Knightley brothers: William Knightley and Matthew Knightley

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There is ample evidence that William Knightley had a brother called Matthew. It’s not just in Visitations and printed pedigrees, but in documents too.

William Knightley of Norwich

William Knightley practised law in Norwich from the 1490s into the 1540s. He didn’t study at Oxford or Cambridge, and if he studied at the Inns of Courts, we won’t know because their admissions registers don’t go back before the early 1500s. His first wife was the daughter of another Norwich lawyer, Andrew Pawe, who was town clerk for Norwich, and clerk of the peace for Norfolk.

We know from various sources that William Knightley had several children by two wives: by his first wife, Margaret Pawe, he had Lettice, Audrey, Elizabeth and Winifred, and by his second wife Agnes Hare, Katherine and George. The Knightleys appear in the Essex Visitation of 1558, and it doesn’t mention Margaret Pawe, stating that all of William’s children were Agnes’ (or “Anne”, as it names her). However, if we look at the wills of Knightley’s brothers-in-law, it soon becomes clear which children were born to which mother. Margaret’s brother of Belaugh by Wroxham names his nieces Lettice, Audrey, Elizabeth and Winifred, and Agnes’ brother Sir Nicholas Hare names his niece Katherine and his nephew George.

Meanwhile Matthew was a priest, and had no children. He tells us in his will that he was born in “Bruyde”, Staffordshire – this is Brewood, about 9 miles south Gnosall where the Knightleys once held sway. He may well have attended the chantry school in Brewood too. He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, receiving his BA from Cambridge in 1598/9, and MA in 1502/3. Then in 1509 and 1510 he received B.Can.L from Oxford – I assume this is a bachelor of canon law. He was the Rector of Cossington in Leicestershire and Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire, but it seems he lived in Cossington as his will mentions the curate of Fowlmere, and he chose to be buried in Cossington.

The chantry school in Brewood was closed in 1547 by the Dissolution of the Chantries Act. Matthew, along with Sir Thomas Gifford, re-established the school in 1553 as a grammar school, which still exists. I will come back to the connected with Brewood and Sir Thomas Gifford when discussing William and Matthew’s parents.

The key document is Matthew Knightley’s will, written on 21st June 1560, a year before his death in July 1561.[1]Matthew was buried at Cossington, Leicestershire, on 12th July 1561, and his will (Leicestershire archives) was probated on 19th July 1561. Among several bequests, he left money to his nephew Mr Robert Cooke (husband of William Knightley’s daughter Winifred), his “niece Gaudie” (Audrey, who had married Thomas Gawdey), and his niece Mistress Cardinall – Lettice, wife of William Cardinall of Great Bromley.

Another document that shows they were brothers is the will of John Danyell of Felsted, Essex, written in 1518.[2]PCC, written 1 May 1518, probate 22 January 1518/9. John names “Doctor Knightley and William Knightley, his brother” as his nephews, but also as his cousins. Again, I’ll come back to this when discussing William and Matthew’s parents. The huge Knightley pedigree in Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica (I’ll discuss this as before)a also calls Matthew DD – Doctor of Divinity, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence from the universities for Matthew being a doctor. Perhaps having three degrees impressed his relatives.

In his will, Matthew mentions a William Knightley, to be left a legacy “if he be alive.” Bearing in mind his brother William Knightley had died in 1548, it seems unlikely that the William he mentions in the will is his brother. Of course, there’s nothing to say they hadn’t had a terrible falling out, but if they had, would he still leave legacies to William’s children? I wonder if William is in fact a son of William Knightley, who for some reason wasn’t mentioned in the Visitation or pedigrees. Then again, there is some evidence that there was another brother, Thomas – and William could be his son.

Thomas Knightley: the other brother

The 1558 Essex Visitation names Thomas Knightley as son and heir of William and Matthew’s parents, implying he’s the oldest. And the pedigree in Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica names him as the son and heir too. The pedigree gives extra information: that he had illegitimate children with Mistress Ringley, and their family were in France.

This could explain who William Knightley in Thomas’ will was – if he was in France, it would explain why Matthew qualified the legacy with “if he be alive”, because he wouldn’t easily know. William is mentioned just before Matthew mentions his brother’s children, which implies that William was a nephew. He was definitely a relative, of course, given his surname.

Other bequests from Matthew’s will – and clues

Between mentioning William Knightley, and the children of his brother, Matthew mentions a Thomas Thorpe. The position in the will suggests he is something to do with Matthew’s family, although Matthew doesn’t specify. A quick search across archives on The National Archive’s Discovery catalogue throws up a couple of Thomas Thorpes in Leicestershire, so of course, this legatee may have been a friend, rather than family.

Matthew left legacies to several servants and former servants, but he also mentions another relative: his cousin Dorothy Shirley (spelt Shurleye in the will). He mentions Anne Shirley, his goddaughter, and makes Mr Francis Shirley of “Stanton” supervisor of his will. This is Francis Shirley of Staunton Harold in Leicestershire, who married Dorothy Gifford, daughter of Sir John Gifford of Chillington in Brewood. As we know, Matthew (and perhaps William and Thomas too) was born in Brewood. Some of the other names in Matthew’s will – Dorothy Bronckysbye and Thomas Babington – are connected to Dorothy Gifford/Shirley too. These are clues which could – maybe – help to untangle the identity of William, Matthew and Thomas’ parents.


1 Matthew was buried at Cossington, Leicestershire, on 12th July 1561, and his will (Leicestershire archives) was probated on 19th July 1561.
2 PCC, written 1 May 1518, probate 22 January 1518/9.