Charlotte Frost’s biography of Sir William Knighton, who was not only an accomplished physician and obstetrician during the Georgian era, but also rose to become George IV’s advisor on all things, puts the record straight about the life of a man who was envied and mistrusted in his time because of his immense influence at court.
Her introduction is just that, and is a model for other biographers in that it actually does introduce the characters; rather important in this case as there were five William Knightons, three Dorothea/Dorothy Knightons, two Dora Seymours and two Michael Seymours, all of whom are given aliases at the start, such as ‘Grandfather Knighton’, so you know throughout who is being referred to. This introduction also contains useful information about other characters whom the reader will meet, as well as some background data on sources. Very useful and a good idea in preparing the reader for the story to come.
The author has consulted many fresh sources to give an accurate picture of Knighton’s career, showing us along the way many aspects of Georgian life which will be of great interest to researchers and writers on this period. Undertaking such a biography is always a labour of love, and as such the author deserves our support and thanks.
Born the son of a Devonshire yeoman farmer, he never showed great brilliance but built up his knowledge of medicine and his practice slowly and methodically. He was in some ways something of a plodder, but his integrity and his preparedness to work hard for the good of his patients, together with his apprenticeship to an apothecary, gained him experience and confidence which other doctors may have lacked. It was this reliable quality which was eventually to make him indispensible to the regent, as his doctor and then as controller of his finances.
There is only one existing biography – the Memoirs, which was mainly written in Knighton’s lifetime and published after his death by his wife. It therefore naturally presents a picture biased in his favour, and omits anything controversial. Against that must be set all of the lampoons and the political machinations by those, such as the Duke of Wellington, who conspired to bring him down from his position of power. As far as we know he maintained a dignified silence in the face of these blandishments.
In his later years he was frequently sent by George IV on arduous European missions, some of which were quite trivial, while others required delicate negotiations such as the buying up of foreign bonds taken out years ago by the debt-ridden prince and his brothers. He was a constant and reliable friend. By the King’s death in 1830 he was himself almost worn out by all of this, but fortunately was allowed a few years of peaceful retirement before his own death.
The book is highly readable and meticulously researched, and presents a balanced view of Knighton which is long overdue. A late chapter analyzes the stories of his detractors and presents a full picture of the criticisms that were levelled at him during later life and after his death. Although some of these stories are not proved or disproved, the main body of the book convinced me that the subject was a clever, resourceful, conscientious and loyal man. Knighton has now been rehabilitated, and Charlotte Frost has with this work done him (and us) a great service.