Sir Henry Knyvett was born in Charlton, Wiltshire in 1539 to Henry Knyvett and his wife Anne. Not much is known about his early life but it is believed he was a soldier like his father. Knyvett fought during the siege of Leith against France in 1560 and after this he was frequently sent to Scotland to fight on behalf of England. Due to this Knyvett received a special commendation from Queen Elizabeth I.
Knyvett married Elizabeth Stumpe on 13th May 1563 after he returned from the wars in Scotland. They went on to have six children until Elizabeth’s death in 1585. His wife held vast amounts of land around Charlton and so upon their marriage Knyvett became an important man in Elizabethan England.
In September 1574 Queen Elizabeth I granted Knyvett a knighthood at Salisbury, whilst she was on a progress to Bristol.
Knyvett was appointed as the High Sheriff of Wiltshire in 1577 and he served as a Member of Parliament for Malmesbury on four separate occasions between 1584 and 1597.
In 1580 was caught up in a duel with Richard Mody and it was a duel that nearly cost Knyvett his life. An account was recorded regarding the duel 40 years after the event by Anthony Hungerford in an action against Sir Henry Moody, the son of Richard. It was recorded in the Court of Chancery and read;
“By reason of mortal and cruel hatred, there was a duel or single combat in Garsdon Marsh in which fight Mr. Richard Moddy did greviously and, as was supposed, mortally wound Sir Henry Knyvett, who being so wounded, the place of the fight being near the house of Antony Hungerford, was brought thither by Richard Moody and others. Moody did lead Sir Henry Knyvett by one of his arms thereunto, and find Antony Hungerford’s wife there, her husband being absent, Mr Moody did earnestly and passionately request her that Sir Henry Knyvett might lack nothing that was in the house, or that she could do to save his, and that he would see her satisfied”.
Knyvett was nursed back to health by Mistress Hungerford and he was unable to leave her home for 26 days. In that time the Queen had sent many physicians and surgeons to aide Mistress Hungerford and they had overtaken her home. Knyvett fully recovered and returned to his duties.
In 1588 Knyvett was one of the Deputy Lieutenants for Wiltshire and was responsible for raising an army to help defend the England as they were under the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada. He was called upon to arrange for 2000 armed men to be sent to attend the Queen. He was then appointed as one of the captains to help the Lord Chamberlain in London work out the best way to defend the English from the Spanish.
Following a short stint in the Fleet prison in late 1592 Knyvett wrote to the Privy Council to protest against the Lord Keeper, however, the Privy Council summoned Knvyvett and chastised him before returning him to the Fleet. Knyvett resorted to writing another letter to apologise for his actions and on 28th January 1593 he was released and returned home. Knyvett, however, despite returning to court to attend Parliaments was never regarded by the Court in the same light.
In 1595, ten years after the death of his first wife, Knyvett remarried Mary Sydenham.
England was once again under threat in 1596 and Knyvett wrote to Sir Robert Cecil his suggestions to defend the country. He had produced a pamphlet entitled ‘The Defence of the Realme,’ in it he suggested that England should retake Calais and use it as a strong hold to support the navy as he believed that many people were uneasy if the Spanish attempted another invasion as the navy was unable to patrol all English waters. He provided an estimation of numbers required and how best to train them. The pamphlet reached the Queen but like many suggestions went ignored.
Knyvett retained his position of Deputy Lieutenant of Wiltshire alongside being a Member of Parliament for Wiltshire. He spoke at the 1572 Parliament about a wide range of issues including orphans, unlawful weapons and the Queen’s marriage.
As Knyvett approached the end of his life his reputation was brought into disrepute after he was accused by an anonymous member of the Inner Temple of hiding his assets and passing his property and wealth to Lord Thomas Howard and his brother respectively, most likely to keep safe for his unmarried daughters. He was accused of attempting to defraud the Queen and the unnamed accuser wrote to Lord Burghley with the suggestion that Knyvett paid the Queen upfront what she was owed, this was unpaid rents and fines. However, upon his death on 14th June 1598 he owed the Queen £4000. Knyvett was buried on 25th June in Charlton church.