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

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

b. by 1512, 1st s. of Robert Knollys of Rotherfield Greys, usher of the privy chamber, by Lettice, da. of Sir Thomas Peniston of Hawridge, Bucks.; bro. of Henry Knollys I. educ.?Magdalen Coll. Oxf. m. c.1540, Catherine (d.1569), da. of William Carey of Aldenham, Herts. by Mary, sis. of Queen Anne Boleyn; at least 7s. inc. Edward, Francis, Richard, Robert, William and Henry Knollys II, 4da. suc. fa. 1521. Kntd. Sept. 1547, KG 1593.2

Offices Held

Gent. pens. 1540-4, master of the horse to Prince Edward by 1547; constable of Wallingford castle and steward of Ewelme by 1552; j.p. Oxon by 1547-54, from 1559, custos rot. by 1561, ld. lt. by 1569; jt. (with Sir Henry Norris I, 1st Lord Norris) ld. lt. Oxon and Berks. c.1585; high steward, Oxford Feb. 1564-92; vice-chamberlain and PC 14 Jan. 1559; gov. Portsmouth 1562; capt. of the guard 1565; treasurer of the chamber Jan. 1567-70; guardian of Mary Queen of Scots 1568-9; treasurer of the Household from 1570.3


On Elizabeth’s accession Sir Francis Knollys was assured of a high position in the state by his protestantism, his record of service under the new Queen’s father and brother, and the fact that his wife was the Queen’s first cousin. He probably returned from Germany with the main body of protestant exiles, just before his appointment as vice-chamberlain on 14 Jan. 1559, though the date, 5 Nov. 1558, on a warrant of allowance for lead delivered by him from Wallingford castle, may indicate that his return anticipated Mary’s death. Appointed captain of Portsmouth, he was sent to supervise the despatch of supplies to the defenders of Le Havre; he soon advised retreat from that untenable position, and next went to inspect the defences of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Wight. In May 1566 he was sent to Ireland for two months to advise Sir Henry Sidney on policy towards O’Neill. On the way there he heard of the death of the treasurer of the chamber, and he at once wrote to ask Cecil for the office, regretting that ‘twelve chargeable children’ made him play the ‘shameful courtier’.4

In the first Parliament of the new reign Knollys sat as burgess for Arundel, no doubt through the good offices of his fellow household official the 12th Earl of Arundel. On the death of Lord Williams of Thame at the end of 1559 Knollys succeeded him as custos rotulorum and the leading figure in Oxfordshire, and in 1564 he was appointed high steward of the city of Oxford on the resignation of William’s successor in that office, the 2nd Earl of Bedford. From 1563, therefore, he was returned without a break as senior knight for Oxfordshire, with his eldest surviving son as his fellow knight in 1572, 1584 and 1593; and from 1571 to 1593 one of his sons was always senior burgess for Oxford, where he quickly over-rode the objections of the council to the return of outsiders.5

By 1558 royal grants had already made Knollys a considerable landlord, but all his property lay in the extreme south-east of Oxfordshire, and his predominance throughout the county was probably due to his influence at court. Elizabeth’s grants to her vice-chamberlain, in which his name is usually coupled with that of Lady Catherine, the Queen’s ‘beloved kinswoman’, were mostly concentrated in 1563 and 1564. They included the keepership of Syon abbey, Middlesex; the reversion of the manor and borough of Wendover, Buckinghamshire; the lease of the castle and borough of Taunton and seven manors in Somerset, which Knollys soon asked to exchange for lands near Reading; the reversion of Cholsey, Whitley Park, on the edge of Reading, and other manors in Berkshire; and the lease of the manors of Cowley, Littlemore, Horspath and Garsington, just to the east of Oxford. Knollys’s influence owed as much to marriage connexions as to property. His sister had married Charles Wingfield of Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdonshire, and by 1580 Knollys and Sir Walter Mildmay had been given control of Kimbolton on the grounds of the incapacity of the owner, Knollys’s nephew, and the unruliness of his son, Edward Wingfield. His eldest son married the only child of Sir Ambrose Cave, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. One of his daughters was the wife of Thomas West II, 2nd Baron Delaware; a second married the heir apparent of the Earl of Kildare, who died, however, before succeeding to the title; and a third married Sir Thomas Leighton, governor of Guernsey. A fourth daughter made the best matches of all, having as successive husbands the 1st Earl of Essex—by whom she was mother of the ill-fated 2nd Earl—and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Lord Hunsdon, chamberlain of the Household, in whose favour Knollys resigned the high stewardship of Oxford in 1592, was Knollys’s brother-in-law.6

Though it is not clear when Knollys gave up his lease of the borough of Taunton, he was certainly in possession in 1563, and it seems likely that the burgesses returned for Taunton in that year were his nominees. One of them, Miles Sandys, was the brother of Edwin Sandys, archbishop of York, who had been in exile with Knollys, and the other, Anthony Leigh, may have been a stepbrother of Knollys by his mother’s second marriage to Robert Lee of Burston, Buckinghamshire. In Oxfordshire Knollys’s patronage for a time extended beyond Oxford to New Woodstock, for which borough his servant Martin Johnson was returned in 1571 and 1572, on the first occasion with Thomas Peniston, another relation of Knollys on his mother’s side. In 1572, however, Sir Henry Lee, the celebrated courtier, grandson of Knollys’s mother’s second husband by his previous marriage, became lieutenant of Woodstock, possibly with Knollys’s assistance, and henceforward determined the borough’s representation. At Banbury, Knollys’s relative Francis Walsingham, and then his servant Owen Brereton, were returned in 1563, but thenceforward he seems to have left the patronage there to the puritan, Anthony Cope.7

In Berkshire, Knollys, as constable of the castle, was a patron at Wallingford. His son Richard sat for Wallingford in 1584 and 1586; and in 1586 he is known to have recommended Richard to the borough by letter. From 1563 to 1586 there was always a Knollys sitting for Reading. Six of Sir Francis’s sons were in the Elizabethan Commons—four were returned together in 1572 and 1584—making, with Sir Francis himself and his brother Henry, the biggest family group in the House. Several other Members, including George Digby of Coleshill, Warwickshire, Walter Leveson of Shropshire and Henry Cavendish of Derbyshire had once been Knollys’s wards.8

Knollys’s parliamentary career was unrivalled during Elizabeth’s reign. He was a Privy Councillor throughout the 11 parliamentary sessions he attended, an active committeeman and speaker, and from his appointment as treasurer of the Household the most senior Member in the House. He was responsible for nominating Speakers, carrying bills to and from the Lords, reporting on conferences with the Upper House and on the work of important committees, and leading the Commons in the direction the government desired. However, Knollys did not find his position either easy or rewarding. Though his sympathies lay with the puritans, his official position frequently constrained him to oppose their measures in the House, and in the last years of his life he was oppressed by a growing sense of impotence as his sovereign refused to listen to proposals which he believed were godly as well as necessary for her safety.

In 1559 enthusiasm had not yet given way to frustration. Knollys shared with Sir Anthony Cooke the leadership of the returned exiles in the Commons, and he and Cooke were the only Members named by the journal to the committee which probably amended the government’s hybrid supremacy bill. Later in 1559 Knollys was one of the leading laymen in commissions to enforce the statute of supremacy. That Act did not satisfy him. On 15 Feb. 1563 he headed a committee which altered an anti-catholic bill—certainly against the Queen’s wishes and probably against those of the other councillors—so as to make a first refusal of the oath of supremacy subject to the penalties of praemunire and a second to the penalty of death. In the debate which followed he spoke after Cecil, saying that ‘this business must be settled sword in hand and not by words, and that he would be foremost in the struggle’. In 1563 he was also appointed to committees concerning the garrison at Berwick (22 Jan.), usury (30 Jan.), purveyors (1 Mar.), coneys (1 Mar.), and the expenses of the Queen’s household (24 Mar.). During the 1566 session it was Knollys who delivered the message from the Queen on 19 Oct. declaring her intention to marry. He was a member of the conference with the Lords concerning the Queen’s marriage and the succession on 31 Oct., and was one of 30 MPs summoned on 5 Nov. to hear the Queen’s message on the subject. He was again the Queen’s messenger on 9 Nov., this time with the unpleasant task of forbidding the Commons to debate the succession question further. His committee work included topics such as the Queen’s revenues (5 Oct.), whether Members elected in 1563 should have to take the oaths anew at the beginning of the 1566 session (7 Oct.), sheriffs (11 Oct.), informers (12 Oct.), excess of apparel (15 Oct., 3 Dec.) and drinking and swearing (6 Dec.).

The 1571 Parliament proved a difficult one for Knollys. Religion was the main topic of the Parliament and there was a strong and determined group of puritan reformers in the House with whom no doubt Knollys’s sympathies lay. However, he had recently been appointed treasurer of the Household and as such was compelled to defend the Queen’s prerogative in matters of religion against the threat represented by Strickland’s motion for the reform of the book of common prayer. On 14 Apr. he argued

... if the matters mentioned to be reformed were heretical, then verily they were presently to be condemned; but if they are but matters of ceremony, then it behoveth us to refer the same to her Majesty, who hath authority as chief of the Church to deal herein. And for us to meddle with matters of her prerogative ... it were not expedient.

He endeavoured to placate the extremists by suggesting that the Queen was moving in their direction but in her own time. They must not presume to question

what cause there might be to make her Majesty not to run and join with those who seem to be most earnest ... what secret course there may be in the heart of Princes it is not for all people to know ...

When Strickland was sequestered from the House for his continued rashness, Peter Wentworth and George Carleton protested that the liberties of the House had been violated. It was left to Knollys to defend the government action (20 Apr.):

... the man [Strickland] is neither detained nor misused but on consideration is required to expect the Queen’s pleasure upon certain especial points ... He further said that he was in no way stayed for any words or speech of him in that place uttered but for exhibiting of the bill into the House against the prerogative of the Queen which was not to be tolerated. Nevertheless the construction was on him rather to have erred in his zeal and bill offered than maliciously to have meant anything contrary to the dignity royal.

Throughout this Parliament Knollys was a frequent speaker and active committeeman. He made a ‘long needless discourse about the subsidy’ on 7 Apr., and reported the subsequent committee on 10 Apr. He spoke twice on the treasons bill (9, 12 Apr.), and also spoke on procedure (10 Apr.), the bill for Bristol (11 Apr.), and on the bill concerning vagabonds (13 Apr.) when he declared that

he would have a bridewell in every town and every tippler in the county to yield 12d. yearly to the maintenance thereof.

He spoke on usury on 19 Apr. and was appointed to the committee on the same day. As a Privy Councillor he was automatically appointed to committees dealing with the main issues of the day and in addition was named to (and often in charge of) the following committees: returns (6 Apr.), disorderly presentations (11 Apr.), church attendance (21 Apr., 24 May), order of business (26 Apr.), coney skins (28 Apr.), recusant priests (1 May, reported by him 2 May), licences and dispensations granted by the archbishop of Canterbury (4 May), the maintenance of navigation (8, 21 May), exempting the Queen’s household from jury service (14 May), fugitives (25 May) and tellers and receivers (26 May).

In 1572 Knollys as senior Privy Councillor in the House had the difficult task of trying to contain the Commons’ pressing demands for the deaths of Mary Stuart and the Duke of Norfolk. He had already had the opportunity to assess Mary’s personality when he was sent to meet her at Carlisle on her flight from Scotland in May 1568. ‘Surely she is a rare woman’ was his first opinion of the Scottish Queen, ‘for as no flattery can abuse so no plain speech seems to offend her, if she thinks the speaker an honest man’. But soon he was disturbed by Mary’s strong will and her ‘bloody appetite to shed the blood of her enemies’. He quickly recognized her presence in England—especially in a region of ‘unsound religion’—to be a new and serious danger to Elizabeth. ‘The plainest way is the most honourable in my simple opinion’, he characteristically advised. Mary should be given a clear choice to stay or to depart back to Scotland; the ambiguous policy actually adopted was the worst possible, for Mary clutched at any encouragement to hold out for her rights in Scotland. ‘Your Majesty’s judgment must needs be ruled by such affections and passions of your mind as happen to have dominion over you’, Knollys chided Elizabeth, but ‘the deliberate consultation of your most faithful counsellors ought ever to be had in most price in these so weighty affairs’. His disquiet at his ‘melancholy service’ in the ‘strange countries’ of the north was deepened by the death of his wife in his absence, and after taking Mary to Tutbury in February 1569, he was relieved of his burden.

A few months later Knollys conducted Norfolk to the Tower, his fears having received their first justification in the northern rebellion. Perhaps with more consistency than any other councillor, he could argue for harsh measures against Mary; yet, in the following Parliaments he was forced to restrain the Commons’ excesses in the ‘great cause’. On 12 May 1572 a conference with the Lords was appointed to deliberate on matters concerning Mary Queen of Scots. Knollys asked Thomas Wilbraham to report the conference to the House on 14 May and proposed a further conference with the Lords. Those who like Sir Thomas Scott were most vociferous in their demands for Mary’s execution, took advantage of the opportunity to renew their agitation for a settlement of the succession question. On 15 May Knollys attempted to stifle these demands:

He himself wisheth the establishment of the Crown but since it is not to be obtained as yet, and that all our doings be in vain without the consent of the Queen’s Majesty, he would not have it so urged ... He wisheth us herein to depend upon God and pray to him to put it in the Queen’s heart and in the meantime be satisfied ...

He was also against the idea of petitioning the Queen to execute Mary Stuart. On 16 May he argued

that this matter were best to come to the Queen’s Majesty by way of opinion than request ... to urge it he doubteth may do harm ... modesty he thinketh will be better liked, since urged or pressed it cannot be.

This insistence on prudence and moderation was not likely to endear him to the House. Knollys himself was aware of a certain hostility (16 May):

It may be guessed that I arrogate authority to myself by reason of my often speeches ... It was said pre-eminence ought not to prevail in this place, and that there was equality amongst us, which I do confess, and yet was bold to speak in a matter of my own knowledge upon some talk offered of the succession ... If I rubbed any man on the gall, let him heal the sore, the rubbing will not hurt him. I will not deny but both of us may lie and both may play the knaves ...

The bill of attainder eventually drawn up by the conference, urging Mary’s execution, was rejected by the Queen on 23 May. But the House was out for blood and Knollys saw that their ‘purposes remain[ed] firm and no alteration’. He recommended that the Commons join with the Lords in a petition to the Queen to reconsider her decision—‘the request shall be more effectual’—and then proceed with other parliamentary business. At the same time he aired his views concerning the Duke of Norfolk, possibly hoping to divert attention from Mary:

And surely to the Duke he would wish him dead though he were his brother. He is allied unto him and near of kin to his children. If he live, many practices may be attempted to his peril which perhaps may move him to desperation ... He hath long ago told more to the Duke in this matter than he will tell us; but this amongst other things he told him that if he attempted this marriage, that the realm must either destroy him or he destroy us.

The petition drawn up by a second conference urging Mary’s death was presented to the Queen on 26 May. Two days later Knollys delivered a message from the Queen forbidding further discussion of Mary’s execution, but making no mention of the Duke of Norfolk. Immediately the attention of the House focused on the Duke and they began considering ways to bring pressure to bear for his execution. On 31 May Knollys intervened:

I perceive your intent is to make motion for the execution of the Duke ... And although I do know nothing more convenient and needful than execution and that with speed, yet I know the disposition of princes is rather of themselves to do such things than by way of pressing and urging. It may be and it is like enough, her Majesty is of herself already disposed sooner to do it than you do perhaps think or believe. And I would not wish we should attempt her of his hasty execution for that I know already her mind partly therein. The execution will be more honourable to her Majesty if the doing thereof come of her free mind without our motion. The words that I speak, I speak upon good reason, and I would wish you all to consider what moveth me thereunto and what may cause me to have and use this speech. I pray you all, let us stay. I trust we shall not repent it. If you go on with this attempt already in hand, you may perhaps delay the thing you seek to further.

Fulk Onslow reported that ‘after much debating it was agreed in respect of the credit that the House gave to Sir Francis Knollys’s persuasion, that this attempt to move the Queen for execution should be deferred until Monday next, in hope to hear news before that time’. The hope was not ill-founded. Norfolk was executed at 7 a.m. that very Monday, 2 June 1572, before the House sat. One of the few defenders of Norfolk in the House had been Arthur Hall. On 17 May Knollys opposed any action being taken against him for his opinions, wishing

speech in the House to be free and that he had rather know men by their speech than not to know them by their silence. He would have all blocks removed from the perverse who otherwise would say that they were denied speech ...

Nevertheless Hall was brought to the bar on 19 May, where he further antagonized the House. Knollys once more intervened on the side of moderation:

... he lacketh discretion and therefore wise men may the rather bear with him. His father before him somewhat inclined to madness. By his own confession appeareth to be subject to passions. He would have him condemned for a rash head and a fool.

At the same time Knollys was also involved in managing the routine business of the House. On 20 and 24 May he spoke in support of the bill concerning vagabonds, and was appointed to the committee on 29 May. He was in favour of retaining the system whereby j.p.s were liable to be fined if they were too lenient with offenders:

... it shall be a good excuse for a good justice why [he] should show no favour, for that he should thereby incur a pain, which otherwise of pity many times by intercession would leave justice undone.

He spoke twice on the subject of calivers and dags (22 May, 4 June) and served on the committee (22 May). He was also appointed to a committee on a private bill (4 June), and spoke on Oxfordshire highways (7 June), a cloth bill (24 June) and shipping (27 June). On 11 June he reported the meeting with the lord keeper concerning an incident of tale-telling between the Houses.

He was also very much concerned with a bill dealing with the order of religious services, promoted by the puritan element in the House. He was in favour of the bill as was to be expected in view of his puritan sympathies, and said as much on 20 May 1572, declaring ‘that diverse mischiefs grew by the straitness of the statute for uniformity of common prayer ... this bill offereth remedy of the same’. However, a preamble was attached, which Knollys felt to be too extreme and likely to endanger the bill itself. He was put in charge of the committee to alter the preamble on 20 May. Two days later the Queen demanded to see all bills on religious topics being considered in the House, and Knollys reported her reactions to them on 23 May. He had evidently taken quite a strong line:

I shewed the order [of service] daily broken in her own chapel as in her closet. Her Majesty hereupon gave very good words of the good opinion she had of the House and will take the good protestants to her protection ...

With the end of the 1572 session, by which time Knollys was 60, the management of the House passed to Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Walter Mildmay. In his remaining Parliaments his role became that of an elder statesman.

On 8 Feb. 1576 he was one of those appointed to examine Peter Wentworth and he reported the committee’s proceedings to the House the following day. He reported the subsidy committee on 13 Feb. 1576, spoke on two private bills (14 Feb., 8 Mar.), reported a committee on the rogues bill (28 Feb.), and one on church discipline (2 Mar.). His committee work during this session included topics such as the avoiding of idleness (11 Feb.), debasing the coinage (15 Feb.), tanned leather (18 Feb.), the butlerage and prizage of wines (18 Feb.), haberdashers (28 Feb.), children of aliens (3 Mar.), assize of wool (3 Mar.), the inning of salt marshes (6 Mar.), wharves and quays (8 Mar.), benefit of clergy (12 Mar.) and London goldsmiths (12 Mar.). At the end of the session, 14 Mar., ‘Mr. Treasurer moved according to old order that we might end in love and amity, and for thanks to be rendered to our Speaker ...’.

During the last session of the 1572 Parliament Knollys spoke against Paul Wentworth’s motion for a public fast on 21 Jan. 1581 and in support of the bill against the naturalization of the children of aliens on 25 Jan., being appointed to the committee the same day. He was also appointed to committees concerning the clerk of the market (27 Jan.), religion (8 Feb.), two private bills (20 Feb., 17 Mar.), returns (24 Feb.), the corporation of merchant adventurers (2 Mar.), defence (14 Mar.) and Arthur Hall (18 Mar.). On 13 Mar. he reported the committee of a bill against seditious words and practices, and was appointed to another conference with the Lords on the subject on 17 Mar.

In the Parliament of 1584-5, Knollys’s committee work was again extensive, including topics such as parsonages impropriate (1 Dec.), cloth (7, 10 Dec.), Huntingdonshire returns (8 Dec.), informers (9 Dec.), the better observing of the Sabbath day (10 Dec., reported by him 22 Feb. 1585), fraudulent conveyances (13 Feb., 15 Feb., reported by him 16 Feb.), tellers and receivers (2 Mar.), the government of the city of Westminster (8, 17, 22 Mar.), water bailiffs (10 Mar.), malt (15 Mar., 18 Mar., reported by him 19 Mar.), keeping the county court of Northumberland at Morpeth (16 Mar., reported by him 17 Mar.), reforming the ministry (19 Mar., reported by him 20 Mar.) and the Wednesday fish bill (14 Mar.). Knollys spoke against Antony Cope’s bill and book on 14 Dec., and on 13 Mar. he spoke on behalf of the Queen’s household during the first reading of the bill for the increase of pheasants and partridges, relinquishing the right to give ‘licence to any to take any pheasants and partridges for the provision of Her Majesty’s House’. He was appointed to a committee on the subject on 17 Mar. During the following Parliament of 1586-7, Knollys was not so active. He reported several of the conferences held with the Lords concerning Mary Queen of Scots (7, 1l, 22 Nov.), and spoke on the subject on 8 Nov. He was appointed to the committee dealing with the disputed Norfolk election on 9 Nov. and endorsed the report of that committee made by Thomas Cromwell on 11 Nov. After the Christmas recess he moved (11 Mar.) for a subsidy to be granted to maintain the war in the Netherlands. In 1589, however, he was once again an active committeeman. On 7 Feb. 1589 he was appointed to the main committee of privileges and returns, which he reported on 11 Feb. On 10 Feb. he moved for the issue of a new writ for Reading. He spoke on the purveyors bill on 15 Feb., being appointed to a committee on the subject the same day. On 27 Feb. he was on the committee sent to the Lords concerning the purveyors bill, reported their message back to the Commons and was appointed to the committee to consider what to do next. He was put in charge of the committees for the bills on mortmain (22 Feb., reported by him 6 Mar.), the repair of Dover harbour (28 Feb., reported by him 11 Mar.), pluralities and non-residence (1 Mar., reported by him 5 Mar.), the gauging of wine casks (4 Mar., reported by him 6 Mar.) and presentations to benefices (20 Mar., reported by him 21 Mar.).

At the beginning of the 1593 Parliament Knollys was at least 81 years old and still active. On 5 Mar. he was appointed to a committee on a private bill. He was put in charge of a committee concerning wine casks on 24 Mar., and reported the committee’s proceedings on 28 Mar. He headed a list of Commons’ members appointed to meet the Lords to dispose of the money collected in both Houses for the relief of poor maimed soldiers on 30 Mar., and he was put in charge of the committee concerning disloyal subjects on 4 Apr. Throughout his parliamentary career his position as Privy Councillor entitled him to attend many other committees on the main issues of the day.[footnote]

It must be evident that to a man of Knollys’s religious outlook the Queen’s support of Whitgift’s policies would have appeared to be a departure from the via media, and in his last years his attacks upon the bishops and warnings to the Queen became increasingly urgent as, from a position of growing isolation, he watched the destruction of puritanism. He was amazed that ‘her Majesty could be persuaded that she was in as much danger from such as are called puritans, as she was of papists’; he believed that she was playing into the hands of the Catholics. On Grindal’s suspension, he wrote to Secretary Thomas Wilson that, in addition to St. Paul’s faith, hope and charity, it was necessary to have

vigilance, foresight and prevention, but the chief of them is prevention ... her Majesty knoweth that I am loath to offend her and I do know that her Majesty is loath to hear me ... I am more fit to die in a private life than to live a courtier, unless a preventing heart may enter her Majesty betimes.9

He played an important part in preparing the 1584 petition to the Lords for the end of the clergy’s oath of subscription to articles of faith not prescribed by statute. Apparently with Burghley’s acquiescence, he wrote personally to Whitgift, to argue that those who refused subscription could be condemned only after trial under the secular law: for the archbishop to claim ultimate authority in this matter was papistical. In 1586 he used the Babington plot—he examined the plotters—to prove that the Queen was endangered by the negligence of the bishops, and proposed five measures for her safety: that Parliament be called at Michaelmas; that recusants be kept from court and ‘such ferreters’ as Richard Topcliffe be used against them; that the Queen show herself offended with those of her servants who allowed their wives to be recusants; that the ‘lordly bishops’, who lacked humility, cease to persecute non-subscribers; and that the war in the Netherlands be kept up.10

In foreign affairs he naturally rejoiced in the death of Don John of Austria and opposed a French marriage, besides supporting the Dutch, in whom he seems to have had secular as well as religious interests: he wrote a tract comparing ‘the weight, bullion and values of the silver moneys of England’ with the ‘silver moneys of the Low Countries’, and his son-in-law, Leicester, commanded the English forces there. His daughter’s marriage to Leicester in 1578, though the circumstances leading to it were not such as the godly could approve, seemed to strengthen the puritan party at home and abroad. In 1581 Knollys wrote to Leicester and Burghley, as the heads of the two universities, urging them to be vigilant equally against the Jesuits and against ‘the Family of Love’, a sect which did not believe in justification by faith. At the time of the Armada Knollys was called back into service to be colonel-general of footmen at Leicester’s camp at Tilbury, and with Sir John Norris he advised the lord mayor of London on defence.11

In the years between Leicester’s death in 1588 and his own in 1596, Knollys was obsessed by the threat to the Queen’s supremacy of the bishops’ claim to authority jure divino, which he professed to detect in Whitgift’s reply to Cartwright. In his eyes, the archbishop had incurred the penalties of praemunire. In 1591 Knollys was not told of the charges which were to be brought against Cartwright, whom he comforted in prison, and he approved of the attack on the ecclesiastical courts made in the Parliament of 1593 by James Morice who, he thought, spoke ‘modestly, wisely, warily and truly’. In that debate he recalled his own presence in Parliament in 1534, when the Act for the submission of the clergy had been passed. He was, indeed, just completing an unrivalled length of service in the Commons.12

Towards the end of his life, his disagreements with the Queen seem to have extended beyond religion. Elizabeth apparently listened to allegations that he was careless and negligent in his office. In 1584 she refused to pass a warrant to allow him to alienate the manor of Stanford-in-the-Vale, Berkshire; the manor must descend, she insisted, to his heirs male and then female by Catherine Carey. Knollys complained bitterly of her suspicions about the way he was settling his estates: ‘there is never a papist in England (that hath known my conversation) that doth think that I will double or half, either with her Majesty or with any other in such a case as this is’.13

Knollys died on 19 July 1596. In his will he desired that ‘forasmuch as my goods are not sufficient to supply the wants and necessities of my children’, there should be no ‘costly pomp of ceremonies or great gifts of blacks for mourning at my burial, whereby my children might anyways be hindered’. After stating his legacy to each of his sons and daughters, he besought God to bless them ‘with increase of holy will and pleasure’. His eldest surviving son, William Knollys, eventually obtained his father’s offices, and was created Earl of Banbury by Charles I.14

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: Alan Harding / M.A.P.


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament. Knollys sat in the 1534 session of this Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 103; Lipscomb, Bucks. i. 527; EHR, liv. 503; Her. and Gen. vii. 553; viii. 297; PCC 67 Drake.
  • 3. Genealogist , xxx. 21; Stowe, 571, f. 59; HMC Hatfield, i. 443; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 253; Oxford Recs. ed. Turner, 299, 306; APC, vii. 43, 322, 357; CPR, 1566-9, p. 136.
  • 4. Strype, Annals, i(1), p. 151; Zurich Letters (Parker Soc.), i. 5; APC, vii. 43, 203; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 112, 203, 226-9; Lansd. 22, f. 51; HMC Hatfield, i. 275; CPR, 1558-60, p. 443; CSP Ire. 1509-73, pp. 293, 297, 299, 300, 301, 308, 333, 359; 1574-85, p. 69; HMC 5th Rep. 310.
  • 5. Neale, Commons, 167.
  • 6. CPR, 1558-60, pp. 350-1; 1560-3, pp. 16, 98; Lipscomb, Bucks. ii. 475; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 159, 241, 663, 664, 667, 669; VCH Berks. ii. 284, 297, 349, 481; VCH Oxon. v. 81, 179, 208; CP .
  • 7. Her. and Gen. viii. 297 seq.; E. K. Chambers, Sir Henry Lee.
  • 8. CPR, 1558-60, p. 328; 1560-3, pp. 31-2, 179-80.
  • 9. Strype, Whitgift, i. 308-9, 390, 597-8; ii. 34, 50-1, 53-5, 72; Collinson thesis, 404-5, 1040; Neale, Parlts. ii. 325-6; Wright, ii. 74.
  • 10. Neale, Parlts. ii. 62, 64; Collinson thesis, 473-4; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 181; HMC Hatfield, iii. 35, 412-13; Lansd. 51, f. 24.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 601, 658; 1581-90, pp. 11, 471; S. De Ricci and W. J. Wilson, Census of Medieval and Renaissance mss in U.S. and Canada, i. 328; Lansd. 33, f. 201; APC, xv. 414; xvi. 196.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 584, 687; Lansd. 64, ff. 86, 111, 132, 150; 73, f. 109; 75, f. 84; 109, f. 25; Collinson thesis, 1105-7; Neale, Parlts. ii. 271-2, 310; Strype, Whitgift, ii. 124.
  • 13. Lansd. 46, f. 180; 73, f. 117; SP12/172/137.
  • 14. C142/249/83; PCC 67 Drake.