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Knyvet, Sir Edmundlocked

(c. 1508–1551)
  • Stanford Lehmberg

Knyvet, Sir Edmund (c. 1508–1551), landowner and member of parliament, was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Knyvet (c. 1485–1512) of Buckenham Castle, Norfolk, and his wife, Muriel (d. 1512), daughter of Thomas Howard, second duke of Norfolk, and widow of John Grey, second Viscount Lisle. His father was a prominent courtier (he was master of the horse) who was killed in a sea battle near Brest in August 1512. The family's extensive estates in Norfolk and Suffolk were still in the hands of Edmund's great-grandfather Sir William Knyvet, who did not die until 1515. Edmund's wardship was then purchased by his father's friend Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, who had also been the guardian of Knyvet's half-sister Elizabeth Grey. It appears that Suffolk subsequently sold Knyvet's wardship to Sir Thomas Wyndham, who at his death instructed his executors to sell it on to Anthony Wingfield for £400 or, failing that, to the highest bidder. It was not only the fact that he was a minor that delayed Edmund Knyvet's entering upon his inheritance. Edmund's long-lived great-grandfather had married as his second wife Joan, daughter of the first duke of Buckingham, and he left Buckenham Castle and other lands in Norfolk to his eldest son from this marriage, Sir Edward Knyvet. It was not until the latter's death in 1528, followed by that of his heir Robert, that the family lands reverted to Edmund, who secured them only in 1533. At his death they were valued at about £215 a year.

It was principally as a Norfolk landlord that Edmund Knyvet made his mark. In the early 1530s he warned the third duke of Norfolk that the parishioners of Mendelsham, Suffolk, a village of which he was himself the absentee landlord, were holding large assemblies as members of an independent Christian brotherhood, and in 1536 he joined Norfolk in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace. Knighted in 1538 or 1539, he was involved in the election of knights of the shire for Norfolk for the parliament of 1539: the king and his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, favoured Edmund Wyndham and Richard Southwell, but Knyvet coveted election himself and, always irascible, was angered when he was not chosen. He quarrelled so violently with Southwell that bystanders, fearing public disorder, brought the two men before the duke of Norfolk, who bound them in £2000 each to keep the peace. In a letter to Cromwell, Norfolk described Knyvet as a young man who trusted too much to his wit and was ruled by three or four 'light naughty knaves of Welshmen and others' rather than by his father-in-law (Sir John Shelton) and the duke (LP Henry VIII, 14/1, no. 800). In November 1539 Knyvet was named sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, possibly in an attempt to mollify him. He attended Norfolk at the reception of Anne of Cleves early in 1540. In April that year he was licensed to buy the chantry or college of Thompson, near Thetford, with its estates in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and a year later he had a formal grant of them. But almost at once he sold them to John Flowerdew and Edmund Grey.

Late in April 1541 Knyvet again showed his hotheadedness, when he was charged with striking Thomas Clere, a servant of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, within the king's tennis court. A recent statute had stated that anyone guilty of such violence at court should have his right hand struck off, and arrangements were made to inflict the penalty—the statute specified in detail how this should be done, the king's master cook wielding the knife and the sergeant of the poultry providing a cock to test its sharpness. Possibly because Knyvet begged to have his left hand amputated instead, so that his right might still do the king good service, he received a pardon before the blow could be struck. In January 1546 he was required to serve with 200 men in the army that Henry VIII was preparing for his war with France.

Increasingly at odds with the Howards, and especially with the earl of Surrey, Knyvet testified against the latter when he was charged with treason in December 1546. On this occasion he also claimed to have urged Surrey to speak no ill of the dead when in 1540 the earl was exulting over the execution of Thomas Cromwell. Knyvet benefited from the disgrace of the Howards, receiving a lease of some of their lands, including the Norfolk manor of Wymondham, and purchasing additional estates from the king. In 1547 he was finally elected to the Commons as a knight of the shire for Norfolk. He successfully withstood the Norfolk rebels in 1549, and went on to serve under John Dudley, earl of Warwick, in the suppression of Ket's rebellion. He died in London on 1 May 1551, before the end of the parliament. His very brief will, made on 18 April 1550, left all his goods and chattels to his wife, Anne, the daughter of Sir John Shelton of Carrow, Norfolk. He was survived by his wife and two sons, and settled a manor on the younger son. Although he named his wife and John Flowerdew executors of his estate they renounced the duty and administration was granted to his elder son, Thomas. Despite his bad relations with the Howards it is possible that Knyvet was the poet ‘E.K.’ who contributed several verses to the famous anthology compiled by Mary Shelton (Knyvet's sister-in-law) which also included poems by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Surrey. Knyvet's younger brother Sir Henry was a gentleman of the privy chamber and in 1540 was sent as ambassador to Charles V.

Knyvet has often been confused with his uncle, another Sir Edmund Knyvet (d. 1539), the second son of Edmund Knyvet of Buckenham Castle and his wife, Eleanor, a sister of Sir James Tyrell. This Sir Edmund, the younger brother of Sir Thomas Knyvet, was sergeant-porter to Henry VIII and received several grants from the king, including an annuity of 50 marks, a manor in Northamptonshire, a lease of land in Shropshire, and the office of receiver of revenues from Denbigh. Through his marriage to Joan, the only surviving child of John Bourchier, second Baron Berners, he acquired the manor of Ashwellthorpe, Norfolk. He was a great-nephew of Christian Knyvet, the mother of John Colet, the dean of St Paul's, and was named in Colet's will as his chief heir should the dean's mother not survive him (which she did). As porter at the gate he attended Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold. He died in 1539 and was buried at Ashwellthorpe.


  • LP Henry VIII, vols. 1–21
  • will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/34, fol. 229v
  • D. MacCulloch, Suffolk and the Tudors: politics and religion in an English county, 1500–1600 (1986)
  • C. Wriothesley, A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors from ad 1485 to 1559, ed. W. D. Hamilton, 2 vols., CS, new ser., 11, 20 (1875–7)

Wealth at Death

£215 p.a.: HoP, Commons, 1509–58, 2.482–3; will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/34, fol. 229v

Camden Society
J. S. Brewer, J. Gairdner, & R. H. Brodie, eds., , 23 vols. in 38 (1862–1932); repr. (1965)
S. T. Bindoff, ed., , 3 vols. (1982)
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London