KNOLLES, Thomas (d.1435), of London.
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Family and Education
m. ?by 1371, Joan (d.1431), 19 ch.1
Warden of the Grocers’ Co. 1387-8; master July 1431-2.2
Alderman of Dowgate Ward 12 Mar. 1393-7, of Cordwainer Street Ward by 5 Mar. 1398-d.; auditor of London 21 Sept. 1393-4, 1395-6, 1398-9; mayor 13 Oct. 1399-1400, 1410-11.3
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1394-5.
Commr. of oyer and terminer, London and Mdx. Jan. 1400, London July 1411 (treasons and felonies); inquiry Mar. 1400 (concealment of deodands), Jan. 1412 (liability for taxation), Dec. 1412, Jan. 1414 (lollards at large), Feb., July 1418 (estates of Sir John Oldcastle*); gaol delivery Jan. 1411; to confiscate goods from alien merchants bef. Feb. 1413.4
Collector of the wool custom, London 18 Nov. 1400-6 Oct. 1401.
Jt. treasurer for the wars 25 Mar.-14 Nov. 1404.5
This distinguished MP was probably the Thomas Knolles who, in the late 1420s, claimed to have been cheated of property left to him in West Cheap, London, by his father, Richard Knolles. He may well have been a kinsman of Sir Robert Knolles, one of Edward III’s captains in France and a defender of the City during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381: the two men were clearly on close terms, because on making his will in 1389 Sir Robert named Thomas among his executors.6 Whatever his early background, Knolles had already by this date served a term as warden of the Grocers’ Company. In July 1388 he stood surety before the chamberlain of London for another member of the guild; and over the next five years he was twice called upon to audit accounts compiled by the guardians of young orphans in the City. As ‘a citizen of London of the better sort’, he was one of the four leading parishioners of the grocers’ church of St. Antholin to nominate successive chaplains to a chantry there, despite opposition from the bishop of London, who in 1397 pressed a rival candidate upon them.7 Two years later Knolles and his wife obtained papal indults allowing them to make use of a portable altar and enjoy plenary remission of sins as often as they pleased, concessions which reflect the grocer’s growing social status. His position in the City was in part achieved through commercial success, and although not much evidence of his business dealings has survived it is evident that he was able to invest large sums of capital in his various enterprises, albeit sometimes with little hope of immediate repayment. In 1400, for instance, he was owed £244 by John Gedney (the grocer), who had defaulted upon a bond, and not long afterwards John Alceter, a mercer from Worcester, promised to pay him £40, which he also failed to do. Together with the Cornish tin merchant, John Megre*, Knolles claimed a debt of £20 from Sir Henry Ilcombe* and three others in April 1403: he may have done other business with Megre, since the latter chose him subsequently to act as his executor. Meanwhile, in September 1402, he stood surety for the Genoese merchant Angelo Cyba, who had been summoned to appear at the Guildhall; and he then performed a similar service in Chancery for the executors of Thomas Stanley.8
Knolles’s increasingly generous loans to the Crown also suggest that his fortunes were rising steadily throughout this period. He lent £100 to Richard II at some point before 1397, but in common with most Londoners he was reluctant to offer him credit after this date. He was, on the other hand, more than willing to assist Henry IV, who borrowed heavily from him. Between 13 July 1400 and 9 June 1410 Knolles pledged at least 15 sums ranging from £20 to 500 marks (often on the security of the London customs of which he was himself a collector from 1400 to 1401). It is now impossible to calculate how much money he advanced altogether, although the King was rarely less than £100 in his debt at any one time. The £200 which he promised Henry V for his second expedition to France in 1417 was one of the largest sums then contributed by any individual citizen of London, and was to be repaid out of the wool subsidy due after February 1420. Knolles provided additional finance to the tune of £267 in May 1421; and five years later he joined with a group of Londoners to lend £130 to the Crown. In December 1429 he cashed tallies at the Exchequer for the £100 which Henry VI then owed him, but so far as is known this marks the end of his involvement in government borrowing. Only once, in December 1421 does he appear to have supplied the royal household with merchandise, but it is none the less possible that he also offered the Crown financial help in the form of goods supplied on credit. Certainly, in the summer of 1415, the receiver-general of the duchy of Lancaster was ordered to pay him £200, although the terms of the transaction are not recorded.9 His affairs were, indeed, generally managed on an impressive scale. Some 12 years later, for example, John Reynwell* came before the court of aldermen to recognize a debt of 500 marks which was due to Knolles within a period of four months, and which, for once, appears to have been honoured in full. The payment of £62 made by our Member to the wardens of the Grocer’s Company at about this time was probably a donation towards the cost of building a new hall in Coneyhope Lane, and as such distinguishes him as one of the most outstanding benefactors of the scheme. The company records show that he remained active as a grocer until the end of his life, with a number of young ‘bachelors’ of the guild under his direction, as well as his son, Thomas, who eventually took over the family business.10
A substantial part of Knolles’s income seems to have been invested in land. By 1412 he enjoyed an annual income of about £38 from property in the City alone; and in the year after his death his eldest son, who had inherited most of his estates, was said to receive £120 a year from holdings both in and out of London. At the end of his life, Thomas Knolles the elder owned premises in at least eight city parishes. Some of these shops and tenements had been in his hands since the early 1390s while others were more recent purchases. He also acquired the advowson of the church of St. Margaret Pattens at some point before January 1425 when it passed into the hands of the bishop of London.11 It is not always possible to distinguish Knolles’s property transactions from those of his friends and associates, many of whom (such as Robert Chichele*, William Standon* and Henry Halton*) were prominent among the rulers of London. He was often called upon to act as a feoffee-to-uses, and for this reason the full extent of his own interests cannot now be established.12 His principal acquisition outside London was part of the manor of North Mimms in Hertfordshire, which he bought in 1391 and added to over the years. As lord of the manor he was involved in a number of disputes, two of which are particularly illuminating. For a long period Knolles and the abbots of St. Albans had advanced rival claims to certain rights of Tyttenhanger Heath, but in 1430 Abbot Whethamstead, acknowledging both the strength and deviousness of his adversary, agreed to accept a compromise solution. Whethamstead was himself no mean opponent, so his uncharacteristic display of magnitude may be taken as a rare tribute to the former mayor’s ‘great subtelty’.13 It was at about this time that Knolles encountered far more trenchant opposition from his own tenants, who resented an attempt by his agent to increase their rents. The previous owner of the manor deplored Knolles’s mercenary and extortionate behaviour, while one of the tenants told him to his face
howe heynousely the pore tenantes cursed hym for his wrongfulle vexacion, And shewed how somme of theym were woxen madde, And somme were ronne awey for sorow, by whiche langage the same Knolles was gretely moeved.14
The running of the manor had, in fact, been left to the grocer’s wife and one of his kinsmen, presumably to allow him more time for his business affairs and civic responsibilities. Nor was this the first time that he had sought to rationalize the management of his estates by hiving off the outlying parts. During the 1390s Knolles either sold land in Latton and Harlow in Essex or else settled it upon feoffees. He had evidently disposed of this property by the time of his death, and the nature of his title remains obscure. Most of the other holdings conveyed to him at various times in the home counties, Hampshire, Norfolk, Somerset and Wiltshire were clearly held in trust on behalf of others. He was, for example, a feoffee and executor of Richard Clitheroe I*, who named him as an arbitrator when he was being sued by Robert Ashcombe* in 1411; and he also held property to the use of his fellow grocer, John Welles III*, as well as being a trustee of the influential crown servant, John Hotoft*, and of Thomas, Lord Berkeley.15 On one occasion at least he became involved in a protracted lawsuit over the ownership of land thus settled upon him, being accused by the other claimant of attempting to bribe a jury.16 His co-feoffee, the grocer, Robert Chichele, who faced similar charges, appears to have been one of his closest associates. Both men were a party to each other’s affairs: Knolles even helped to pay off the burden of debts incurred by his friend’s spendthrift nephew, John Chichele, although he had little hope of recovering the loan for some time. He acted as an executor and surety for a number of London grocers, including William Standon and John Oxneye, whose young son became his ward and apprentice, but his connexions went far beyond the confines of his livery company. In 1413, for instance, he offered joint securities of 10,000 marks for Henry Somer*, the chancellor of the Exchequer who was then being impeached by Parliament.17
One of the few eminent citizens to serve two terms as mayor of London during the early 15th century, Knolles played a prominent part in civic affairs for over 40 years. He was among the 24 commoners who were summoned to accompany the dignitaries of London for a meeting with Richard II at Nottingham in June 1392; and, although he played no further part in the King’s quarrel with the City, he was made an alderman in the first elections following the restoration of normal government there. Knolles’s appointment as one of the four treasurers for the wars chosen by Parliament to supervise government expenditure in March 1404 is an indication of his standing and reputation for administrative skill, as well as his importance as a royal creditor. He is not known, however, to have sat in the Commons until 1416 (Oct.), when the most active and demanding part of his career was already behind him. He none the less retained his aldermanry until the time of his death, and attended at least nine of the parliamentary elections held in the City between 1413 and 1431.18 As one of the most celebrated Londoners of his day, Knolles took a great interest in various civic projects, towards which he was a generous benefactor. He is now chiefly remembered for his part in the rebuilding of the Guildhall and of St. Antholin’s church (where he was buried), and for laying on supplies of fresh water to Newgate and Ludgate prisons. He also made a bequest of property to the Grocers’ Company, and left a substantial legacy to the poor of London.19
Thomas Knolles died between 29 June and 11 July 1435. He was survived by at least three daughters and two sons, the younger of whom established a flourishing business as a grocer in Bristol. The descendants of his elder son, Thomas, enjoyed even greater prosperity, one of their number, the courtier, Sir William Knollys†, becoming earl of Banbury in 1626.20
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. J. Amundesham, Chron. S. Albani ed. Riley, i. 59. According to their epitaph, Knolles and his wife ‘weren togeder sixty yere; and nineteen chyldren they had in feer’. Only three daughters and two sons are mentioned in the MP’s will, however (J. Weever, Funeral Mons. 189; Reg. Chichele, ii. 519-21).
- 2. W. W. Grantham, Wardens Grocers’ Company, 7, 9.
- 3. Beaven, Aldermen, i. 114, 137; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 399, 415, 425, 434, 444, 449; I, 4-5, 10, 89, 97.
- 4. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 1, 99; CIMisc. vii. no. 557.
- 5. J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, i. 413-14.
- 6. C1/31/14; Corporation of London RO, hr 135/88; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 572; Cal. Letter Bk. London, G, 263; H, 166, 173, 269.
- 7. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 75-76, 308, 327; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 208, 417; 1405-8, p. 58; 1408-13, p. 348; SC8/120/5953.
- 8. C241/189/46, 193/115, 210/33; CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 571, 595-6; Corporation of London RO, hr 148/26; PCC 46 Marche.
- 9. DL42/17 (2), f. 29v; E401/604, 619, 621-2, 626-7, 631, 635, 639, 644, 650, 652, 696, 698, 723; E403/567, 569, 576, 596, 605, 652, 691; E404/20/125, 148, 21/279; PPC, i. 268, ii. 114; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 202.
- 10. Corporation of London RO, jnl. 2, f. 93; Ms Archs. Grocers’ Company ed. Kingdon, i. 171, ii. 177.
- 11. Reg. Chichele, ii. 522-6; London Rec. Soc. i. no. 232; CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 407-8; CIMisc. vii. no. 17; Arch. Jnl. xliv. 62; E179/238/90; Corporation of London RO, hr 121/4, 122/38, 156/34-35, 40-41, 160/28, 163/54, 55.
- 12. Reg. Chichele, ii. 521-2; London Rec. Soc. i. no. 248; CAD, ii. B2226-7, vi. C5950; Corporation of London RO, hr 124/26, 30, 52, 126/8, 129/59, 87, 132/1, 9, 133A/13, 133B/29, 134/26, 135/32, 136/62, 137/13, 15, 98, 138/20, 34-35, 140/6, 141/59, 142/8, 56, 60, 71, 74, 143/12, 146/1, 6, 148/6, 149/29, 152/80, 83, 153/7, 154/7, 12, 155/60, 156/36, 157/8, 22, 158/70, 160/13, 162/4, 11, 165/15, 169/41.
- 13. VCH Herts. ii. 253, 255, 387; CCR, 1402-5, p. 492; CAD, vi. C6573; Amundesham, i. 255-60.
- 14. Cal. P. and M. London, 1437-57, pp. 153-5.
- 15. CP25(1)113/286/192, 231/68/96; E210/4866; Essex Feet of Fines, iii. 214, 222, 262; Norf. Feet of Fines ed. Rye, 406; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 161; CAD, vi. C5214; CCR, 1405-9, p. 111; 1409-13, pp. 302-3, 310, 312-13, 317; 1419-22, pp. 2, 260; 1422-9, p. 88; 1441-7, p. 142; CPR, 1408-13, p. 91; 1416-22, p. 10; 1422-9, pp. 445, 515; 1429-35, p. 115; Cat. Muns. Berkeley Castle ed. Jeayes, 182; Bridgwater Bor. Archs. (Som. Rec. Soc. lviii), 599.
- 16. C1/5/39; CIMisc. vii. 345, no. 590; CCR, 1419-22, pp. 47, 74; CPR, 1416-22, p. 272; RP, iv. 162.
- 17. C1/19/309; PCC 22 Marche; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 126, 143, 172; Corporation of London RO, hr 129/18, 143/28.
- 18. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 377-8; C219/11/1, 7, 12/2, 4-6, 13/1, 3, 14/2.
- 19. Reg. Chichele, ii. 519-21; J. Stow, Surv. London ed. Kingsford, i. 37, 108.
- 20. Reg. Chichele, ii. 519-24; S.L. Thrupp, Merchant Class Med. London, 351; CP, i. 400.