Sir Francis KNOLLYS, Knight

Born: ABT 1514, Rotherfield, Gray's, Oxon, England

Acceded: Rotherfield Grays, Oxford, England

Died: 19 Jul 1596 / 18 Aug 1596, Rotherford Greys, Oxfordshire, England

Notes: Knight of the Garter.

Father: Robert KNOLLYS

Mother: Lettice (Catherine) PENNYSTONE

Married: Catherine CAREY (Chief Lady of Bedchamber) ABT 1539 / ABT Apr 1540, Hampshire, England?


1. Henry KNOLLYS (Sir Knight)

2. Mary KNOLLYS (b. 1542)

3. Lettice KNOLLYS (C. Essex/C. Leicester)

4. William KNOLLYS (1° E. Banbury)

5. Edward KNOLLYS (MP) (b. 1546 - d. 1580)

6. Maud KNOLLYS (b. 1548)

7. Elizabeth KNOLLYS

8. Robert KNOLLYS (Sir)

9. Richard KNOLLYS

10. Francis KNOLLYS (Sir)

11. Anne KNOLLYS (B. De La Warr)

12. Thomas KNOLLYS (Sir)

13. Catherine KNOLLYS (B. Offaley)

14. Cecily KNOLLYS

15. Dudley KNOLLYS (b. 1562)

© Copyright of David Nash Ford.

Biography reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Berkshire History Website.

Born about 1514, the year that his father was given the manor of Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire for an annual rental of a single red rose, Francis was largely raised under the auspices of his mother, since his father died when he was only seven. Catherine Knollys soon remarried to Sir Robert Lee of Burston in Buckinhamshire, producing a number of half-siblings. Sir Robert died in 1537 and she then became the second wife of Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton in Northamptonshire. Francis appears to have received some education at Oxford, but an old assertion that he was for a time a member of Magdalen College is unconfirmed.

His father had been an usher to the Chamber under King Henry VII and King Henry VIII. Greys Court passed to the crown and Henry VII gave it to his uncle, Jasper Tudor for a short period. Robert Knollys, a court official, who had lived in Greys Court since 1503, received papers passing the property to him in 1514 for an annual rent of a Red Rose at Midsummer. In 1538 it is recorded that Henry VIII secured the estate to 'his friend Francis Knollys', son of Robert Knollys. It has been said that this branch of the Knollys family descended from the great Sir Robert Knollys of Sculthorpe, (the soldier from the famous 'Free Companies' of the Hundred Years War whose name has featured previously on this web site) but Sir Francis's pedigree cannot be properly traced beyond Sir Thomas Knollys, Lord Mayor of London. Sir Francis Knollys was fifth in decent from him.

Henry VIII extended to Francis Knollys the favour that he had shown to his father and, in 1538, secured for him his the estate of Rotherfield Greys. Acts of Parliament in 1541 and in 1546 attested to this grant, in the second act making his wife joint-tenant with him. At the same time, Francis became one of the gentlemen-pensioners at court.

Francis Knollys's wife, Catherine Carey, was a grand-daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, daughter of Mary Boleyn and possibly Henry VIII and thus made her 1st cousin (or possibly brother-in-law) to Queen Elizabeth I. They had fifteen children, eight boys: Henry, William, Earl of Banbury; Sir Robert, Richard, Edward, Sir Francis, Sir Thomas and Dudley; and seven girls: the beautifull Lettice, countess of Essex and of Leicester, Anne, baroness De la Warr, Elizabeth, Catherine, Baroness Offaley, Mary, Maud and Cecily (d. young).

He attended on Anne of Cleves when she landed in England and later identified himself with militant Protestantism. 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 on 28 Sep 1547. Knollys' 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, but also in religious discussion. On 25 Nov 1551, he was present at Sir William Cecil's house, at a conference between Catholics and Protestants respecting the corporeal presence in the Sacrament. 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.

However, when Mary Tudor became Queen he left England. Princess Elizabeth wrote to him and his wife, looking forward to their safe return. Knollys first took up his residence in Frankfort, where he was admitted as a church-member on 21 Dec 1557; but, afterwards, he removed himself to Strasburg. According to Fuller, he "bountifully communicated to the necessities" of his fellow-exiles in Germany and, at Strasburg, he seems to have been on intimate terms with Jewel and Peter Martyr. He corresponded with Calvin and enrolled as a student at the University of Basle. BEF Mary's death, he returned to England.

Upon the accession of Elizabeth I, Francis, "as a man of assured understanding and truth, and well affected to the protestant religion", became one of the Queen's most intimate councillors; he was appointed a Privy Councillor as well as Vice-Chamberlain of the Queen's household and was Treasurer of the Royal Household from 1572-1596, his wife becoming gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber. In 1559 he found a seat in Parliament through the patronage of Henry Fitzalan, 18th Earl of Arundel.

In 1560, Knollys' wife and son, Robert, were granted, for their lives, the manor of Taunton, part of the property of the See of Winchester. In 1562, Knollys was chosen Member of Parliament for Oxford, of which town he was also appointed Chief Steward. In 1572, he was elected the Member of Parliament 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, as a zealous puritan, in ecclesiastical matters, he preserved an independent attitude.

In May 1568, Mary, Queen of Scots, fled to England and flung herself on Queen 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, 9th 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 which suggested her involvement in her husband Darnley's murder. A month passed and no decision was reached in London respecting Mary's future. On 13 Jul, Knollys contrived to remove her, despite "her tragical demonstrations", to Bolton Castle in the Yorkshire Dales, the seat of Lord Scrope. Here he tried to amuse her by teaching her to write and speak English. Knollys' position grew more and more distasteful and, writing on 16 Jul to Cecil whom he kept well informed of Mary's conversations and conduct, he angrily demanded his recall. But while lamenting his occupation, Knollys conscientiously endeavoured to convert his prisoner to his puritanic views and she read the English prayer-hook under his guidance. In his discussions with her, Sir Francis commended so unreservedly the doctrines and forms of Geneva that Queen Elizabeth, upon learning his line of argument, sent him a sharp reprimand. Writing to Cecil in self-defence (8 Aug 1568), Knollys described how contentedly Mary accepted his plain speaking on religious topics. In fact, Mary made every effort to maintain good relations with him. Late in Aug, she gave Sir Francis a present for his wife, desired his wife's acquaintance and wrote to him a very friendly note, her first attempt at English composition. In Oct, 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 Nov 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 Dec, he was directed by Elizabeth to induce Mary to assent to her abdication of the Scottish throne. In Jan 1569, he plainly told the English Queen 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. The Scottish Queen protested against her the removal in a pathetic note (25 Jan) to Knollys and intended for Elizabeth's eyes; but, next day, she was forced to leave Bolton and Knollys remained with her at Tutbury until 3 Feb. His wife's death then called him home. Mary blamed Elizabeth for the fatal termination of Lady Knollys' illness, attributing it to her husband's extended absence in the north.

Lady Knollys was first cousin to Queen Elizabeth and sister to Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. She died, aged 39, at Hampton Court Palace, while in attendance on the Queen, on 15 Jan 1569 and was buried at Royal expense, in April, in St. Edmund's Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

In Apr 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 Jul) and he entertained Elizabeth at the Royal Palace at the dissolved Reading abbey, where he often resided by permission of the Crown. The office of treasurer, he retained till his death.

In 1578 Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, secretly married Sir Francis's daughter, Lettice. Sir Francis then forced them to marry a second time with himself as a witness, fearing that Leicester might disavow Lettice just as he had previously disavowed Douglas, Lady Sheffield. However, when Queen Elizabeth I found this out, she forbade Lettice ever again to come to court and even considered imprisoning Leicester in The Tower.

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 Jul 1578, he repeated his warning 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. 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 Dec 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 1580, 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 Apr 1589, he was a commissioner for the trial Phillip 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 £100, for several years, towards the expenses of the War for the Defence of the Low Countries and renewed the offer, which was not accepted, in Jul 1586. In 1589, 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 Smythe in a letter to Parkhurst, Bishop of Norwich, arguing in favour of the religious exercises known a 'prophesyings'. But he was zealous in opposition to heresy and, in Sep 1581, he begged Burghley and Leicester to repress such "anabaptistical sectaries" as member of the "Family of Love...who do serve the turn of the Papists".

Writing to John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 20 Jun 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". He supported Thomas 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. Repeating his views, in Jul 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 characterized as a fond and scandalous syllogism. In the parliament of 1589, he vainly endeavoured to pass a bill against non-residence of the clergy and pluralities. 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 1589) was keenly criticised. The volume was entitled 'Informations, or a Protestation and a Treatise from Scotland...all suggesting the Usurpation of Papal Bishops.' Knollys' 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, Sir Francis 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". 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.

The wayward temper of his grandson, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 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 KG in 1593. He died 19 Jul 1596 and their magnificent Elizabethan tomb can also be seen in Rotherfield Greys Church, which later became the resting place for future generations of the Knollys family.

Knollys,Francis(Sir)tomb.jpg (127740 bytes)

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