Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Knight, John (1612-1683)

KNIGHT, Sir JOHN, ‘the elder’ (1612–1683), mayor of Bristol, third son of George Knight, provision merchant, by his wife Anne, daughter of William Dyos, was born in Bristol in 1612. He inherited his father's business in Temple Street, and became one of the most prosperous merchants in the city, and a prominent high church member of the common council. He was knighted by Charles II on 5 Sept. 1663, on the occasion of the king's visit to Bristol, and was elected mayor in the same year. His tenure of office was distinguished by his persecution of quakers, Knight paying large sums to have their houses watched, and concerting measures with Guy Carleton [q. v.], bishop of Bristol, for their punishment. Nine hundred and twenty persons are said to have suffered for their religion during his mayoralty, and many moderate churchmen were scandalised by the mayor's rushing out of church on Sundays in pursuit of recalcitrant nonconformists. Knight's intolerance, however, only increased with years, and in 1669 he denounced the other members of the common council, including his namesake, John Knight [see Knight, John, fl. 1670, under Knight, Sir John, ‘the younger’], who was mayor of Bristol in the following year, as ‘fanaticks.’ He took a prominent part in the reception of Queen Catherine in 1677. In 1680, ‘by reason of his infirmity,’ he desired the city to nominate some other persons to take care of their affairs in the common council, but though he no longer had any official status he still occasionally acted as an informer. His antipathy to Roman catholics was quite as strong as that against protestant nonconformists, and in 1681 he was fined for an assault, and for calling several members of the common council ‘papists, popish dogs, jesuits, and popish devils.’

He had in the August of the previous year acted as emissary from William Bedloe [q. v.] to Chief-justice North previous to the latter's receiving Bedloe's dying deposition, and it is apropos of this that Roger North sums him up as ‘the most perverse, clamorous old party man in the whole city or nation’ (Examen, p. 253). Knight represented Bristol during the parliaments of 1661, 1678, and 1679, and was highly indignant at not being re-elected in 1681. He died in 1683, and was buried in the Temple Church, Bristol. By his wife Martha, daughter of Thomas Cole, esq., of Bristol, he left three sons and eight daughters.

[Le Neve's Knights, p. 175; Barrett's Bristol, p. 695; Seyer's Memoirs, ii. 543; Evans's Chronological Hist. p. 245; Garrard's Life and Times of Edward Colston, pp. 278, &c.]

T. S.