussee, and Hewester, to settle the disputes between the English merchants and the Teutonic Hanse, and went again to the Netherlands (cf. Letters and Papers, iii. i. 868, 974). Sir Richard Wingfield, writing from Oudenard, 28 Oct. 1521, reported that Knight was to take his place as ambassador to the emperor (ib. iii. ii. 1712), but it seems (ib. iii. ii. 1777) that the emperor objected to his low birth, and expressed a preference for Wingfield's brother, Sir Robert (ib. iii. ii. 2033, February 1521–2). Knight made a journey on diplomatic business into Switzerland in 1522; went on an embassy to the empire respecting the woolstaple, and was (11 Nov.) admitted archdeacon of Chester. In 1523 he concluded with the Duke of Bourbon a treaty against France (ib. iii. ii. 3123, instructions; 3203, 3225, account of the journey), but was back at Brussels in August. On 11 Sept. 1523 he was appointed archdeacon of Huntingdon (Le Neve, ii. 52). The next few years he chiefly passed in Flanders. About August 1526 he became secretary to the king.

In 1527, though he complained that he was old and losing his sight (Letters and Papers, iv. ii. 3360), Henry decided to send him to Rome to promote the divorce. Wolsey thought Jerome de Ghinucci, bishop of Worcester, would have been better suited for the work (ib. iv. ii. 3400). On 10 Sept. Knight saw Wolsey at Compiègne, and by his direction went on to Venice to watch for an opportunity to get access to the captive Pope Clement VII (ib. iv. ii. 3420; cf. 3422–4, 3497). The journey was dangerous from the disposition of the Spaniards, but he managed to get a safe-conduct by the aid of Gambara the prothonotary. He was, however, well-nigh murdered at Monterotundo (4 Dec. 1527), and when he entered Rome all that he could do was to send in his letters of credence with a minute of what the king wished (ib. iv. ii. 3638; cf. Froude, Catherine of Aragon, p. 51). On 19 Dec. 1527 Knight, while still in Italy, was made canon of Westminster. By the end of December, Jerningham wrote that the secret of Knight's negotiation had not been so well kept as it should have been, and that the emperor now knew Knight's business, and had written to the pope accordingly (Letters and Papers, iv. ii. 3687). Full instructions were thereupon sent to Knight, with a commission to Wolsey and another, which, if signed by the pope, would have empowered them to settle the divorce (ib. iv. ii. 3693; 3694, copy of bull). On 1 Jan. 1527–8, the pope being now at liberty, Knight visited him at Orvieto, and after Cardinal St. Quatuor (to whom two thousand crowns were given) had made some alterations in the commission, the pope signed it (ib. iv. ii. 3749). Leaving for England, Knight was ordered back to Orvieto when he had reached Asti, but he appears to have arrived in London in February 1528 (ib. iv. App. p. 146). He seems to have admitted the failure of this embassy (ib. iv. ii. 4185), and went (13 Dec. 1528), with some misgiving, on another mission with Benet to Montmorency, to confer about Italian affairs, and was instructed to proceed thence again to Rome (ib. iv. ii. 5023, 5028, 5148–50; 5179, their instructions). On 31 Jan. 1528–9, however, Gardiner joined Knight and Benet at Lyons and brought new instructions; Knight went back to Paris and acted through March and April with Sir John Taylor (master of the rolls) as ambassador; in June Suffolk and Fitzwilliam were with him. On 30 June 1529, Knight, with Tunstal, More, and Hacket, arranged the treaty of Cambray (ib. iv. iii. 5744). He was at the convocation of Canterbury of 1529, and was admitted archdeacon of Richmond on 7 Dec. (Le Neve, iii. 141).

In February 1532 Hacket and Knight were appointed to treat with the emperor's commissioners about commercial intercourse, and the hope was expressed that they were well instructed, as they would have to meet ‘the polytikist felows in all this londe.’ The embassy did not bear much fruit (Letters and Papers, v. 804, 843, 946, 1056). Knight held at this time the rectory of Romald Kirk, Yorkshire. In November 1533 he had difficulties as to jurisdiction with the Archbishop of York, who, he writes, ‘deals very unkindly with me,’ and ‘cursed my official,’ Dakyn, the vicar-general (ib. vi. 1440). The archbishop offered to submit the dispute to arbitration (ib. p. 1441). On 30 Jan. 1535 Knight was a commissioner for collecting the ecclesiastical tenths, and on 15 Oct. 1537 was present at the christening of Edward VI.

On 29 May 1541 he was consecrated bishop of Bath and Wells, in succession to John Clerk [q. v.] (Le Neve, i. 144), and he resigned all his other preferments. At Wells Fuller relates that he built a market cross with the assistance of Dean Woolman. He died in 1547 at Wiveliscombe, Somerset, and was buried in Wells Cathedral next to Sugar's Chapel, where a pulpit which he had erected and which bears his arms served as a monument.

Knight was a faithful servant of Henry VIII, and a useful diplomatist of the old school, which regarded dissimulation as one of the requisites of success. He was a patron of Henry Cole [q. v.], whose education he seems to have paid for, and Cole calls him ‘my master’ (Letters and Papers, x. 321, xi. 573). When in London Knight lived in a house in Cannon Row, Westminster, afterwards (1536) assigned, in accordance with an act of 27 Henry VIII, to the bishops of Norwich. By his will he left money to Winchester and New Colleges.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 752; Cassan's Bishops of Bath and Wells, i. 447, distinguishes Knight from William Knight of Merton College, Oxford, who lived about the same time; Fuller's Worthies, ed. 1662, p. 205; State Papers, Henry VIII; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England, ii. 284, gives a character; Strype's Memorials, I. i. 86, 136, 188, II. i. 9, III. i. 452; Cranmer, pp. 77, 135; Thomas's Hist. Notes; Syllabus to Rymer's Fœdera; Nicolas's Privy Purse Expenses of Hen. VIII, p. 118; authorities quoted.

W. A. J. A.