Cornelia Knight

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Ellis Cornelia Knight (1757 – 17 December 1837, Paris) was a writer and painter who socialized with many of the notable personalities of the late reign of George III: Horatio Nelson, Sir William and Lady Hamilton, the Prince Regent, the Princess of Wales, and the Princess Charlotte.[1]


Knight's father, Sir Joseph Knight, had a long career in the British Navy and was knighted by King George III; when he died in 1775, he was Rear Admiral of the White. Her mother was a well-educated woman known for her skill at conversation. Cornelia went to London College where she learned Latin and other European languages.

Upon her father's death, Knight and her mother were left with only a small income; to make the most of it they moved to the Continent. They were living in Naples in 1798 when word came of Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile. They participated in the estatic celebrations of that victory when Nelson arrived in Naples, and became good friends of the Hamiltons and Lord Nelson.

After her mother died in 1799, Knight was invited to accompany the Hamiltons and Lord Nelson on their return journey to England. During this trip she became increasingly uneasy about the warmth of the relationship between Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson. Once back in England, Knight settled independently, writing and making frequent visit to friends. She was appointed companion to Queen Charlotte (1805) and to a similar position, later, in the household of Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales (1813).

In 1805 her reputation as a learned author of highly respectable character earned her an invitation to join the household of Queen Charlotte. Knight was with the Queen as the King's mental capacity declined and a Regency was established. In 1812 she became Companion to Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales, holding this post until the Regent fired her in 1814 for imagined lapses of judgement.

In 1818 she became a teacher of English, literature, science and fine arts to the young Massimo Taparelli, the Marquis d'Azeglio, who was an important Italian writer, painter, patriot and politic. He mentioned Cornelia in his d'Azeglio's Memoirs (1867), in chapter XIV where d'Azeglio met Knight in 1818 at Castelgandolfo. The last twenty years of her life were spent outside England, and she died in Paris.


Knight published five works in her lifetime:

  • Dinarbas (1790), a continuation of Samuel Johnson's Rasselas
  • Marcus Flaminius: a view of the military, political, and social life of the Romans in a series of letters from a patrician to his friend (1792), a romantic epistolary novel set in ancient Rome during the reign of the emperor Tiberius.
  • A Description of Latium, or La Campagna di Roma (1805), with her own etchings
  • Translations from the German in Prose and Verse (1812)
  • Sir Guy de Lusignan, a Romance (1833)

At her death she left behind an incomplete autobiography and a journal. Her autobiography is a most valuable source of information for the court history of those days. The most important statements in the work were edited and published posthumously in 1861.


  1. ^  "Knight, Ellis Cornelia". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Roger Fulford, ed., The Autobiography of Miss Knight, Lady Companion to Princess Charlotte (1960)
  • Barbara Luttrell, The Prim Romantic: A biography of Ellis Cornelia Knight, 1758-1837 (1965)

External links[edit]