John Knyvett of Plumstead, eldest son of Jane Knyvett, was ancestor of the Berners line. Jane had never assumed the Baronial dignity. Her grandson, Thomas, obtained from the Commissioners for the Office of Earl Marshall an acknowledgement of his right to the title but his attention was diverted to other matters and he did not pursue the matter further. His grandson, Thomas, pressed his claim, but the outbreak of the Civil War completely destoryed any chance of revival of the Barony in his lifetime. The title was not claimed until 1720, when it was confirmed upon Katherine, wife of Richard Bokenham, 7th in descent from Jane Knyvett. Katherine died without issue, in 1743, and the title became abeyant until 1832, when it was confirmed upon Robert Wilson, son of Elizabeth Knyvett. The title passed to Henry Wilson, then to his son, Henry William Wilson, who was succeeded by his niece, Emma Harriet Wilson. Emma Wilson married Sir Henry Thomas Thyrwhitt, and the title passed to her son, Raymond Thyrwhitt, who was succeeded by his son Gerald Hugh Thyrwhitt. On the death of Gerald Thyrwhitt in 1950 the title passed to his daughter, Vera Ruby Thyrwhitt, the present Baroness.1
On Jane's death in 1562 her grandson, Thomas, succeeded to the greater part of her inheritance. Born about 1539, knighted 40 years later, he lived under five sovereigns. In 1579-80 he acted as High Sheriff of Norfolk. He married Muriel, daughter of Sir Thomas Parry, Treasurer of the household of Queen Elizabeth, and appears to have been a person of cultivated tastes. In his large library of printed books and manuscripts every branch of learning was represented. The majority of his manuscripts were later added to the famous collection of John Moore, Bishop of Norwich, and thus found their way to the Cambridge University Library.
His grandson, also Sir Thomas Knyvett, born in 1596, the son of Sir Thomas Knyvett and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, gained belated fame when his letters to his wife written between 1620 and 1644, edited by Mr Bertram Schofield, Ph.D., were published by Constable, London, in 1949. Written in a breezy style in the midst of troubles which were to rend the kingdom into two warring factions and lead to the execution of Charles the First, the letters rank among those that will henceforth be quoted in histories when a little contemporary colour is required to light up the dull chronicle of events.
Before the quarrel between King and Parliament came to a head, Knyvett loved the country life at Ashwellthorpe, occasionally visiting London on various errands of litigation. In 1614 he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge. In 1620 he married Katherine, daughter of Thomas, 5th Baron de Burgh, and we are dependent on his absences from her "at the Pen distance", to use his own words, for these letters. His affection for his young wife was evident in the addresses and subscriptions on the letters. The bearers of his letters read such directions as these:
To his deere wife mis Knyvett give these. To his most assuered wife mis Katherine Kynvett give these any wher wher she is. To his truly, fidely, cordially beloved wife mis Katherine Knyvett these.
Mistress Knyvett found at the end of the letters such subscriptions as:
Thy deere loving husband. Thy loving husband who love thee more than his owne life. Thy faithfull deer friend. Thy humblest servant. Thy assuered loving husband till death. Thine in all conditions.
Best of all one letter ends:
I am only sory that this night I faile of my expectation which was to sleepe with thee in my armes, which is, I confess, a Just punishment for my long vagarye, but my comfort is I hope thou art not inexorable. So deer hart, I long to se thee. Thy true loving though wandring Boye, T. Knyvett.
He opens with explanations and excuses for his absences, some of which are less frank than this one:
Deare harte, my best love, remembred unto the. Take it not ill that I come not home, for I am in a place wher we have excellent sport and I cannot gett away yett. To morrowe night I wilbe at home, god willing. In the meane time god in heaven keepe us both.Farewell.
His chief business at this period seems to have been to pursue his claim to the Barony of Berners. In London he does shopping commissions for his wife.
I have bespoken thee (he writes) a delicate hatt and White fether for so it must be, only it shall have a little tippe of yr captaines coullers.
I can assuer thee, heer is not one coullerd gowne of 40 worne, but all Blacke with coullerd forebodys & kirtle.
All the wear at Court is plain white aprons among the great ladies.
In 1621 he mentions preparations for the projected marriage of the Spanish Infanta with Prince Charles:
For newes the Kings Chappell at Whithall is curiously painted and all the images newe made and a silver crusifix amaking to hange therin, against the spannish Ladys coming.
The breakdown of the Spanish marriage negotiations, however, rendered the preparations unnecessary.
In May, 1625, he witnessed James the First's funeral:
I did se the Funerall for nothinge. If it had cost me any monye I showld have been very sorye, for I never sawe a thinge worss performd for the order of it, and that which was most unsufferable, some of the Duke of Buck: men tooke away the cloth of state which the kings bodye showld have layen upon in the charriot that it was fainte to lye upon the bare charrit.
In 1625 he speaks of the plague, which was second only in gravity to that of 1665:
The plauge doe much increase heare, which make my cousin and I to keepe our selves in our chamber but when we must needs. I have dined and supped but three times out of my chamber since I came.
In 1632 we catch a remarkable glimpse of the Star Chamber at work under Charles:
I must Admonish you of that which I have longe desierd that by all means in the world you strictly observe fastinge days with out any kind of Fleash at all either hot or colde. The consequence is as much as my undoing, if I be Questiond for it, for heer have been divers sorely fined in the Starr Chamber allreadye. Heer was one mr Palmer of Kent was fined a thousand pound for coming to live in towne, being a Bachellor. This a busines much pried into. For my parte I hope this not much concerne me, if I can but keepe my wife at home.
The events that followed are familiar history. The "ship-money" tax was revived: a tax imposed on sea-coast counties to provide a fleet in time of war, it was imposed by Charles on inland counties in time of peace. The legality of the tax was tested in court and upheld. With the coming to power of the Parliamentary party it was resolved to make an example of Strafford, one of the King's ministers, and he was tried and executed.
In 1637 Thomas Knyvett attempted to attend a session of the great ship money trial but, although he "was up by peepe of the day I was so farr from getting into the roome that I could not get neer the doore by 2 or 3 yards."
At the great Strafford trial he was more successful, and has left a long account of the proceedings. He wrote to his wife on 31st March, 1641:
The Lord Strafford's trial hath continued 10 days debate and yet scarce gone through half the 28 articles in his charge ... He answered the first 3 or 4 days' charge with good equal opinion of the auditors, but since he hath flagged much. How he speeds this day I have not yet heard, for I durst not go myself to the court having taken physic yesterday. The King and Queen have not missed one day, since it began.
A glimpse of the King's growing unpopularity and the religious unrest is seen in a letter dated 18th May, 1642:
The King have not his full expectation from the Yorkshire men, yet thay have admitted him a Gaurd of a 1000 foote & 200 horss, to attend his Person ... Poore King, he grows still in more contempte & slyghte heer every day then other; and no render when the reverence & worshipp of the King of Kings comes to be constr'd superstitious and Idollatrus, yet no worshipp to much for the sons of men.
There was never much doubt about Knyvett's royalist sympathies, as seen in a letter to his wife in 1643 -
God in mercy turne ther harts that are so obstinat that wilbelieve nothing that comes from so gratiouse a Prince, though he hath ingag'd his soule in all the obligations of a Christian -
but he was never in favour of settlement of the dispute between King and Parliament by force of arms. It was, therefore, perhaps just bad luck that he happened to be in Lowestoft, waiting to cross to Holland, at the time of the Lowestoft Rising, an unsuccessful plot by a handful of Royalists against the Parliamentary forces. His own account of it is as follows:
.... but it so fell out, while I was in this towne, Collon: Cromwell, the nowe Lod Prot: brought horss & foot against it, & uppon his first summons all the gentlemen strangers waulkt out of the towne & yeelded themselves with out the least opposition whereof myself was one.
He was imprisoned, with other Royalists, for two months in Windsor Castle for an imputed participation in the rising. The prisoners arrived at the castle without a change of clothing and were herded together with one bed for 7 persons. Their material discomforts, however, were somevhat mitigated by the solicitude of their fair attendants. He made use of this on one occasion when he had been scolded by his wife:
I had no such Language in Windsor Castle. Ther wear better bred gentlewoemen And more tender harts that would melte into Teares of compassion in our Armes. Take heed of sending me thether againe.
Knyvett had influential friends, one of whom was Elizabeth Hampden, an aunt of Oliver Cromwell. He wrote to his wife:
If you write any thing to mis Hambden, I praye let it be only to use her interest to Corronell Cromwell that I shall be fayerly treated hear 'till we shalbe releast.
With the help of such friends he was able to convince the Parliamentary party of his innocence and after two months' imprisonment was released.
It was not long before he was under suspicion and in trouble again, and his estate was under sequestration for a year before it was discharged. He wrote to his wife on 12th April, 1644:
I have been let bloode & purg'd, and much need I had of it, my bloode being growne so hot & furious againe, which is no miracle considering the continuall vexation this world affords.
For his escape from the grasping hands of the Parliamentary Committees, Knyvett owed much to the influence and interest of Cromwell. He later had the opportunity of rendering a return service, and Cromwell's letter to him, seeking the small favour, is reproduced in Carlyle's Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell.
Thomas Knyvett died in 1658, aged 62. He did not live to see the revival of the family fortunes with the restoration of Charles the Second.
Despite the favours received from Cromwell, in his epitaph, composed by himself, Kynvett left no doubt about which side he was on:
Here lyes loyal Knyvet, who hated Anarchy,
Liv'd a true Protestant and dyed with Monarchy.
1 Debrett's Peerage Knightage and Companionage, 1953