Lives of the fellows

William (Sir) Knighton

b.1776 d.11 October 1836
BART MD St And(1797) MD Aberd(1806) LRCP(1806)

Sir William Knighton, Bart., M.D., G.C.H., was born at Beer Ferris, co. Devon, in 1776, and received his early education at a school at Newton Bushel, on leaving which he was placed with his uncle, Mr. Bredall, a respectable surgeon apothecary at Tavistock. He continued his studies at Guy’s hospital, and in 1796 settled at Devonport, under the patronage of Dr. Geach, then in extensive private practice there, and surgeon to the Royal Naval hospital at Plymouth, who, in 1797, procured for him the appointment of assistant-surgeon to that hospital, and obtained for him the degree of doctor of medicine, apparently from the university of St. Andrews.

In 1803 Dr. Knighton determined to remove to London and commence practice as a physician, but finding on his arrival that his medical education had not been in conformity with the requirements of the College of Physicians, he decided on proceeding to Edinburgh, where he spent two years, and on the 21st April, 1806, was created doctor of medicine by the university of Aberdeen.

Dr. Knighton returned to London, and was admitted a Licentiate of the College 25th June,1806. He took the house in Hanover-square previously occupied by Dr. Hallifax, and very soon got into good business, chiefly, but not exclusively, as an accoucheur. In July, 1820, he accompanied the marquis Wellesley in the capacity of domestic physician on that nobleman’s embassy to Spain, whence he returned with his noble patient in October. Dr. Knighton then resumed his professional duties, and soon repaired the inconvenience occasioned by his absence, which had fortunately proved of shorter duration than had been anticipated. His medical position in London was soon established. Indeed it would be impossible in the history of the profession to find another physician who, in so short a space of time, and so early in life, rose to so high an eminence in public favour as did Dr. Knighton. The ready insight into character, profound sagacity, and commanding power over the minds of others, which so remarkably distinguished him, will doubtless explain it.

On Lord Wellesley’s retirement from office, he asked and obtained for Dr. Knighton the appointment of physician to the Prince Regent. Some time before this he had become acquainted with Sir John McMahon, by whom he was speedily admitted to terms of intimacy, and they continued on the most confidential footing until the death of the latter, who left Knighton his executor. Among the papers which thus came into his possession were several relating to some private affairs of the Prince Regent. Instead of endeavouring to turn this circumstance to any profitable account, Knighton instantly carried the documents to Carlton-house, and placed them at once, without comment or condition, in the hands of the rightful owner. From that hour may be dated his admission to royal favour; the Prince, struck at once with the importance of the benefit, and with the delicate manner in which it had been conferred, appointed Knighton to an important office in the duchy of Cornwall, on the 1st January,1813, raised him to the baronetage, and at a later period presented him with the grand cross of the Guelphic Order. Sir William Knighton’s medical reputation was now at its zenith, and his business continued very extensive until 1822.

On the elevation of Sir Benjamin Bloomfield (who had succeeded Sir John McMahon in the office of private secretary to the Prince Regent) to the peerage, and his mission to Sweden, Sir William Knighton, who had previously been a frequent visitor, now became an inmate at Carlton-palace, and was invested with the offices of private secretary and privy purse, appointments which he retained till the death of George IV. From the time of his accepting these appointments he of course wholly abandoned practice, but he still retained his intimacy with several members of his profession, some of whom were indebted to him for many acts of kindness and consideration. Sir William Knighton died at his house in Stratford-place 11th October, 1836, in the sixtieth year of his age, and was buried at Kensal-green.

Sir William Knighton "was unquestionably a man of excellent talents, but he was still more conspicuous for his fine sagacity and knowledge of the world. His success in life was remarkable; such was at one time his interest at court that it is quite certain he might have commanded almost anything which the highest influence in the empire could bestow, yet he never showed himself either avaricious or greedy of honours. He was scrupulously punctilious in all the observances and etiquettes of society; but, amid the polish which his manners and his character received from the circumstances into which he was thrown, he still retained unimpaired the impress of his early friendships."(1) The Memoirs of Sir William Knighton, Bart., G.C.H., &c., including his correspondence with many distinguished personages, by his widow, lady Knighton, appeared in 1838 in two volumes octavo.

William Munk

[(1) Medical Gazette.]

(Volume III, page 39)

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