KNOLLYS, Francis (by 1512-96), of Rotherfield Greys, Oxon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

b. by 1512, 1st s. of Robert Knollys of Rotherfield Greys by Lettice, da. of Sir Thomas Peniston of Hawridge, Bucks.; bro. of Henry Knollys I. educ. ?Magdalen, Oxf. m. c.1540, Catherine, da. of William Carey of Aldenham, Herts., by Mary, sis. of Queen Anne Boleyn, at least 7s. inc. Edward, Francis, Henry, Richard, Robert and William 4da. suc. fa. 4 Jan. 1521. Kntd. 18/28 Sept. 1547, KG nom. 23 Apr. inst. 25 June 1593.4

Offices Held

Gent. pens. 1540-4; master of the horse to Prince Edward by 1547; j.p. Oxon. by 1547-54, 1558/59-d.; constable, Wallingford castle, Berks. and steward, Ewelme, Oxon. by 1552; commr. goods of churches and fraternities, Oxon. 1553; v.-chamberlain and PC 14 Jan. 1559; custos rot. Oxon. by 1561; gov. Portsmouth 1562; high steward, Oxford Feb. 1564-92; capt. of the guard 1565; treasurer of the chamber 1567-70, of the Household 1570-d.; guardian of Mary Queen of Scots 1568-9; ld. lt. Oxon. by 1569; jt. (with Henry Norris, 1st Lord Norris) ld. lt. Oxon. and Berks. c.1585.5


Francis Knollys began his career in the royal household where his father had served for nearly 40 years. According to tradition he was educated at Oxford, but his name has not been discovered among the records of the university before his appointment as high steward of the city and his receipt of an honorary degree. Although he was the heir to a small estate, he did not enjoy his patrimony to the full until his mother’s remarriage terminated her interest in the London lands and the Englefield family’s claim to Rotherfield Greys was settled in Parliament. Little has been discovered about Knollys’s early advancement but he must have commended himself to a patron (perhaps Cromwell) to have procured a seat in the Parliament of 1529. Since he was not returned in that year, his name does not appear on the list of Members dating from the spring of 1532, but he had entered the House by the fifth session (1533). The by-election which took him there was a result of the check on vacancies made in 1532, and he was part of the first infusion of new blood into the Parliament. In old age he was to recount to Burghley:

That he was in the Parliament ... in the 25th year of King Henry VIII. In which time all the clergy, as well bishops as others, made a humble submission unto King Henry VIII acknowledging his supremacy, and detesting the usurpation of the bishop of Rome’s authority. Upon which submission general of the clergy, the King gave unto the said bishops the same rule that they had under the Pope over their inferior brethren; saving, that the same rule was abridged with this parenthesis following; that is to say, without offending of the prerogative royal of the crown of England, and the laws and customs of the realm. In the latter end of which statute it was added, that whosoever offendeth in any part of that statute, and their aiders, counsellors, and abettors, they did all fall into penalty of praemunire.

In compliance with the King’s request for the return of the previous Members, Knollys probably sat again in the Parliament of 1536.6

In the fullness of time Knollys was to become the ‘father of the House’, but as a young man he appears to have shown more promise as a soldier than as a legislator. He was appointed to the new bodyguard in 1539 and four years later he was sent to serve in the Netherlands. In 1544 he campaigned with the King in northern France and in the following year he commanded a band of Wiltshiremen encamped on the Isle of Wight. The first year of Edward VI saw him fighting in Scotland and his bravery at Pinkie earned him a knighthood. He had also been prominent at court in the mock warfare of the joust. He prospered sufficiently to acquire property and to speculate a little on the land market, but it was only under the Protector Somerset and the Duke of Northumberland, at a time when his reforming sympathies and his connexion with Princess Elizabeth stood him in good stead, that he received any substantial favour.7

His title to Rotherfield Greys caused Knollys much vexation. The manor had been granted to his father in 1518 and the reversion was assured to Knollys by patent of October 1538. The Englefields claimed the reversion by a patent of 1524 to Sir Thomas Englefield, and Knollys sought unsuccessfully to overcome this claim by a bill which he introduced into the Parliament of 1539. The Act (32 Hen. VIII, c.67) which emerged, however, contained a saving clause for Englefield’s son Francis, and the dispute continued until it was agreed to declare the patent of 1524 void and an Act (37 Hen. VIII, c.27) upholding Knollys’s title was passed in the Parliament of 1545. Knollys had probably been a Member of the Parliament of 1539 (for which most of the names are lost) when he put in the first of these bills, and was certainly one when he introduced the second; on this occasion he sat for a Sussex borough in the patronage of his wife’s kinsman the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and his fellow-Member Sir Anthony Wingfield was a relative of his brother-in-law Charles Wingfield. When the next Parliament, the first of Edward VI’s reign, was summoned Norfolk was in disgrace and Knollys had to turn elsewhere for a seat: he had come to Somerset’s attention even before they campaigned in Scotland, and this may account for his nomination at the recently enfranchised Cornish borough of Camelford. Nothing has been discovered about his role in the proceedings of this Parliament, but in November 1551 he attended the discussions at Cecil’s house on the eucharist. He may have been returned to the Parliament called at Northumberland’s behest in the spring of 1553, but although he was a man of whose religion the duke would have approved, the absence of so many returns makes his Membership uncertain. By contrast, Mary’s obvious distaste for him must have been an obstacle to his election during her reign: he was not to re-enter the Commons until the accession of Elizabeth and he then quickly became a leading figure there.8

Soon after Mary became Queen, Knollys was appointed by English Protestants to go to Geneva and Lausanne to discuss the establishment of English emigrant colonies there and in September 1553 he and his wife left for the Continent. Before their departure Lady Knollys received a letter of consolation from Princess Elizabeth. Knollys was probably abroad only for a short time because in February 1554 he was named to the commission of the peace for Oxford and in the following December he received a licence to sell some of his lands in Cambridge; but by the winter of 1555-6 he had returned to the Continent and registered as a student at Basle. Later he settled with his wife and family at Frankfurt and it was from there that he returned at Elizabeth’s accession fired with zeal for the restoration of Protestantism. On 14 Jan. 1559 he was appointed to the Privy Council, and throughout the 37 years which remained to him he was to rank high at court and in government. He sat in every one of Elizabeth’s Parliaments until 1593 and at his death on 19 July 1596 he was the last surviving Member of the Parliament of 1529.9

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: R. J.W. Swales / A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; Strype, Whitgift, ii. 124-5.
  • 2. See text.
  • 3. Hatfield 207.
  • 4. Presumed to be of age at election. DNB; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 103; EHR, liv. 503; Her. and Gen. vii. 553; viii. 297; C142/81/207; PCC 11 Maynwaryng, 67 Drake.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xv-xxi; CPR, 1547-8 to 1553-4 passim; The Gen. n.s. xxx. 21; Stowe 571, f. 59; HMC Hatfield, i. 443; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 253; Oxf. Recs. 299; APC, vii. 43, 322, 357.
  • 6. Strype, ii. 124-5.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, xiv, xv, xvii, xviii; HMC Bath, iv. 88; APC, ii. 280, 479; CPR, 1550-3, p. 344.
  • 8. Strype, Cranmer, 386.
  • 9. C. H. Garrett, Marian Exiles, 210-13; Lansd. 94, f. 21; CPR, 1553-4, p. 23; 1554-5, p. 135.