William, a younger son of Edward Knyvett and Jane Bourchier, was the ancestor of the Knyvetts of Fundenhall in Norfolk, who continued to reside there until, according to Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, one of their descendants removed to London. He was a cabinet maker employed at Buckingham Palace in the reign of George II. Though never known to have made a piece of furniture, he had plenty of money to play at cards at the taverns he frequented. The Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, was a frequent visitor at his house. The solution to this mystery, according to Knyvett records, was that Charles was the paramour of the Princess Elizabeth, in which role he was acceptable by reason of his descent from the Plantagenet kings of England. The cabinet-making was a mere pretence to afford him access to her apartments.
Charles the Cabinetmaker was the father of Charles Knyvett, organist and composer to George III, who purchased an estate at Sonning near Reading, Berks.1 Born in 1752, he was one of the principal alto singers at the Commemoration of Handel in 1784, and was also engaged at the Concert of Ancient Music. He was appointed a gentleman of the Chapel Royal on 6th November, 1786. In 1791 he, in conjunction with Samuel Harrison, established the Vocal Concerts, which they carried on until 1794. On 25th July, 1796, he was appointed an organist to the Chapel Royal, and a few years later resigned his former post. He died in 1822.
This Charles had three sons, Charles, Henry, and William. Charles and William both distinguished themselves in the musical field. Charles received his vocal deportment and musical education under S. Webbe. He was appointed organist to the parish Church of St. George, Hanover Square, in 1802. He was also the Director of the vocal concerts in Hanover Square conjointly with his brother, William Knyvett, and Messrs. Greatorex and Bartleman. Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, in a note on Charles, adds: "The family is ancient and can be traced to the Conqueror."
William, the youngest brother, was described as an eminent counter-tenor singer equally admired for the sweetness of his voice and the high finish and delicacy of his style in part-singing. Both Charles and William were considered to be among the very few English singers remarkable for correctness in the musical enunciations of the words of our language. William first commenced orchestral singing at the Concert of Ancient Music about 1795, after which he assisted in all the most important concerts and music meetings in London and the provincial towns. His glees were described as "airy and elegant". He was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1797, Lay Vicar of Westminster Abbey, and succeeded Arnold as composer to the Chapel Royal in 1802. He conducted the concerts of Ancient Music 1832-40, the Birmingham Festivals 1834-43, and the York Festival in 1835. He composed the famous song "The Bells of St. Michael's Tower" and also the anthems for the coronations of George IV and Queen Victoria.4 He married Sarah Delaney.5 His son Francis, who migrated to Australia in 1852, is the subject of the next chapter.
Of the descendants of Charles, a grandson, Edward Ferrers Knyvett (born 1833, son of the Reverend Charles William Knyvett, Chaplain to Queen Victoria), migrated to Queensland. Officially a surveyor, he is described by one of his descendants as having spent his life playing cricket against the Englishmen and dabbling in grazing. His sons included Frank Berners Knyvett (later Colonel Knyvett D.S.O., D.C.M.) subject of the famous Knyvett case, of which the defense was published in book form, and R. Hugh Knyvett, author of "Over There with the Australians". The latter received a fine tribute from Roosevelt, writing in the "Independent", who called him a "Modern Galahad". "No man", he said, "could look at his face and not see that he combined, as few men do, the daring and the iron courage of the born fighter, with the singularly gentle and lofty idealism, the same intensity of spirit which made him so formidable a foe in personal combat, also made him one of the most convincing and effective speakers who ever stirred to action souls that had been but half awake." Both of these brothers died without issue. Another brother, Percy Gordon Knyvett, well known as a Stipendiary Magistrate in Queensland until his death in 1955, had two sons, Dr. Alan Ferrers Knyvett, now Assistant-Superintendent of the General Hospital in Brisbane, and Squadron-Leader Geoffrey Gordon Knyvett, of Mallala, South Australia.
Living descendants of Henry are Carey John Knyvett, Bishop of Selby, and Major John Seymour Knyvett of Guildford, grandsons of Carey Seymour Knyvett, banker, of Waterloo Place.
A compilation entitled "Descendants of the Royal Houses of England - A list of persons entitled to quarter the arms of the Royal Houses of England" (C. E. Long, London, 1845, J. B. & J. G. Nichols) includes:
Elizabeth of York, daughter of King Edward the Fourth. George, Duke of Clarence, second son of King Edward the Third. Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, second son of King Edward the Third. John of Gaunt. Duke of Lancaster, third son of King Edward the Third. Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, fourth son of King Edward the Third. Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of King Edward the Third.
Among the descendants of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, appear:
Descendants of Sir Thomas Bourchier, youngest son of Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex, eldest son of William, Earl of Eu, and Anne Plantagenet.
Descendants of John Bourchier, Lord Berners, fifth son of William, Earl of Eu, and Anne Plantagenet, viz. Lord Berners.
Descendants, if any, of Edmund Knyvett, Keeper of the Lions in the Tower, second son of Sir Thomas Knyvett of Ashwellthorpe, senior, was married, but no issue given.
Descendants of William Knyvett, of Fundenhall, Norfolk, son of Edmund Knyvett and Jane Bourchier, viz: Charles Knyvett, of Sonning, near Reading, Berks.
Henry John Knyvett, of the Home Office. Carey Seymour Knyvett, of Waterloo Place, banker. Frederick Knyvett, Captain in the East India Service. Felix Knyvett of Chester, Solicitor. - sons of Henry Knyvett, brother of the said Charles Knyvett.
William Knyvett, Composer to Her Majesty's Chapel Royal, brother of the said Charles Knyvett.
Mr. Long's work is prefaced by the remarks:-
It is not pretended to offer, in this compilation, a perfect list of the parties entitled to quarter the Royal Arms - the attempt would be impracticable. That the claimants to the right will hereafter be very greatly augmented is undeniable, and that is exactly what it is desired may be the case. The researches necessary for the purpose would almost amount to a postponement of the publication sine die, and it has therefore been deemed the better plan to print what has already been established, and to consider the present collection as a basis for future operations.
The varied fortunes of many of these inheritors of the royal coat, and their singular juxta-position with others springing from the same stem, form a rather remarkable feature in the work. If the investigation were pursued still further, there is every possibility that the princely blood of Plantagenet would be found to flow through veins even more humble than some of those which are here recorded. This is as it should be. There is no prescriptive right to interminable gentility, any more than of great talents or personal attractions.
"Misery", we are told, "makes people acquainted with strange bedfellows"; but we had yet to learn that a coheirship in the coat-armour of this potent kingdom would present such a motley group of claimants, now, for the first time introduced together to drink at the same fountain of honor. Dukes and Butchers -Grand-Dukes and Shoemakers - Emperors and Saddlers' Apprentices - and still the line may stretch out hereafter to some "high-born Beggars", tendering their tickets of admission to the honours of the royal shield. Such is this strange and startling assemblage!
1 Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies.
2 Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians
3 The Musicians' Dictionary.
4 Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians
5 Registrar-General's Records, Sydney (Death of Francis Knyvett)