KNOLLYS, Henry I (bef.1521-83), of Milverton, Som. and the Blackfriars, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. bef. 1521, yr. s. of Robert Knollys of Rotherfield Greys and bro. of Sir Francis. unm.

Offices Held

Sewer of chamber by 1546; chief steward and receiver-gen. of lands of Holywell priory, Mdx. 1549; eccles. commr. 1566, 1572.1


In spite of his relationship to the Queen and his considerable scholarly and linguistic ability, Knollys never attained a high position at the Elizabethan court, probably because of his uncompromising religious convictions, for he was, as the Spanish ambassador put it, ‘a great scamp’ and ‘a terrible protestant’. He had ‘as sufficient Italian as any English gentleman’, and his library contained books in Italian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French and Spanish. He was in Italy with Sir Peter Carew in 1540; under Edward VI he went on an embassy to France; while for at least the second part of Mary’s reign he was again abroad, acting for a time as a member of the committee which tried to reconcile the religious differences among the Frankfurt protestants. He was still in Frankfurt in January 1559, but was back in England before September, when Elizabeth sent him to Harwich to greet the representative of King Eric of Sweden. As usual, she ignored Sir Nicholas Throckmorton’s advice, in this case to appoint Knollys ambassador to the German princes, and also, later, Grindal’s suggestion that he should be made provost of Eton. In 1561 it was rumoured that he would be chosen ambassador to France, but his only diplomatic employment came in the following year, when he and Christopher Mundt went to Germany in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the protestant princes to make a league with Condé. Knollys returned to England in January 1563.2

At home the government employed him in various capacities. In 1569 the Spanish ambassador was temporarily placed in his custody, and between this date and 1572 Knollys was responsible in turn for Mary Queen of Scots at Tutbury, and for the Duke of Norfolk in the Tower. During these years he was also employed to examine other prisoners, mainly Catholics, in the Tower, and he was chosen in December 1571 to see that Philip of Spain’s discredited representative left the country.3

Knollys was fairly active in Parliament. He presumably owed his return for New Shoreham to the Duke of Norfolk. His patron at Guildford was doubtless (Sir) William More I, whom he mentioned in his will, while his return at Christchurch must have been secured by another friend, and relative by marriage, the puritan 3rd Earl of Huntingdon. On 2 Jan. 1566 he was chosen to distribute alms to the poor and on 31 Oct. 1566, with his brother, he was appointed to a conference with the Lords on the succession question. Both he and his brother were among the 30 MPs summoned on 5 Nov. 1566 to hear the Queen’s message on the succession. In 1571 his committees were on religion (6, 21, 25, 28 Apr., 19 May) and the business of the House (21 Apr.), and in his last Parliament he attended the conference with the Lords on Mary Queen of Scots (12 May 1572), was appointed to examine Peter Wentworth (8 Feb. 1576), sat on the committee that met in the Exchequer chamber on the afternoon of 29 Feb. 1576 to discuss the petition to the Queen about the reform of church discipline, and finally, as ‘Mr. Harry Knowles the elder’, he was appointed to collect the money for the poor, 14 Mar. 1576. The journals are careful to distinguish him from his nephew and namesake who also served in Knollys’s three Elizabethan Parliaments.4

Knollys had property in Somerset, Yorkshire, Blackfriars and Lewisham, Kent. In a letter to Cecil in 1563 he explained that he had sold all his lands before going abroad in Mary’s reign, fearing a long absence from England, but on his return sooner than he expected, was in a position to ‘buy somewhat again in recompense’. In all he seems to have spent about £700 on land in this year.5

In his will made at Blackfriars 27 July 1583 (not 1582 as in the PCC register), shortly before his death, he left small sums of money to many of his relatives and to the poor of the French, Italian and Dutch churches in London, and settled a 40s. annuity on the son of Christopher Watson, historian and translator. He asked two fellows of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to dispose of most of his books, and bequeathed his great Bible to Magdalen. Despite these bequests there is no evidence that Knollys attended a university. His lands were left to his ‘dear brother’ Sir Francis and his heirs, the residue of his goods to be shared by his poor kinsmen, by students of divinity at Oxford, and by the poor of Henley-on-Thames and Rotherfield Greys. He apppointed as executors Sir Francis, and his brother’s eldest surviving son, William.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: Patricia Hyde / P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Her. and Gen. viii. 289-302; PCC 43 Rowe; LP Hen. VIII, xxi(1), pp. 246, 771; PCC 45 Populwell.
  • 2. CSP Span. 1568-79, pp. 356, 370; PCC 43 Rowe; Troubles at Frankfurt, ed. Arber, pp. 202, 208, 226; EHR, lxv. 91-3; Strype, Parker, i. 209; CSP For. 1547-53, p. 123; 1558-9, p. 579; 1559-60, p. 154; 1561-2, pp. 23, 45, 49, 264; 1562, pp. 245, 280-1, 546-8; 1563, p. 54.
  • 3. HMC Hatfield, i. 400, 443; CSP For. 1572-4, pp. 2, 11, 13-14, 26; APC, vii. 386; viii. 206, 249, 319; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 348, 450, 497.
  • 4. CJ, i. 81, 83, 85, 86, 91, 95, 104, 109; D’Ewes, 127, 135, 157, 176, 178, 179, 186, 206, 241; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. f. 132; Camb. Univ. Lib. Gg. iii. 34, f. 209.
  • 5. Lansd. 7, ff. 60-1; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 521-2, 558-9.
  • 6. DNB; PCC 43 Rowe; C142/207/84.