KNOLLYS, the name of an English family descended from Sir Thomas Knollys (d. 1435), lord mayor of London. The first distinguished member of the family was Sir Francis Knollys (c. 1514-1596), English statesman, son of Robert Knollys, or Knolles (d. 1521), a courtier in the service and favour of Henry VII. and Henry VIII. Robert had also a younger son, Henry, who took part in public life during the reign of Elizabeth and who died in 1583.
Francis Knollys, who entered the service of Henry VIII. before 1540, became a member of parliament in 1542 and was knighted in 1 547 while serving with the English army in Scotland. A strong and somewhat aggressive supporter of the reformed doctrines, he retired to Germany soon after Mary became queen, returning to England to become a privy councillor, vice- chamberlain of the royal household and a member of parliament under Queen Elizabeth, whose cousin Catherine (d. 1569), daughter of William Carey and niece of Anne Boleyn, was his wife. After serving as governor of Plymouth, Knollys was sent in 1566 to Ireland, his mission being to obtain for the queen confidential reports about the conduct of the lord-deputy Sir Henry Sidney. Approving of Sidney's actions he came back to England, and in 1568 was sent to Carlisle to take charge of Mary Queen of Scots, who had just fled from Scotland; afterwards he was in charge of the queen at Bolton Castle and then at Tutbury Castle. He discussed religious questions with his prisoner, although the extreme Protestant views which he pat before her did not meet with Elizabeth's approval, and he gave up the position of guardian just after his wife's death in January 1 569. In 1 584 he introduced into the House of Commons, where since 1572 he had represented Oxfordshire, the bill legalizing the national association for Elizabeth's defence, and he was treasurer of the royal household from 1572 until his death on the 19th of July 1596. His monument may still be seen in the church of Rotherfield Grays, Oxfordshire. Knollys was repeatedly free and frank in his objections to Elizabeth's tortuous foreign policy; but, possibly owing to his relationship to the queen, he did not lose her favour, and he was one of her commissioners on such important occasions as the trials of Mary Queen of Scots, of Philip Howard earl of Arundel, and of Anthony Babington. An active and lifelong Puritan, his attacks on the bishops were not lacking in vigour, and he was also very hostile to heretics. He received many grants of land from the queen, and was chief steward of the city of Oxford and a knight of the garter.
Sir Francis's eldest son Henry (d 1583), and his sons Edward (d. c. 1580), Robert (d. 1625), Richard (d. 1596), Francis (d. c. 1648), and Thomas, were all courtiers and served the queen in parliament or in the field. His daughter Lettice (1540-1634) married Walter Devereux, earl of Essex, and then Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester; she was the mother of Elizabeth's favourite, the 2nd earl of Essex.
Some of Knollys's letters are in.T. Wright's Queen Elizabeth and her Times (1838) and the Burghley Papers, edited by S. Haynes (1740) ; and a few of his manuscripts are still in existence. A speech which Knollys delivered in parliament against some claims made by the bishops was printed in 1608 and again in W. Stoughton's Assertion for True and Christian Church Policie (London, 1642).
Sir Francis Knollys's second son William (c. 1547-1 63 2) N served as a member of parliament and a soldier during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, being knighted in 1 586. His eldest brother Henry, having died without sons in 1583, William inherited his father's estates in Oxfordshire, becoming in 1596 a privy councillor and comptroller of the royal household; in 1602 he was made treasurer of the household. Sir William enjoyed the favour of the new king James I., whom he had visited in Scotland in 1585, and was made Baron Knollys in 1603 and Viscount Wallingford in 1616. But in this latter year his fortunes suffered a temporary reverse. Through his second wife Elizabeth (1586-1658), daughter of Thomas Howard, earl of Suffolk, Knollys was related to Frances, countess of Somerset, and when this lady was tried for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury her relatives were regarded with suspicion; consequently Lord Wallingford resigned the treasurership of the household and two years later the mastership of the court of wards, an office which he had held since 1614. However, he regained the royal favour, and was created earl of Banbury in 1626. He died in London on the 25th of May 1632.
His wife, who was nearly forty years her husband's junior, was the mother of two sons, Edward (1627-1645) and Nicholas (1631-1674), whose paternity has given rise to much dispute. Neither is mentioned in the earl's will, but in 1641 the law courts decided that Edward was earl of Banbury, and when he was killed in June 1645 his brother Nicholas took the title. In the Convention Parliament of 1660 some objection was taken to the earl sitting in the House of Lords, and in 1661 he was not summoned to parliament; he had not succeeded in obtaining Lis writ of summons when he died on the 14th of March 1674.
Nicholas's son Charles (1662-1740), the 4th earl, had not been summoned to parliament when in 1692 he killed Captain Philip Lawson in a duel. This raised the question of his rank in a new form. Was he, or was he not, entitled to trial by the peers? The House of Lords declared that he was not a peer and therefore not so entitled, but the court of king's bench released him from his imprisonment on the ground that he was the earl of Banbury and not Charles Knollys a commoner. Nevertheless the House of Lords refused to move from its position, and Knollys had not received a writ of summons when he died in April 1740. His son Charles (1703-1771), vicar of Burford, Oxfordshire, and his grandsons, William (1726-1776) and Thomas Woods (1727-1793), were successively titular earls of Banbury, but they took no steps to prove their title. However, in 1806 Thomas Woods's son William (1763-1824), who attained the rank of general in the British army, asked for a writ of summons as earl of Banbury, but in 1813 the House of Lords decided against the claim. Several peers, including the great Lord Erskine, protested against this decision, but General Knollys himself accepted it and ceased to call himself earl of Banbury. He died in Paris on the 20th of March 1834. His eldest son, Sir William Thomas Knollys (i 797- 1883), entered the army and served with the Guards during the Peninsular War. Remaining in the army after the conclusion of the peace of 181 5 he won a good reputation and rose high in his profession. From 1855 to 1860 he was in charge of the military camp at Aldershot, then in its infancy, and in 1861 he was made president of the council of military education. From 1862 to 1877 he was comptroller of the household of the prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII. From 1877 until his death on the 23rd of June 1883 he was gentleman usher of the black rod; he was also a privy councillor and colonel of the Scots Guards. His son Francis (b. 1837), private secretary to Edward VII. and George V., was created Baron Knollys in 1902; another son, Sir Henry Knollys (b. 1840), became private secretary to King Edward's daughter Maud, queen of Norway.
See Sir N. H. Nicolas, Treatise on the Law of Adulterine Bastardy 1833); and G. E. C(okayne), Complete Peerage (1887), vol. i.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)