Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Knollys, Francis
KNOLLYS, Sir FRANCIS (1514?–1596), statesman, was elder son of Robert Knollys (d. 1521). The father is said by Dugdale to have been descended from Sir Robert Knollys or Knolles (d. 1407) [q. v.], the soldier, but the proofs are wanting. Sir Francis's pedigree cannot be authentically traced beyond Sir Thomas Knollys, lord mayor of London in 1399 and 1410, from whom Sir Francis's father was fifth in descent. Lord-mayor Knollys may, it is suggested, have been a nephew of the soldier. He was a member of the Grocers' Company; directed in 1400 the rebuilding of the Guildhall, and rebuilt St. Antholin's Church in Watling Street, where he was buried with his wife Joan. His will, dated 20 May 1435, was proved 11 July 1435 at Lambeth, where it is still preserved. Sir Thomas's son Thomas (d. 1446) possessed the manor of North Mimms, Hertfordshire. This passed to his heir, Robert, who died without male issue. It was the second son, Richard, who seems to have been grandfather of Sir Francis's father, Robert Knollys (Herald and Genealogist, vii. 553, viii. 289).
In 1488 the latter was one of Henry VII's henchmen, and late in that year was appointed to wait on ‘the king's dearest son the prince’ (Arthur). He received 5l. ‘by way of reward’ for each of the three years 1488 to 1490, and when Henry VII met Archduke Philip in 1500 he accompanied the English king as one of the ushers of the chamber (Materials illustrative of Henry VII, Rolls Ser. ii. 383, 394, 437, 562; Letters of Richard III and Henry VII, Rolls Ser. ed. Gairdner, ii. 89). He continued in the same office under Henry VIII, and received an annuity of 20l. on 15 Nov. 1509, and a grant of Upclatford, called Rookes Manor, in Hampshire—part of the confiscated property of Sir Richard Empson—on 10 Feb. 1510–11 (Letters, &c., of Henry VIII, i. 94, 218). The ‘Robert Knolles,’ a dyer of Wakefield, Yorkshire, who was given letters of protection on going to the war in France, in the retinue of Richard Tempest, in April 1513, can hardly be identical with the usher of the royal chamber (ib. i. 529, 546). On 9 July 1514 the usher and his wife were jointly granted the manor of Rotherfield Greys, near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, in survivorship, at an annual rental of a red rose at midsummer. The grant was confirmed on 5 Jan. 1517–18 by letters patent for their own lives and that of one successor. Other royal gifts followed (ib. i. 841, ii. pt. ii. 1217, iii. pt. i. 121, iv. pt. i. 231). Robert Knollys died in 1521, and was buried in the church of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate. His will, dated 13 Nov. 1520, was proved 19 June 1521. His widow, Letitia or Lettice, was daughter of Sir Thomas Penyston of Hawridge and Marshall, Buckinghamshire. After Robert Knollys's death she became the second wife of Sir Robert Lee of Burston, Buckinghamshire, son of Sir Henry Lee of Quarendon in the same county. Sir Robert Lee, by whom she had issue, died in 1537, when she became the second wife of Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton, Northamptonshire, prior (under Queen Mary) of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Her will, dated 28 June 1557, was proved 11 June 1558.
Robert Knollys's children included, besides Francis, a son Henry and two daughters, Mary and Jane. The latter married Sir Richard Wingfield of Kimbolton Castle. The son Henry (d. 1583) was in some favour with Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth. He went abroad with his brother Francis during Queen Mary's reign. In 1562 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Germany, to observe the temper of German protestants (Froude, Hist. vi. 580), and in 1569 was temporarily employed in warding both Queen Mary of Scotland at Tutbury and the Duke of Norfolk in the Tower (Hatfield MSS. i. 443). He was M.P. for Reading in 1563, and for Christchurch in 1572. His will, dated 27 July 1582, was proved 2 Sept. 1583.
Francis, born about 1514, appears to have received some education at Oxford, but Wood's assertion that he was for a time a member of Magdalen College is unconfirmed. Henry VIII extended to him the favour that he had shown to his father, and secured to him in fee the paternal estate of Rotherfield Greys in 1538. Acts of parliament in 1540– 1541 and in 1545–6 attested this grant, making his wife in the second act joint tenant with him. At the same time Francis became one of the gentlemen-pensioners at court, and in 1539 attended Anne of Cleves on her arrival in England. In 1542 he entered the House of Commons for the first time as member for Horsham. At the beginning of Edward VI's reign he accompanied the English army to Scotland, and was knighted by the commander-in-chief, the Duke of Somerset, at the camp at Roxburgh, 28 Sept. 1547 (Nichols, Lit. Rem. of Edw. VI, ii. 219). Knollys's strong protestant convictions recommended him to the young king and to his sister the Princess Elizabeth, and he spent much time at court, taking a prominent part not only in tournaments there (ib. ii. 389), but also in religious discussion. On 25 Nov. 1551 he was present at Sir William Cecil's house, at a conference between a few catholics and protestants respecting the corporeal presence in the Sacrament (Strype, Cranmer, 1848, ii. 356). About the same date he was granted the manors of Caversham in Oxfordshire and Cholsey in Berkshire. At the end of 1552 he visited Ireland on public business.
The accession of Mary darkened Knollys's prospects. His religious opinions placed him in opposition to the government, and he deemed it prudent to cross to Germany. On his departure the Princess Elizabeth wrote to his wife a sympathetic note, expressing a wish that they would soon be able to return in safety (Green, Letters of Illustrious Ladies, iii. 278–9). Knollys first took up his residence in Frankfort, where he was admitted a church-member, 21 Dec. 1557, but afterwards removed to Strasburg. According to Fuller, he ‘bountifully communicated to the necessities’ of his fellow-exiles in Germany (Church Hist. iv. 228), and at Strasburg he seems to have been on intimate terms with Jewel and Peter Martyr (cf. Burnet, Reformation, iii. 500). Before Mary's death he returned to England, and as a man ‘of assured understanding and truth, and well affected to the protestant religion,’ he was admitted to Elizabeth's privy council in December 1558 (Hayward, Annals, p. 12). He was soon afterwards made vice-chamberlain of the household and captain of the halberdiers, while his wife and her sister—first cousins of Elizabeth—became women of the queen's privy chamber (Hatfield MSS. i. 158). In 1560 Knollys's wife and son Robert were granted for their lives the manor of Taunton, part of the property of the see of Winchester. In 1559 Knollys was chosen M.P. for Arundel, and in 1562 for Oxford, of which town he was also appointed chief steward. In 1572 he was elected member for Oxfordshire, and sat for that constituency until his death. Throughout his parliamentary career he was a frequent spokesman for the government on questions of general politics, but in ecclesiastical matters he preserved as a zealous puritan an independent attitude.
Knollys's friendship with the queen and Cecil led to his employment in many offices of anxious responsibility. In 1563 he was governor of Portsmouth, and was much harassed in August by the difficulties of supplying the needs in men and money of the Earl of Warwick, who was engaged on his disastrous expedition to Havre (see Dudley, Ambrose; Hatfield MSS. i. 274–5). In April 1566 he was sent to Ireland to control the expenditure of Sir Henry Sidney, the lord deputy, who was trying to repress the rebellion of Shane O'Neil, and was much hampered by the interference of court factions at home; but Knollys found himself compelled, contrary to Elizabeth's wish, to approve Sidney's plans. It was, he explained, out of the question to conduct the campaign against the Irish rebels on strictly economical lines (cf. Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors, ii. 105–7). In August 1564 he accompanied the queen to Cambridge, and was created M.A. Two years later he went to Oxford, also with his sovereign, and received a like distinction there. In the same year (1566) he was appointed treasurer of the queen's chamber.
In May 1568 Mary Queen of Scots fled to England, and flung herself on Elizabeth's protection. She had found refuge in Carlisle Castle, and the delicate duty of taking charge of the fugitive was entrusted jointly to Knollys and to Henry Scrope, ninth baron Scrope. On 28 May Knollys arrived at the castle, and was admitted to Mary's presence. At his first interview he was conscious of Mary's powerful fascination. But to her requests for an interview with Elizabeth, and for help to regain her throne, he returned the evasive answers which Elizabeth's advisers had suggested to him, and he frankly drew her attention to the suspicions in which Darnley's murder involved her. A month passed, and no decision was reached in London respecting Mary's future. On 13 July Knollys contrived to remove her, despite ‘her tragical demonstrations,’ to Bolton Castle, the seat of Lord Scrope, where he tried to amuse her by teaching her to write and speak English (Hatfield MSS. i. 400). Knollys's position grew more and more distasteful, and writing on 16 July to Cecil, whom he kept well informed of Mary's conversation and conduct, he angrily demanded his recall (Wright, Queen Eliz. i. 291). But while lamenting his occupation, Knollys conscientiously endeavoured to convert his prisoner to his puritanic views, and she read the English prayer-book under his guidance. In his discussions with her he commended so unreservedly the doctrines and forms of Geneva that Elizabeth, on learning his line of argument, sent him a sharp reprimand. Knollys, writing to Cecil in self-defence, described how contentedly Mary accepted his plain speaking on religious topics (8 Aug. 1568). Mary made in fact every effort to maintain good relations with him. Late in August she gave him a present for his wife, desired his wife's acquaintance, and wrote to him a very friendly note, her first attempt in English composition (Ellis, Orig. Letters, 1st ser. ii. 252). In October, when schemes for marrying Mary to an English nobleman were under consideration, Knollys proposed that his wife's nephew, George Carey, might prove a suitable match. In November the inquiry into Mary's misdeeds which had begun at York, was reopened at Westminster, and Knollys pointed out that he needed a larger company of retainers in order to keep his prisoner safe from a possible attempt at rescue. In December he was directed by Elizabeth to induce Mary to assent to her abdication of the Scottish throne. In January 1569 he plainly told Elizabeth that, in declining to allow Mary either to be condemned or to be acquitted on the charges brought against her, she was inviting perils which were likely to overwhelm her, and entreated her to leave the decision of Mary's fate to her well-tried councillors. On 20 Jan. orders arrived at Bolton to transfer Mary to Tutbury, where the Earl of Shrewsbury was to take charge of her. Against the removal the Scottish queen protested (25 Jan.) in a pathetic note to Knollys, intended for Elizabeth's eye (Labanoff, ii. 284–6), but next day she was forced to leave Bolton, and Knollys remained with her at Tutbury till 3 Feb. His wife's death then called him home. Mary blamed Elizabeth for the fatal termination of Lady Knollys's illness, attributing it to her husband's enforced absence in the north (Wright, Queen Eliz. i. 308).
In April 1571 Knollys strongly supported the retrospective clauses of the bill for the better protection of Queen Elizabeth, by which any person who had previously put forward a claim to the throne was adjudged guilty of high treason. Next year he was appointed treasurer of the royal household (13 July), and he entertained Elizabeth at Reading Abbey, where he often resided by permission of the crown. The office of treasurer he retained till his death.
Although Knollys was invariably on good terms personally with his sovereign, he never concealed his distrust of her statesmanship. Her unwillingness to take ‘safe counsel,’ her apparent readiness to encourage parasites and flatterers, whom he called ‘King Richard the Second's men,’ was, he boldly pointed out, responsible for most of her dangers and difficulties. In July 1578 he repeated his warnings in a long letter, and begged her to adopt straightforward measures so as to avert such disasters as the conquest of the Low Countries by Spain, the revolt of Scotland to France and Mary Stuart, and the growth of papists in England (Wright, Queen Eliz. ii. 74–6). He did not oppose the first proposals for the queen's marriage with Alençon which were made in 1579, but during the negotiations he showed reluctance to accept the scheme, and Elizabeth threatened that ‘his zeal for religion would cost him dear.’
In December 1581 he attended the jesuit Campion's execution, and asked him on the scaffold whether he renounced the pope. He was a commissioner for the trials of Parry the jesuit in 1585, of Babington and his fellow-conspirators, whom he tried to argue into protestantism, in 1586, and of Queen Mary at Fotheringay in the same year. He urged Mary's immediate execution in 1587 both in parliament and in the council. In April 1589 he was a commissioner for the trial of Philip Howard, earl of Arundel. On 16 Dec. 1584 he introduced into the House of Commons the bill legalising a national association to protect the queen from assassination. In 1585 he offered to contribute 100l. for seven years towards the expenses of the war for the defence of the Low Countries, and renewed the offer, which was not accepted, in July 1586. In 1588–9 he was placed in command of the land forces of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire which had been called together to resist the Spanish Armada. Knollys was interested in the voyages of Frobisher and Drake, and took shares in the first and second Cathay expeditions.
Knollys never wavered in his consistent championship of the puritans. In May 1574 he joined Bishop Grindal, Sir Walter Mildmay, and Sir Thomas Smith in a letter to Parkhurst, bishop of Norwich, arguing in favour of the religious exercises known as ‘prophesyings.’ But he was zealous in opposition to heresy, and in September 1581 he begged Burghley and Leicester to repress such ‘anabaptisticall sectaries’ as members of the ‘Family of Love,’ ‘who do serve the turn of the papists’ (Wright, ii. 152–4). Writing to Whitgift, archbishop of Canterbury, 20 June 1584, he hotly condemned the archbishop's attempts to prosecute puritan preachers in the court of high commission as unjustly despotic, and treading ‘the highway to the pope’ (Hatfield MSS. iii. 35). He supported Cartwright with equal vehemence. On 24 May 1584 he sent to Burghley a bitter attack on ‘the undermining ambition and covetousness of some of our bishops,’ and on their persecutions of the puritans (ib. pp. 412–13). Repeating his views in July 1586, he urged the banishment of all recusants and the exclusion from public offices of all who married recusants. In 1588 he charged Whitgift with endangering the queen's safety by his popish tyranny, and embodied his accusation in a series of articles which Whitgift characterised as a fond and scandalous syllogism. In the parliament of 1588–9 he vainly endeavoured to pass a bill against non-residence of the clergy and pluralities (Strype, Whitgift, p. 193). In the course of the discussion he denounced the claims of the bishops ‘to keep courts in their own name,’ and denied them any ‘worldly pre-eminence.’ This speech, ‘related by himself’ to Burghley, was published in 1608, together with a letter to Knollys from his friend, the puritan Dr. Reynolds ‘or Rainolds,’ in which Bishop Bancroft's sermon at St. Paul's Cross (9 Feb. 1588–9) was keenly criticised. The volume was entitled ‘Informations, or a Protestation and a Treatise from Scotland … all suggesting the Usurpation of Papal Bishops.’ Knollys's contribution reappeared as ‘Speeches used in the parliament by Sir Francis Knoles,’ in William Stoughton's ‘Assertion for True and Christian Church Policie’ (London, 1642). Throughout 1589 and 1590 he was seeking, in correspondence with Burghley, to convince the latter of the impolicy of adopting Whitgift's theory of the divine right of bishops. On 9 Jan. 1591 he told his correspondent that he marvelled ‘how her Majestie can be persuaded that she is in as much danger of such as are called Purytanes as she is of the Papysts’ (Wright, ii. 417). Finally, on 14 May 1591, he declared that he would prefer to retire from politics and political office rather than cease to express his hostility to the bishops' claims with full freedom.
Knollys's domestic affairs at times caused him anxiety. In spite of his friendly relations with the Earl of Leicester, he did not approve the royal favourite's intrigues with his daughter, Lettice, widow of Walter Devereux, first earl of Essex [q. v.], and he finally insisted on their marriage at Wanstead 21 Sept. 1578. The wayward temper of his grandson, Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex (son of his daughter Lettice by her first husband), was a source of trouble to him in his later years, and the queen seemed inclined to make him responsible for the youth's vagaries. Knollys was created K.G. in 1593, and died 19 July 1596. He was buried at Rotherfield Greys, and an elaborate monument, with effigies of seven sons, six daughters, and his son William's wife, is still standing in the church there. A poem on his death was penned by Thomas Churchyard, under the title ‘A sad and solemne funerall,’ London, 1596, 4to (see reprint in Park's ‘Heliconia’). Two portraits of Knollys and one of his wife are said to have been in possession of a descendant at Fern Hill, near Windsor, in 1776.
Many of his letters are printed in Wright's ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ in the Calendars of the Hatfield MSS., and in Haynes's ‘State Papers.’ Wood states that a manuscript ‘General Survey of the Isle of Wight, with all the Fortresses and Castles near adjoining,’ belonged in his time to Arthur, earl of Anglesey. A manuscript ‘Discourse of Exchange’ by Knollys is at Penshurst (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 230); his ‘arguments against the cross in baptism and the surplice’ are in Lansd. MS. 64, art. 14, and a ‘project’ by him ‘for security of the protestant religion by checking the ecclesiastical power’ is in Lansd. MS. 97, art. 16.
Knollys married Catherine, daughter of William Carey, esquire of the body to Henry VIII, by Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, earl of Wiltshire, and sister of Queen Anne Boleyn. Lady Knollys was thus first cousin to Queen Elizabeth, and sister to Henry Carey, lord Hunsdon [q. v.] She died, aged 39, at Hampton Court, while in attendance on the queen, 15 Jan. 1568–9, and was buried in April in St. Edmund's Chapel in Westminster Abbey, at the royal expense (Hatfield MSS. i. 415). Elizabeth keenly felt her loss (ib. i. 400). A broadside epitaph by Thomas Newton, dated in 1569, belonged to Heber (cf. Bibl. Heber. ed. Collier, p. 55). She left seven sons and four daughters. Of the latter, Lettice (1540–1634) was wife successively of Walter Devereux, earl of Essex, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, and of Sir Christopher Blount [see under Dudley, Robert]; Cecilia, maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth, married Sir Thomas Leighton, captain of Guernsey (Nicolas, Hatton, p. 281); Anne, married to Thomas, lord de la Warr; and Catherine, married (1) to Gerald Fitzgerald, lord Offaly, and (2) Sir Philip Boteler of Watton Woodhall.
All Knollys's sons were prominent courtiers in his lifetime. They were, according to Naunton, at continual feud with the Norris family, and, aided by Leicester's influence, kept their rivals in subjection until Leicester's death. Henry, the eldest son, described as of Kingsbury, Warwickshire, was educated at Magdalen College school, Oxford, and after accompanying his father to Germany, is said to have matriculated at the college, although his name does not appear in the university register, and to have obtained there the reputation of being a very cultivated and religious man. He was elected M.P. for Shoreham in 1562–3, and for Oxfordshire in 1572, and accompanied his brother-in-law, Walter Devereux, earl of Essex, to Ireland in 1574. He was an esquire of the body to Queen Elizabeth. His will, dated 21 Dec. 1582, was proved 14 May 1583. He married, before 11 April 1568, Margaret (1549?–1606), daughter of Sir Ambrose Cave, by whom he had two daughters, Elizabeth (dead before 1632), wife of Sir Henry Willoughby (d. 1649) of Risley, Derbyshire, and Lettice, wife of William, fourth lord Paget (d. 20 Aug. 1629), from whom descend the Marquises of Anglesey.
William, the second son, and eventual heir, is noticed separately.
Edward, the third son, was elected M.P. for Oxford 2 April 1571, and died about 1580.
Robert, the fourth son, was appointed keeper of Sion House in 1560, and usher of the Mint in the Tower, 5 Feb. 1578. He was M.P. for Reading from 1572 to 1589, and for Breconshire from 1589 to 1604, subsequently sitting for Abingdon, 1614, and again in 1623–4 and 1625, and for Berkshire in 1620. He was created K.B. 24 July 1603, and died in January 1625. He married Katherine, daughter of Sir Rowland Vaughan of Porthamel, Anglesey.
Richard, the fifth son, described as of Stanford-in-the-Vale, Berkshire, M.P. for Northampton in 1588 and for Wallingford in 1584, died at Rotherfield Greys 21 Aug. 1596, having married Joane, daughter of John Higham of Cliffords, Sussex, and sister of John Higham of Stanford. Her second husband was Francis Winchcombe of Bucklebury, Berkshire. She was buried at Rotherfield Greys 10 Oct. 1631. Sir Robert Knollys (d. 1659), her son by her first husband, was knighted 10 Jan. 1612–13, and acquired Rotherfield Greys from his uncle William 4 March 1630–1. The estate was finally alienated from the family in 1686.
Francis, sixth son, leased from the crown the manor of Battel, near Reading. He was well known at court as ‘young Sir Francis,’ and was M.P. for Oxford 1572–88, and for Berkshire in 1597 and 1625. His will was proved in 1648. He married Lettice, daughter of John Barrett of Hanham, Gloucestershire, by license dated 21 Dec. 1588. A son Sir Francis, who seems to have been M.P. for Reading in 1625–6–8 and 1640, died in 1643, and his daughter, Letitia or Lettice, was second wife of John Hampden [q. v.]
Thomas, apparently seventh son, distinguished himself in the warfare in the Low Countries, acting as governor of Ostend in 1586, and prominently aiding Peregrine Bertie [q. v.] in the siege of Bergen in 1588. He married Odelia, daughter of John de Morada, marquess of Bergen.[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. i. 653–5; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 209, 548; Gent. Mag. 1846, pt. i. p. 250 (account of Lettice Knollys and her family); Froude's History; Lists of Members of Parliament; Cal. State Papers, Domestic, Colonial, and Scottish; Dr. F. G. Lee's History of the Prebendal Church of Thame, p. 593; Herald and Genealogist, vols. vii. viii.; Nicolas's Life of Sir Christopher Hatton; Devereux's Lives of Earls of Essex; Dugdale's Baronage; Strype's Whitgift, Eccl. Memorials, and Annals; Coates's Reading; Zurich Letters (Parker Soc.); Nichols's Lit. Remains of Edward VI (Roxb. Club); Naunton's Queen Elizabeth's Favourites; Pedigree of the family of Knollys and title to the manor of Rotherfield Greys, published by the House of Lords, 1810; Davenport's Lords-Lieutenants and Sheriffs of Oxfordshire, p. 60.]