Knightley, Richard (1533-1615) (DNB00)
KNIGHTLEY, Sir RICHARD (1533–1615), patron of puritans, born in 1533, was the eldest son of Sir Valentine Knightley (d. 1566) of Fawsley, Northamptonshire, by Anne (d. 1554), daughter of Edward Ferrers of Badesley Clinton, Warwickshire. The Knightleys were descended from an old Staffordshire family, one branch of which settled in Northamptonshire, where they acquired numerous estates and vast wealth. Richard's father, Sir Valentine, was knighted at the coronation of Edward VI. His brother, Sir Edmund Knightley (d. 1542) (Richard's uncle), serjeant-at-law, was one of the chief commissioners for the suppression of religious houses. He was of a litigious temperament, and for obstructing the king's claim to some property in 1532 was committed to the Fleet. A curious letter to Cromwell begging for release is in the State Paper Office (September 1532). He made a very distinguished marriage with Ursula, widow of George, son of Andrew, lord Windsor, and sister and coheiress of John Vere, earl of Oxford. Between 1537 and 1542 he seems to have built the hall of Fawsley House. Dying on 12 Sept. 1542, he was buried at Fawsley (Northamptonshire Notes and Queries, i. 119–20).
Richard succeeded to landed property producing 13,000l. a year. He was knighted at Fotheringay in 1566 by the Earl of Leicester, with whom he seems to have been intimate. He was sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1568–9, 1581–2, and again in 1589, when he was present in his official capacity at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. He was twice M.P. for the town of Northampton (in 1584 and 1585), and twice (in 1589 and 1598) for the county.
Knightley is said to have led a gay life in youth, but the family had always leaned to the reformed religion, and he ultimately became a rigid puritan.
In 1567, under Leicester's patronage, letters patent were granted making Knightley and others governors of the property of the ministers of the gospel in Warwickshire (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 304). When, in 1588, Penry and other advanced puritans began their determined onslaught on episcopacy by secretly issuing the tracts which they subscribed ‘Martin Mar-Prelate,’ they found a patron and abettor in Knightley. The travelling printing-press, whence came the famous tracts of Martin Mar-Prelate, was in the autumn of 1588 concealed in Knightley's house at Fawsley, and in a small upper room there, late in the year, the ‘Epitome,’ by Mar-Prelate, was printed. The press was removed after Christmas to Knightley's house at Norton, and was finally seized by the Earl of Derby in February 1588–9 at Manchester. Many arrests followed, and Knightley's complicity was discovered by the confessions of his servants. He was arraigned before the Star-chamber ‘for maintaining seditious persons, books, and libels’ on 31 Feb. 1588–9. Archbishop Whitgift, who had himself been a chief object of Mar-Prelate's attack, generously interceded for Knightley with the queen, and procured his release (see proofs against Sir R. Knightley, Lansd. MSS. ccxxxviii. 327; Strype, Whitgift, ii. 511; Arber, Introduction to the Martin Mar-Prelate Controversy, pp. 114, 129–30). In February 1605 Knightley appears once more as a champion of the puritan party, when he, with two of his sons and other gentlemen of Northamptonshire, signed a petition against the suspension of the nonconformist ministers in his county. For this he was severely rebuked, was fined 10,000l. by the Star-chamber, and was deprived of his posts as lieutenant of Northamptonshire and commissioner of the peace (Cal. State Papers, James I, Dom. 1603–10, pp. 193, 435). An undated letter of thanks to Salisbury for the composition of this fine, and for some favour to his son, is also in the State Papers (ib. 1611–18, p. 130). Knightley and Sir Francis Hastings [q. v.] signed about 1608 a petition to parliament on behalf of the Roman catholics, hoping indirectly to benefit their own party by advocating religious toleration. Knightley died, aged 82, at Norton, 1 Sept. 1615, and was buried there with his second wife (d. 1602).
By his first wife, Mary, daughter of Sir Richard Fermor of Easton Neston, whom he married in 1556, he had three sons and three daughters; by his second wife, Elizabeth Seymour, youngest daughter of the protector Somerset, seven sons and two daughters. Knighthood was conferred on four of his sons: Valentine (d. 1618), Francis (d. 1620), who was cupbearer to James I, Seymour, and Ferdinand, who saw much foreign military service and was highly favoured by the electress. Through the extravagance of his elder sons, Sir Valentine and Edward (d. 1598), much of the Knightley property was sold and alienated during Sir Richard's lifetime; in 1591 a final settlement was made, and the estates of Fawsley and Byfield were entailed upon his eight sons and his three brothers successively with their heirs male. The eldest son, Sir Valentine, who was sharply reprimanded for signing the Northamptonshire petition in 1605, inherited Fawsley, and on his death in 1618 it descended to his brother Edward's son Richard [q. v.]
There are two portraits of Sir Richard, at the ages respectively of thirty-three and eighty, at Fawsley Manor House.
[Fuller's Church History, ed. 1845, p. 131; Strype's Annals, Clar. Press, vol. iii. pt. ii. pp. 102, 602; Heylyn's History of the Presbyterians, p. 280; Baker's History of Northamptonshire, i. 380, 385; Betham's Baronetage, iv. 386; Excerpta Historica, p. 18; Northamptonshire Notes and Queries (1886), i. 120.]