Knox, Thomas (1754–1840), 1st earl of Ranfurly , 2nd Viscount Northland and MP, was born 5 August 1754, eldest among seven sons of Thomas Knox, 1st Viscount Northland of Dungannon , Co. Tyrone, and his wife Anne (d. 1803), second daughter of John, 1st Lord Knapton, and Elizabeth, eldest daughter of William Brownlow (qv) of Lurgan. Thomas Knox (1729–1818), 1st viscount, was born 29 April 1729, eldest surviving son among three sons and seven daughters of Thomas Knox (1694–1769), landowner, of Ballycruly, Co. Down, and afterwards Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, MP for Dungannon (1731–69) and deputy governor of Co. Tyrone, and Hester Echlin Knox (d. c.1766) of Ardquin, Co. Down. He entered St Mary Hall, Oxford, in 1747 and was MP for the family borough of Dungannon (1755–81) and governor and custos rotulorum of Co. Tyrone; in 1768 he stood unsuccessfully for Co. Tyrone. Initially he opposed the government, influenced by leading opposition figures such as Brownlow and Edmond Pery (qv) (his wife's sister's husband). In 1773 he was described by a government official (probably Sir John Blaquiere (qv)) as ‘totally independant [sic] and a man not much liked’ (Bodkin, 215). He was, however, considered amenable to government patronage and from the mid 1770s began to support the administration, voting in 1780 against Patriot motions for legislative independence. Raised to the peerage of Ireland 8 January 1781 as Baron Welles of Dungannon, apparently on the recommendation of Lord Hillsborough (qv), he was created Viscount Northland of Dungannon on 5 July 1791. He and his eldest son Thomas were members of the first Orange lodge established in Dublin on 4 June 1796, and the family also had close connections with Orange lodges in Tyrone. He supported the act of union and was a representative peer for Ireland (1800–18), supporting the tories. He died 5 November 1818 at Dungannon Park. His brother John Knox (1740–91) was collector of excise for Dublin city and MP for Dungannon (1769–76). Neither brother was known for his parliamentary oratory, and both supported proposals for catholic relief in 1774.
The 2nd viscount, Thomas Knox, entered Christ Church, Oxford in 1770. He was sheriff of Co. Tyrone (1779), foreman of the Tyrone grand jury (1792), lieutenant-colonel of the Tyrone militia (1793–4), joint weighmaster for Cork (1791–4), a trustee of the linen board (1795), and MP for Carlingford, Co. Louth (1776–83) by purchase, and for Dungannon (1783–90), and Co. Tyrone (1790–97, 1806–12). He generally supported the government, opposing legislative independence and parliamentary reform in the early 1780s; he voted for catholic relief (1778, 1793), but opposed it in 1795. His support for government was rewarded when he was appointed, with his brother Vesey, joint prothonotary of commons pleas for Ireland (1794–1814), which carried a salary of £10,000 a year. Until 1794 he enjoyed the patronage of Lord Abercorn (qv), the local political magnate, for whom he acted as a parliamentary manager. However, he alienated Abercorn for life by resigning his commission in the Tyrone militia, leading Abercorn to complain bitterly that ‘he considers everything merely as the job of the day’ (Blackstock, 217).
He and William Richardson (qv) were co–founders of the Dungannon Association on 12 July 1796, an armed loyalist body founded to counter the growth of the United Irishmen in Co. Tyrone. Both men strongly pressed the government to encourage the foundation of similar associations and were the leading figures behind the government's decision to found an Irish yeomanry in September 1796. The plan aimed to mobilise all loyal citizens, including recently formed Orange lodges, against republican disaffection. His efforts were partly due to a genuine concern at growing disaffection in Ulster but he also recognised the opportunities to increase his political influence presented by the establishment of a broad-based force such as the yeomanry. Knox was commissioned captain of both the Dungannon and Killyman yeoman infantry corps on 31 October 1796. By December 1796 he claimed that his own yeomanry corps had restored order in the Dungannon district, and it continued to do so up to the rebellion of 1798.
Between 1797 and 1806 he was unable to secure a parliamentary seat because of Abercorn's opposition, but in 1806 with the support of Grenville's government he defeated Sir John Stewart (qv) in Co. Tyrone. He generally supported the Grenvillite opposition, except on sinecure and parliamentary reform and the catholic question. In a rare speech on 25 May 1810 he claimed that he was sympathetic to catholic claims, but because of instructions from constituents he could not support an emancipation bill that did not include a government veto on episcopal appointments; however, he defied his constituents to vote in favour of relief in April 1812. He succeeded to the viscountcy in 1818, on the coronation of William IV was created a UK peer 6 July 1826 as Baron Ranfurly of Ranphorlie, Co. Renfrew, and was raised in the Irish peerage to earl of Ranfurly 14 September 1831. As a peer he voted for catholic emancipation in 1829 and for the reform bill in 1832.
He lived mainly at 31 Upper Grosvenor St., London, till 1823, when he moved to France (his other residences were Farmhill, Dungannon, Park, and Northland House, Dawson St., Dublin). He died 26 April 1840 at his residence in the Place Vendôme, Paris, and was buried 18 May at Dungannon.
He married (2 June 1785), at St Thomas's in Dublin, his cousin Diana Jane Pery (d. 1839), eldest daughter of Edmond Sexten Viscount Pery, speaker of the Irish house of commons (1771–85); they had five sons and a daughter.
His eldest son Thomas Knox (1786–1858), later 2nd earl of Ranfurly (1840–58), was MP for Tyrone (1812–18) and Dungannon (1818–30, 1837–8), usually opposing the government. He started out in favour of catholic emancipation but by 1814 supported the suppression of the Catholic Board and thereafter generally opposed catholic relief; his brother Lt–col. John James Knox (1790–1856) was MP for Dungannon (1831–7).
The 2nd viscount's brothers were John Knox (qv); Vesey Knox (1760–1830), captain in the 32nd Regiment; William Knox (1762–1831), bishop of Killaloe (1794–1803) and bishop of Derry (1803–31), well known for his philanthropy; George Knox (qv); Charles Knox (1770–1825), MP for Dungannon (1797–9), and later archdeacon of Armagh – his son Robert Bent Knox (qv) was archbishop of Armagh (1886–93); and Edmund Knox (1801–84), bishop of Limerick (1834–49).