KNOLLYS, Sir Francis I (1553-1648), of Abbey House, Reading, Berks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



c. Jan. 1576
30 Apr. 1640
Nov. 1640 - c. Apr. 1648

Family and Education

b. 1553, 6th s. of Sir Francis Knollys† (d.1596) of Rotherfield Greys, Oxon. and Catherine, da. of William Carey of Aldenham, Herts.;1 bro. of Sir Robert I*. educ. ?Eton 1561-3; Magdalen, Oxf. c.1564, MA 1598; G. Inn 1565; 2 travelled abroad (France) 1572.3 m. lic. 21 Dec. 1588,4 Lettice, da. of John Barrett of St. Clement Danes, Westminster and Hanham, Glos., 2s. d.v.p. 4da. (1 d.v.p.).5 kntd. 7 Dec. 1587.6 d. by 5 May 1648.

Offices Held

R.-adm. ?to Sir Humphrey Gilbert† 1578-9,7 to Sir Francis Drake† 1585-6;8 capt. ft., Low Countries c.1586-7;9 col., militia ft., Herts. and Cambs. 1588,10 Oxon. 1599;11 master of ordnance, Tilbury, Essex 1588.12

J.p. Berks. 1592-1642, Oxon. 1614-42;13 dep. lt. Berks. 1596-at least 1640,14 ?kpr. Wallingford Castle, Berks. by 1601;15 commr. oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. by 1602-42, recusants, Berks. 1602;16 freeman, Southampton, Hants 1603;17 commr. sewers, Berks. and Oxon. 1604, 1612, 1626, Bucks. 1626, Berks. 1638;18 collector, Privy Seal loans, Berks. 1604-6;19 kpr. Bear Wood walk, Windsor forest, Berks. (sole) 1607, (jt.) 1613;20 commr. charitable uses, Berks. 1608-at least 1629,21 subsidy 1608, 1621-2, 1624, 1629,22 aid 1609;23 trustee, municipal lands, Hungerford, Berks. 1613;24 commr. brewhouse survey, Berks. 1620,25 Forced Loan, Berks. and Oxon. 1626;26 martial law, Berks. 1626-7,27 Kendrick charity, Reading, Berks. 1631,28 repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Berks. 1637,29 perambulation, Windsor forest 1641,30 levying of money, Berks. and Reading 1643, execution of ordinances, Berks. 1644,31 assessment 1644-8.32


A younger son of the treasurer of Elizabeth’s Household, Knollys was also a nephew of the queen through his maternal grandmother, a sister of Anne Boleyn. In 1586-7, he commanded the lifeguard of his brother-in-law Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, from whom (as governor-general of the Low Countries) he received his knighthood.33 He was subsequently a supporter of his nephew the 2nd earl of Essex, whom he claimed to have visited quite innocently on ‘that dismal day’ of the rising in 1601; he was detained, but the Privy Council, of which his eldest brother Sir William† was a member, chose to believe his protestation, and he was swiftly released.34 This mishap may explain his absence from Elizabeth’s last Parliament, but he had been rehabilitated by the end of the reign, serving as a knight of the canopy at the queen’s funeral.35

Knollys’s father had been a religious reformer under Edward VI, and spent the latter part of Queen Mary’s reign with the English exile church at Frankfurt. In 1618 Thomas Taylor, lecturer at Reading, dedicated his Christs Combate to Knollys, commending him as ‘a worthy instrument in this place [Reading], which as well by your authority and care, as through your godly affection and countenance of good men and causes hath a long time enjoyed much comfort, assistance and refreshing’.36 Knollys’s godly zeal was doubtless reinforced by his visit to France in the immediate aftermath of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacres in 1572.37 In 1580 the Spanish ambassador was informed he would shortly lead a squadron to join Drake in the Pacific, but though this intelligence was mistaken, Knollys did participate in two privateering voyages to the Caribbean.38 Like many of his generation, Knollys’s hostility towards Spain was part of an anti-Catholic ideology that also extended to domestic recusants: in 1599 he seized almost £1,500 in gold at the house of a Berkshire recusant.39

Knollys first entered Parliament on his father’s interest as high steward of Oxford, at a by-election caused by the death of his elder brother Edward in Ireland; he continued to represent the borough until his father’s resignation from the stewardship in 1592. In 1585 he was granted a lease of the Crown manor of Lewisham, adjacent to Greenwich Palace, which he held for most of his life,40 but he settled in the manor of Battle, just outside Reading. This Crown estate had been granted to Knollys’s father for life in 1582, at which time reversions were also conferred upon Knollys himself and his elder brother Richard†.41 With his brother provided for elsewhere in the county, Knollys and his two sons acquired a life interest in the manor in 1595, a preferment which meant that he received nothing further at his father’s death the following year.42 This landed interest, combined with the influence of his eldest brother Sir William as lord lieutenant of Berkshire, sufficed to secure his return as knight of the shire in 1597 and 1604.

While Knollys is not recorded as having spoken in the patchily recorded debates of 1604-10, he was named to numerous committees. Only a few held any political significance: his nomination to attend two conferences with the Lords concerning the Union (14 Apr. 1604 and 24 Nov. 1606) probably had as much to do with his eldest brother’s recent elevation to the peerage as any personal interest in the subject;43 and his nomination to attend the king at the delivery of the Commons’ grievances on 14 May 1606 is likely to have been occasioned by his familiarity with the Court.44 He was also named to the committee appointed to debate the general list of grievances outlined by Sir Robert Wroth I* at the start of the 1604 session (23 Mar.), and he was later selected to attend a conference with the Lords on the prospect of composition for the wardship which Wroth had recommended (22 May 1604).45 As the son and brother of Household officials, Knollys might have been expected to take an interest in purveyance reform, but he played no recorded part in the contentious debates of 1604 or 1606, although he was one of the committees for the bill for the abolition of the levy as part of the Great Contract (26 Feb. 1610). However, he was involved in his county’s negotiations for a revised annual composition in 1622.46

As might have been expected, Knollys showed some interest in religious matters. In 1604, one of the first committees to which he was named (19 Apr.) was charged to prepare for a conference with the Lords on the provision of adequate maintenance for a learned ministry, and to consider Sir Edward Montagu’s* complaints against ecclesiastical courts.47 These characteristically puritan priorities were reflected in several of his subsequent nominations, as he was a member of committees concerned with bills on clerical pluralism (4 June 1604 and 19 Feb. 1610), the better maintenance of the ministers and preachers of the tiny parishes of Norwich (13 Feb. 1606), the title of lands granted for charitable uses (19 Mar. 1606), proceedings in ecclesiastical courts (29 Nov. 1606) and the reform of the sanctuary laws (20 May 1606).48 Perhaps surprisingly, he played no part in the clamour for recusancy legislation which followed the Gunpowder Plot. However, in 1610 he was one of the Members ordered to examine ‘sundry informations touching papists’ offered by William Uvedale (5 July).49

Knollys’s committee appointments demonstrate some links to local and personal concerns. His nomination to the committee for the bill to raise the statutory maximum for the length of kersies (5 Feb. 1606) may have been intended to further the interests of the Reading cloth trade.50 Two more committee nominations concerned bills in the interest of his great-nephew the 3rd earl of Essex: for the latter’s restitution in blood, reversing his father’s attainder (2 Apr. 1604), and for assurance of the jointure of his wife, Frances Howard (13 Mar. 1606). There was also a family connection with the bill for confirmation of the estate of the late Edmund Brydges†, 2nd Baron Chandos (7 Apr. 1606), whose widow had been the first wife of Knollys’s eldest brother.51 A further handful of Knollys’s nominations concerned London issues: City tithes (10 May 1604), the regulation of building in the suburbs (24 Jan. 1606), abuses in the Earl Marshal’s Court (10 Dec. 1606) and modifications to the 1604 Act regulating the apprenticeship of Thames watermen (28 Jan. 1606 and 13 Mar. 1607).52

After 1610 Knollys remained active in local affairs. Indeed, he was appointed a trustee for the borough of Hungerford in 1613.53 However, he is not known to have stood for Parliament in 1614, though his election would have been a formality due to his eldest brother’s connections with the Howard faction at Court. This influence ended abruptly in 1618, but thereafter the Knollys family remained leading figures in Berkshire, which allowed Knollys to be returned as knight of the shire in 1625. Once again, Knollys does not appear to have spoken, but he was named to committees for bills on ecclesiastical estates and the prevention of drunkenness (both 24 June), and another to restrict the privilege of benefit of clergy (25 June).54 One issue on which he may have felt particular concern was the rise of Arminianism, and on 2 Aug. he was added to the committee examining Appello Caesarem, a polemic by the cleric Richard Montagu which took issue with the Commons’ investigation of his theological opinions in 1624.55

As a deputy lieutenant, Knollys was expected to help implement the Forced Loan, but he failed to attend one of the first meetings of the Loan commissioners,56 and probably generally disapproved of the arbitrary innovations of Caroline finance. He briefly threw the county’s Ship Money payments into turmoil in 1637 when he alleged that (Sir) Edmund Sawyer* had told him the county was being over-rated by £400, but Sawyer’s complaint to the Privy Council was apparently ignored.57 Knollys presumably approved the subsequent marriage of one of his daughters to John Hampden*, whose refusal to pay the levy became the test case for its legality in 1637. He had connections with the puritan feoffees for impropriations at the beginning of Charles’s reign,58 and may have sympathized with the Covenanters during the Bishops’ Wars, for though still active in the lieutenancy, he apparently managed to avoid making a financial contribution to the royal army.59

Knollys and his son Sir Francis II* were returned to the Short Parliament for Reading a few days before its dissolution, in opposition to (Sir) Robert Heath*, who was probably the nominee of the high steward, Knollys’s great-nephew, the earl of Holland (Henry Rich*). They defeated another of Holland’s candidates in the election for the Long Parliament,60 and were both active supporters of Parliament in the Civil War. ‘The ancientest Parliament man in England’, Knollys was not surprisingly ‘weak in body through old age’ when he drew up his will on 6 Dec. 1646, in which left his estate to his surviving daughters and grandchildren. He was dead by 5 May 1648, when the will was proved by his daughter Elizabeth Hamond.61

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Simon Healy


  • 1. Lipscomb, Bucks. i. 528.
  • 2. Eton. Coll. Reg. comp. W. Sterry; Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.
  • 3. HMC Bath, v. 233.
  • 4. London Mar. Lics. ed. J. Foster, 806.
  • 5. PROB 11/204, f. 286.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 86.
  • 7. CSP Span. 1568-79, pp. 583, 654; 1580-86, pp. 75, 306.
  • 8. Hakluyt’s Voyages, x. 98, 133.
  • 9. Leicester Household Accts. ed. S. Adams (Cam. Soc. ser. 5. vi), 440.
  • 10. HMC Foljambe, 46; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 519; CSP Span. 1587-1603, p. 298.
  • 11. HMC Foljambe, 165; E351/264, unfol.
  • 12. HMC Foljambe, 52.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 186; C66/1988; C231/5, pp. 527-8.
  • 14. APC, 1595-6, p. 396; 1626, p. 365; CSP Dom. 1640, p. 489.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 545.
  • 16. C181/1, ff. 17, 34.
  • 17. HMC 11th Rep. iii. 23.
  • 18. C181/1, f. 85; 181/2, f. 168v; 181/3, ff. 200, 202v; 181/5, f. 99v.
  • 19. E401/2585, f. 100.
  • 20. Harl. 3749, f. 11; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 209.
  • 21. C93/3/13; 93/11/13.
  • 22. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-3; E115/63/71.
  • 23. SP14/43/107.
  • 24. VCH Berks. iii. 186.
  • 25. APC, 1619-21, p. 203.
  • 26. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, pp. 144-5.
  • 27. APC, 1626, p. 365; C66/2422.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1631-3, pp. 44, 171, 280.
  • 29. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 90.
  • 30. C181/5, f. 211.
  • 31. A. and O. i. 146, 227, 455.
  • 32. Ibid. 541, 961, 1078.
  • 33. Leicester Household Accts. 440; HMC 7th Rep. 579b.
  • 34. HMC Hatfield, xi. 100.
  • 35. LC2/4/4, f. 46v.
  • 36. Sig. A2.
  • 37. HMC Bath, v. 233.
  • 38. CSP Span. 1580-6, p. 75.
  • 39. CSP Dom. Addenda 1580-1625, p. 424.
  • 40. C66/1264. His final lease was due to expire in 1646, see C66/1668.
  • 41. CPR, 1580-2, p. 171.
  • 42. CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 296-7; PROB 11/88, f. 121.
  • 43. CJ, i. 172a, 324b; CP (William, Lord Knollys).
  • 44. CJ, i. 309a.
  • 45. Ibid. 151a, 222b.
  • 46. Ibid. 400a; HMC Cowper, i. 127.
  • 47. CJ, i. 178a.
  • 48. Ibid. 232a, 267b, 287a, 310b, 326b, 396b.
  • 49. Ibid. 446b.
  • 50. Ibid. 264a.
  • 51. Ibid. 162a, 283b, 294b.
  • 52. Ibid. 205a, 259b, 260b, 329a, 352b.
  • 53. VCH Berks. iii. 186.
  • 54. Procs. 1625, pp. 238-9, 246.
  • 55. Ibid. 380.
  • 56. SP16/40/39.
  • 57. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 289; PC2/47, p. 369.
  • 58. Harl. 832, f. 34v.
  • 59. CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 230; 1640, p. 489; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. 912.
  • 60. HMC 11th Rep. vii. 186; J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 195.
  • 61. PROB 11/204, f. 286.