French before Honfleur (Barnes, Hist. of Edward III, p. 531).
Next year Knolles was plundering in Normandy at the head of a numerous body known as the ‘Great Company,’ to whom his remarkable skill insured abundant booty; he is said to have received for his own share a hundred thousand crowns (Walsingham, Hist. Angl. i. 286; Froissart, v. 95). Eventually he established himself in the valley of the Loire, made himself master of forty castles, and ravaged all the country from Tonnerre to Vezelay and Nevers to Orleans. The suburbs of Orleans were sacked and burnt, while at Ancenis, on the Loire, the people were so frightened at the terror of his name that many threw themselves into the river. Knolles declared that he fought neither for the king of England nor for Charles of Navarre, but for himself alone, and displayed on his devices the legend—
Qui Robert Canolle prendera,
Cent mille moutons gagnera.
In October 1358 he captured the castle of Châteauneuf-sur-Loire, and on 10 March 1359 the town of Auxerre, which he sacked and held till 30 April, exacting an enormous ransom. Froissart wrongly states that he was with Philip of Navarre before St. Valery in April (ib. v. 144–7; cf. p. xlvii). On 2 May he captured Châtillon-sur-Loing, and a little later made a great raid through Berri into Auvergne, boasting that he would ride to Avignon and plunder the pope (Benedict XIII); Knighton states that he actually came within twelve leagues of the city, and caused great alarm (col. 2619). When the French of Auvergne and Rouergue came out to oppose him, Knolles eluded them by a stratagem, and retired into the Limousin. His ravages during these raids were so terrible that the charred gables which marked his route were called ‘Knolles's mitres.’ A contemporary epigram has been preserved:—
O Roberte Knollis, per te fit Francia mollis,
Ense tuo tollis prædas, dans vulnera collis.
On his return Knighton says that he sent to England to say that all the towns and castles which he had captured were at the king's disposal. Edward III, who was much pleased at his success, seems to have rewarded him by pardoning his informal proceedings, and it was probably to this that the commons referred in 1376, when they petitioned that Sir John Hawkwood [q. v.] might receive a pardon in like terms to the one granted to Knolles (Knighton, col. 2620; Barnes, p. 563; Rot. Parl. ii. 372 b). According to Knighton, Knolles was captured about Michaelmas in an ambush, but was rescued by his comrade, Hannekin François. He served with Lancaster at the siege of Dinan, where he vainly endeavoured to arrange the quarrel between Du Guesclin and Thomas de Canterbury (Cuvélier, i. 82–94). Thence he was summoned to join Edward III in the campaign which immediately preceded the peace of Bretigny (ib. i. 97). There is, however, no record of Knolles's share in it, and he was in Brittany in April 1360, when his wife joined him with a reinforcement (Fœdera, iii. 480). M. Luce does not think Knolles took part in the expedition; it is certain that he defeated and took prisoner Bertrand du Guesclin at Pas d'Evran in Brittany, near the end of 1359 (Hist. de B. du Guesclin, pp. 311–12).
The struggle between the partisans of John de Montfort and Charles de Blois continued in spite of the peace, and Knolles remained in Brittany to support the former (cf. Fœdera, iii. 653, 662, 697). In 1363 he was at the siege of Bécherel (Chron. du Guesclin, p. 14, Panth. Littéraire), and next year was with Louis of Navarre in Auvergne, where they plundered the Bourbonnais and all the country between the Loire and Allier. In September 1364 he was with De Montfort at the siege of Auray in high command. When Du Guesclin and Charles de Blois advanced to the rescue, Knolles supported Oliver de Clisson in advising an attack, and in the battle of 29 Sept. was joined with Sir Walter Hewett and Sir Richard Burlegh in command of the first division. Charles de Blois was defeated and slain, Du Guesclin captured, and John de Montfort secured in possession of the duchy, a result largely due to the valour of Knolles, who took prisoner the Count of Auxerre (Froissart, vi. 150–5; Cuvélier, i. 201–33). As a reward John de Montfort bestowed on Knolles, in 1365, the lands of Derval and Rougé, together with two thousand ‘livres de rente’ in the land of Conq (Luce, vi. p. lxvi), whence Knolles is sometimes called Sire de Derval. Early in 1367 Knolles joined the Black Prince in his Spanish expedition with a chosen band of the ‘Great Company’ (Walsingham i. 303). He crossed the pass of Roncevaux with the third battle on 17 Feb., and joined Sir Thomas Felton [q. v.] in his reconnoitre and capture of Navaretta in Alava (LUCE, vii. p. vii). He was still with Felton in his successful skirmish against Henry of Trastamare, but was not present at his defeat a few days after. Froissart alludes to Knolles as one of those who were taken prisoners on that occasion (vii. 303), but Knolles was certainly present at the battle of Najara, 3 April, when he came