Francis Knollys (the elder)

Last updated

Sir Francis Knollys
Sir Francis Knollys.jpg
Sir Francis Knollys
Bornc.1511 or c.1514
Died15 July 1596 (aged 84 or 85; 81 or 82)
Buried Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire
Spouse(s) Catherine Carey
Father Robert Knollys
MotherLettice Peniston
Arms of Sir Francis Knollys, encircled in the belt of the Order of the Garter Coat of arms of Sir Francis Knollys, KG.png
Arms of Sir Francis Knollys, encircled in the belt of the Order of the Garter

Sir Francis Knollys, KG of Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire (c. 1511 / c. 1514 – 19 July 1596) was an English courtier in the service of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I, and was a Member of Parliament for a number of constituencies.


Early appointments

Francis Knollys was born 1511, the elder son of Sir Robert Knollys (d. 1520/1521) and Lettice Peniston (d. 1557/1558), daughter of Sir Thomas Peniston of Hawridge, Buckinghamshire, henchman to Henry VIII. [1]

He appears to have received some education at Oxford. He married Catherine Carey, first cousin (as well as possible half-sister) of Queen Elizabeth I. Henry VIII extended to him the favour that he had shown to his father, and secured to him in fee the estate of Rotherfield Greys in 1538. Acts of Parliament in 1540–41 and in 1545–46 attested this grant, making his wife in the second act joint tenant with him. At the same time Francis became one of the gentlemen-pensioners at court, and in 1539 attended Anne of Cleves on her arrival in England. In 1542 he entered the House of Commons for the first time as member for Horsham. [2]

At the beginning of Edward VI's reign, he accompanied the English army to Scotland, and was knighted by the commander-in-chief, the Duke of Somerset, at the camp at Roxburgh on 28 September 1547. [2]

Knollys' strong Protestant convictions recommended him to the young king, and to his sister the Princess Elizabeth, and he spent much time at court, taking a prominent part not only in tournaments there, but also in religious discussion. On 25 November 1551, he was present at Sir William Cecil's house, at a conference between several Catholics and Protestants respecting the corporeal presence in the Sacrament. About the same date, he was granted the manors of Caversham in Oxfordshire (now Berkshire) and Cholsey in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). At the end of 1552, he visited Ireland on public business. [2]

Mary I of England and exile

The accession of Mary in 1553 darkened Knollys' prospects. His religious opinions placed him in opposition to the government, and he deemed it prudent to cross to Germany. On his departure the Princess Elizabeth wrote to his wife a sympathetic note, expressing a wish that they would soon be able to return in safety. Knollys first took up his residence in Frankfurt, where he was admitted a church-member on 21 December 1557, but afterwards removed to Strasbourg. According to Fuller, he "bountifully communicated to the necessities" of his fellow-exiles in Germany, and at Strasburg he seems to have been on intimate terms with John Jewel and Peter Martyr. [2]

Before Mary's death he returned to England, and as a man "of assured understanding and truth, and well affected to the Protestant religion," he was admitted to Elizabeth's privy council in December 1558. He was soon afterwards made Vice-Chamberlain of the Household and captain of the halberdiers, while his wife – a first cousin of Elizabeth – became a woman of the queen's privy chamber. On the death of his mother in 1558 he took possession of Greys Court at Rotherfield Greys and undertook a remodelling of the building in 1573–74. In 1560 Knollys' wife and son Robert were granted for their lives the manor of Taunton, part of the property of the see of Winchester. [2]

Member of Parliament and other offices

In 1559 Knollys was chosen MP for Arundel and in 1562 knight of the shire for Oxfordshire. [3] He was appointed chief steward of Oxford in Feb 1564 until 1592. In 1572 he was re-elected member for Oxfordshire, and sat for that constituency until his death. The Queen granted him the manors of Littlemore and Temple Cowley. [4] Throughout his parliamentary career he was a frequent spokesman for the government on questions of general politics, but in ecclesiastical matters he preserved as a zealous puritan an independent attitude. [2]

Knollys' friendship with the queen and Cecil led to his employment in many state offices. In 1563 he was governor of Portsmouth, and was much harassed in August by the difficulties of supplying the needs in men and money of the Earl of Warwick, who was engaged on his disastrous expedition to Le Havre. In April 1566 he was sent to Ireland to control the expenditure of Sir Henry Sidney, the lord deputy, who was trying to repress the rebellion of Shane O'Neill, and was much hampered by the interference of court factions at home; but Knollys found himself compelled, contrary to Elizabeth's wish, to approve Sidney's plans. It was, he explained, out of the question to conduct the campaign against the Irish rebels on strictly economical lines. In August 1564 he accompanied the queen to Cambridge, and was created MA. Two years later he went to Oxford, also with his sovereign, and received a like distinction there. In the same year he was appointed treasurer of the queen's chamber [2] and in 1570 promoted to Treasurer of the Household.

Mary, Queen of Scots

In May 1568 Mary, Queen of Scots fled to England, and flung herself on Elizabeth's protection. She had found refuge in Carlisle Castle, and the delicate duty of taking charge of the fugitive was entrusted jointly to Knollys and to Henry Scrope, 9th Baron Scrope of Bolton. On 28 May Knollys arrived at the castle, and was admitted to Mary's presence. At his first interview he was conscious of Mary's powerful fascination. But to her requests for an interview with Elizabeth, and for help to regain her throne, he returned the evasive answers which Elizabeth's advisers had suggested to him, and he frankly drew her attention to the suspicions in which Darnley's murder involved her. [2]

A month passed, and no decision was reached in London respecting Mary's future. On 13 July Knollys contrived to remove her, despite "'her tragical demonstrations", to Bolton Castle, the seat of Lord Scrope, where he tried to amuse her by teaching her to write and speak English.[ citation needed ] Knollys's position grew more and more distasteful, and writing on 16 July to Cecil, whom he kept well informed of Mary's conversation and conduct, he angrily demanded his recall. But while lamenting his occupation, Knollys conscientiously endeavoured to convert his prisoner to his puritanic views, and she read the English prayer-book under his guidance. In his discussions with her he commended so unreservedly the doctrines and forms of Geneva that Elizabeth, on learning his line of argument, sent him a sharp reprimand. Knollys, writing to Cecil in self-defence, described how contentedly Mary accepted his plain speaking on religious topics. Mary made in fact every effort to maintain good relations with him. Late in August, when Knollys was away at Seaton Delaval, she sent him a present for his wife, desired his wife's acquaintance, and wrote to him a very friendly note, her first attempt in English composition. [2] [5] The gift was a chain of gold pomander beads strung on gold wire. [6]

In October, when schemes for marrying Mary to an English nobleman were under consideration, Knollys proposed that his wife's nephew, George Carey, might prove a suitable match. In November the inquiry into Mary's misdeeds which had begun at York, was reopened at Westminster, and Knollys pointed out that he needed a larger company of retainers to keep his prisoner safe from a possible attempt at rescue. In December he was directed by Elizabeth to induce Mary to assent to her abdication of the Scottish throne. In January 1569 he plainly told Elizabeth that, in declining to allow Mary either to be condemned or to be acquitted on the charges brought against her, she was inviting perils which were likely to overwhelm her, and entreated her to leave the decision of Mary's fate to her well-tried councillors. On 20 January orders arrived at Bolton to transfer Mary to Tutbury, where the Earl of Shrewsbury was to take charge of her. Against the removal the Scottish queen protested in a pathetic note to Knollys, intended for Elizabeth's eye, but next day she was forced to leave Bolton, and Knollys remained with her at Tutbury till 3 February. His wife's death then called him home. Mary blamed Elizabeth for the fatal termination of Lady Knollys' illness, attributing it to her husband's enforced absence in the north. [2]

Relations with Elizabeth I

In April 1571 Knollys strongly supported the retrospective clauses of the bill for the better protection of Queen Elizabeth, by which any person who had previously put forward a claim to the throne was adjudged guilty of high treason. Next year he was appointed treasurer of the royal household, and he entertained Elizabeth at Abbey House in Reading , where he often resided by permission of the crown. The office of treasurer he retained till his death. [2]

Elizabeth was a first cousin of Knollys' wife. Although he was invariably on good terms personally with his sovereign, he never concealed his distrust of her statesmanship. Her unwillingness to take "safe counsel", her apparent readiness to encourage parasites and flatterers, whom he called "King Richard the Second's men", was, he boldly pointed out, responsible for most of her dangers and difficulties. In July 1578 he repeated his warnings in a long letter, and begged her to adopt straightforward measures so as to avert such disasters as the conquest of the Low Countries by Spain, the revolt of Scotland to France and Mary Stuart, and the growth of papists in England. He did not oppose the first proposals for the queen's marriage with Alençon which were made in 1579, but during the negotiations he showed reluctance to accept the scheme, and Elizabeth threatened that "his zeal for religion would cost him dear". [2]

In December 1581 he attended the Jesuit Campion's execution, and asked him on the scaffold whether he renounced the pope. He was a commissioner for the trials of Parry the Jesuit in 1585, of Anthony Babington and his fellow-conspirators, whom he tried to argue into Protestantism, in 1586, and of Queen Mary at Fotheringay in the same year. He urged Mary's immediate execution in 1587 both in Parliament and in the council. In April 1589 he was a commissioner for the trial of Philip Howard, earl of Arundel. On 16 December 1584 he introduced into the House of Commons the bill legalising a national association to protect the queen from assassination. In 1585 he offered to contribute £100 for seven years towards the expenses of the war for the defence of the Low Countries, and renewed the offer, which was not accepted, in July 1586. In 1588–9 he was placed in command of the land forces of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, which had been called together to resist the Spanish Armada. Knollys was interested in the voyages of Frobisher and Drake, and took shares in the first and second Cathay expeditions. [2]


Knollys never wavered in his consistent championship of the puritans. In May 1574 he joined Edmund Grindal (Archbishop of York), Sir Walter Mildmay, and Sir Thomas Smith in a letter to John Parkhurst (Bishop of Norwich), arguing in favour of the religious exercises known as "prophesyings". But he was zealous in opposition to heresy, and in September 1581 he begged Burghley and Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester to repress such "anabaptisticall sectaries" as members of the "Family of Love", "who do serve the turn of the papists". Writing to John Whitgift (Archbishop of Canterbury), 20 June 1584, he hotly condemned the archbishop's attempts to prosecute puritan preachers in the Court of High Commission as unjustly despotic, and treading "the highway to the pope". He supported Cartwright with equal vehemence. On 24 May 1584 he sent to Burghley a bitter attack on "the undermining ambition and covetousness of some of our bishops", and on their persecutions of the puritans. Repeating his views in July 1586, he urged the banishment of all recusants and the exclusion from public offices of all who married recusants. In 1588 he charged Whitgift with endangering the queen's safety by his popish tyranny, and embodied his accusation in a series of articles which Whitgift characterised as a fond and scandalous syllogism. [2]

In the parliament of 1588–9 he vainly endeavoured to pass a bill against non-residence of the clergy and pluralities. In the course of the discussion he denounced the claims of the bishops "to keep courts in their own name", and denied them any "worldly pre-eminence". This speech, "related by himself" to Burghley, was published in 1608, together with a letter to Knollys from his friend, the puritan John Rainolds, in which Bishop Bancroft's sermon at St Paul's Cross (9 February 1588–9) was keenly criticised. The volume was entitled "Informations, or a Protestation and a Treatise from Scotland … all suggesting the Usurpation of Papal Bishops". Knollys' contribution reappeared as "Speeches used in the parliament by Sir Francis Knoles", in William Stoughton's "Assertion for True and Christian Church Policie" (London, 1642). Throughout 1589 and 1590 he was seeking, in correspondence with Burghley, to convince the latter of the impolicy of adopting Whitgift's theory of the divine right of bishops. On 9 January 1591 he told his correspondent that he marvelled "how her Majestie can be persuaded that she is in as much danger of such as are called Purytanes as she is of the Papysts". Finally, on 14 May 1591, he declared that he would prefer to retire from politics and political office rather than cease to express his hostility to the bishops' claims with full freedom. [2]

Domestic affairs and death

Knollys' domestic affairs at times caused him anxiety. In spite of his friendly relations with the Earl of Leicester, he did not approve the royal favourite's intrigues with his daughter, Lettice, widow of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, and he finally insisted on their marriage at Wanstead on 21 September 1578. The wayward temper of his grandson, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (son of his daughter Lettice by her first husband), was a source of trouble to him in his later years, and the queen seemed inclined to make him responsible for the youth's vagaries. Knollys was created KG in 1593 and died on 19 July 1596. He was buried at Rotherfield Greys, and an elaborate monument, with effigies of seven sons, six daughters, and his son William's wife, still stands in the church there. [2]


He married Catherine Carey, the daughter of Sir William Carey of Aldenham and Mary Boleyn in Hertfordshire on 26 April 1540. Sir Francis and Lady Knollys had a total of 15 children:

Robert Devereux son of Lettice Knollys Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.jpg
Robert Devereux son of Lettice Knollys

See also


  1. MacCaffrey 2004.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Boase, G. C. (1892). Knollys, Sir Francis (1514?–1596), politician. Dictionary of National Biography Vol. XXXI. Smith, Elder & Co.The first edition of this text is available at Wikisource:  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Knollys, Francis"  . Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 31. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. "History of Parliament" . Retrieved 27 September 2011.
  4. Lobel, Mary D. "Parishes: Littlemore Pages 206-214 A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred". British History Online. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  5. British Library: Cotton Caligula CI f.218r digital image
  6. Joseph Bain, Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1900), pp. 494 no. 792, 496-7 no. 798.
  7. gives 1542 as the year of her birth.
  8. G.E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 Volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 Volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), Volume I, p. 400, gives c. 1547 as the year of his birth.
  9. gives 1550 as the year of his birth.
  10. gives 1625 as the year of his death.
  11. gives 1552 as the year of his birth.
  12. gives 1548 as the year of her birth.
  13. gives 1553 as the year of his birth.
  14. gives 1646 as the year of his death.
  15. Richardson IV 2011, pp. 68–9.
  16. Richardson IV 2011, pp. 325–6.
  17. "Person Page".
  18. Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 Volumes (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003), Volume 2, p. 2298.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex</span> English noble and general

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, KG, was an English nobleman and general. From 1573 until his death he fought in Ireland in connection with the Plantations of Ireland, most notably the Rathlin Island massacre. He was the father of Robert, 2nd Earl of Essex, who was Elizabeth I's favourite during her later years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham</span>

Sir William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham, KG, lord of the Manor of Cobham, Kent, was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and a member of parliament for Hythe. Although he was viewed by some as a religious radical during the Somerset Protectorate, he entertained Queen Elizabeth I of England at Cobham Hall in 1559, signalling his acceptance of the moderate regime.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lettice Knollys</span> British aristocrat

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex and Countess of Leicester, was an English noblewoman and mother to the courtiers Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Lady Penelope Rich. By her second marriage to Elizabeth I's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, she incurred the Queen's unrelenting displeasure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Penelope Blount, Countess of Devonshire</span> English noblewoman (1563–1607)

Penelope Rich, Lady Rich, later styled Penelope Blount was an English court office holder. She served as lady-in-waiting to the English queen Anne of Denmark. She was the sister of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and is traditionally thought to be the inspiration for "Stella" of Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella sonnet sequence. She was married to Robert Rich, 3rd Baron Rich and had a public liaison with Charles Blount, Baron Mountjoy, whom she married in an unlicensed ceremony following her divorce from Rich. She died in 1607.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catherine Carey</span> Daughter of Mary Boleyn and lady of Queen Elizabeth I of England

Catherine Carey, after her marriage Catherine Knollys and later known as both Lady Knollys and Dame Catherine Knollys,, was chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I, who was her first cousin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Carey (courtier)</span> English courtier and favourite of King Henry VIII

William Carey was a courtier and favourite of King Henry VIII of England. He served the king as a Gentleman of the Privy chamber, and Esquire of the Body to the King. His wife, Mary Boleyn, is known to history as a mistress of King Henry VIII and the sister of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Knollys, Knolles or Knowles, the name of an English family descended from Sir Thomas Knollys, Lord Mayor of London, possibly a kinsman of the celebrated general Sir Robert Knolles. The next distinguished member of the family was Sir Francis Knollys or Knowles, English statesman, son of Sir Robert Knollys, or Knolles, a courtier in the service and favour of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Robert had also a younger son, Sir Henry, who took part in public life during the reign of Elizabeth I and who died in 1583. From the time of Sir Francis, the family were associated with Greys Court at Rotherfield Greys and Caversham Park, then in Oxfordshire, as well as the nearby town of Reading in Berkshire, where the family's private chapel could once be seen in the church of St Laurence. Lettice Knollys was pronounced the most prominent member of the family, from her birth in 1543 until her death in 1634

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury</span> English nobleman

William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury, KG, PC was an English nobleman at the court of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland</span> English noble

Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland was the younger daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex by Lettice Knollys, and the wife of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland.

Sir Christopher Blount was an English soldier, secret agent, and rebel. He served as a leading household officer of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. A Catholic, Blount corresponded with Mary, Queen of Scots's Paris agent, Thomas Morgan, probably as a double agent. After the Earl of Leicester's death he married the Dowager Countess, Lettice Knollys, mother of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Blount became a comrade-in-arms and confidant of the Earl of Essex and was a leading participant in the latter's rebellion in February 1601. About five weeks later he was beheaded on Tower Hill for high treason.

William Paget, 4th Baron Paget of Beaudesert was an English peer and colonist born in Beaudesert House, Staffordshire, England to Thomas Paget, 3rd Baron Paget and Nazareth Newton. His grandfather was William Paget, 1st Baron Paget (1506-1563).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger</span> Flemish painter (c. 1561/62 – 1636)

Marcus Gheeraerts was a Flemish artist working at the Tudor court, described as "the most important artist of quality to work in England in large-scale between Eworth and van Dyck" He was brought to England as a child by his father Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, also a painter. He became a fashionable portraitist in the last decade of the reign of Elizabeth I under the patronage of her champion and pageant-master Sir Henry Lee. He introduced a new aesthetic in English court painting that captured the essence of a sitter through close observation. He became a favorite portraitist of James I's queen Anne of Denmark, but fell out of fashion in the late 1610s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anne Knollys, Baroness De La Warr</span>

Anne West, Lady De La Warr was a lady at the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Sir Robert Knollys was an English courtier in the service and favour of Henry VII and Henry VIII.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir William Hicks, 1st Baronet</span> English Member of Parliament

Sir William Hicks, 1st Baronet, of Beverston, in Gloucestershire, and of Ruckholt, at Leyton in Essex, was an English Member of Parliament.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elizabeth Knollys</span>

Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton, was an English courtier who served Queen Elizabeth I of England, first as a Maid of Honour and secondly, after 1566, as a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. Knollys was the grand-niece of Queen consort Anne Boleyn, which made her a cousin once removed of the Queen. Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Leighton of Feckenham in Worcestershire in 1578. He served as Governor of Jersey and Guernsey.

Sir Francis Knollys of Reading Abbey, Berkshire was an English privateer and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1575 and 1648.

Sir Robert Knollys KB was an English courtier and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1572 and 1611.

Richard Knollys was an English Member of Parliament.

Sir Robert Digby PC(I) was an English courtier who owned an estate at Coleshill, Warwickshire. His marriage to Lettice FitzGerald, heir-general to the 11th Earl of Kildare, led him to spend his life litigating over her claims to the Kildare lands. He divided his time between local business in Warwickshire and in Ireland.