William Knollys KG
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William Knollys KG (1545 - 1632)

Sir William "1st Earl of Banbury" Knollys KG
Born in Englandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married about Apr 1574 [location unknown]
Husband of — married 23 Dec 1605 [location unknown]
Descendants descendants
Father of
Died at age 87 in London, Middlesex, Englandmap
Profile last modified | Created 12 Nov 2008 | Last significant change: 24 Nov 2022
21:19: Jo Fitz-Henry edited the Biography for William Knollys KG (1545-1632). (edited Garter category) [Thank Jo for this]
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William Knollys, was born on 20 Mar 1545. His birth was recorded by his father Francis as follows: Wyllyam Knollys was borne, anno domini, 1545. ye frydaye before owre Ladye daye in Lentt. [1] Lady Day or the Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on 25 March. [2] His parents were Sir Francis Knollys, K.G. and Lady Catherine Carey, niece of Anne Boleyn, Queen of Henry VIII.

William's education was begun with Josceline (Julius) Palmer. [3] He then attended Magdalen College, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. He "was created Master of Arts at Oxford on 27 September 1592."[4] When his father died in July 1596, William was named his main heir and sole executor of the will. [5] [6]

In April 1574, William married Lady Dorothy Bray, the widow of Edmund Brydges, Lord Chandos; a woman twenty years older then himself. Dorothy was the daughter of Edmund Braye, 1st Lord Braye and retained the title of Lady Chandos for the remainder of her life.

Unfortunately for Dorothy, William became infatuated with a girl 31 years his junior, one of the Queen's younger ladies in waiting, Mary Fitton. Although still married to Dorothy, he wrote Mary love letters, hoping to win her; but her interests lay with Wlilliam Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke. Sir William was so obvious about his desire for Mary that ditties were written to lampoon him.

"Party Beard, party beard--the white hind was crossed: Brave Pembroke struck her down and took her from the clown, like a good woodsman."

His nickname of Party Beard, as well as mocking his puritanical attitude to court social occasions, was also given because his beard was three colors; white at the roots, yellow in the middle, and black at the ends.[7][8] [9]

This scenario, and the fact that as Comptroller of the Queen's Household he evidently ruled with some severity; frowning upon sporting events and revels, has led some scholars to believe that William Shakespeare may have partly modelled the character "Malvolio" in Twelfth Night after Sir William. Dorothy died 31 October 1605, at Minty, Gloucestershire, England, and was buried at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire. [6] William and Dorothy had no surviving children; no doubt in part to Dorothy's age.

A few weeks after the death of Dorothy, Sir William married nineteen year old Lady Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk and Katharine Knyvett. Sir William was 39 years older then Elizabeth. They had one daughter, born before 1610, who died as an infant. [6] [3]They possibly had another child, who also died as an infant. [6][3] Sir William and Elizabeth were married twenty-one years, and no surviving children were born until Sir William was in his 80s. When he was approved by Parliament in 1628 as Earl of Banbury, he was assumed to be without heirs. Yet, his wife had a son, Edward, on 10 April 1627. Five weeks after the death of Sir William, Elizabeth married Edward Vaux, 4th Lord Vaux, and a son Nicholas was born on 3 January 1630/1.

There was litigation after his death relating to the succession of his honours due to the reputed illegitimacy of his youngest son, the 3rd Earl of Banbury. The Parliament members assumed that a man as old as Sir William couldn't have been the father of Edward and Nicholas. Edward was finally ruled legitimate. In 1661, Nicholas, Earl of Banbury, was ruled a 'legitimate person.' The battle continued over this issue into the 1800s.[6] [10][11]

Sir William Knollys wrote his will on 19 May 1630, it was proved on 2 July 1632. He left Elizabeth, the Countess of Banbury, everything except for a few legacies to servants. He didn't acknowledge any children in his will. Sir William died on 25 May 1632 in the home of Dr Grant on Paternoster Row, London, and was buried at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire. [12][13]

Political Career

Sir William was treasurer to James I. He was raised to the peerage of Baron Banbury and Viscount Wallingford by James I and then to Earl of Banbury by Charles I. [6]

1572-1583, Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Tregony
1584-1586, M.P. for Oxfordshire
7 October 1586, appointed Knight by Robert, Earl of Leicester
1592-1593, M.P. for Oxfordshire
1596-1600, Held Office of Comptroller of the Household
1596-1632, Office of Lord-Lieutenant of Berkshire
30 August 1596, Privy Counsellor (P.C.)
1597-1598, M.P. for Oxfordshire
1599, Delegate State of Holland
1600-1616, Office of Treasurer of the Household
1601, M.P. Oxfordshire
13 May 1603, Created 1st Baron Knollys of Greys, co. Oxford, England
1614-1618, Master of the Wards
24 April 1615, Knight, Order of the Garter (K.G.)
7 November 1616, 1st Viscount Wallingford, co. Berks
1620, High Steward of Oxford
18 August 1626, 1st Earl of Banbury, co. Oxford, England that he shall have precedency as if he had been created the first Earle after his Majestys access to the Crowne. The King desired to do this honor for William because, desires this may pass for once in this particular, considering how old a man this Lord is, and childless,--- On 9 April 1628, Act of Parliament permitted this, but it was for only his lifetime.[6]

Research Notes

A birthplace of France was previously listed for Sir William, but no sources have been found to support that.


  1. Varlow, Sally Sir Francis Knollys's Latin dictionary: new evidence for Katherine Carey Historical Research, Volume 80, Issue 209, August 2007, Pages 315–323,Oxford Academic
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Feast of the Annunciation," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Feast_of_the_Annunciation&oldid=943721791 (accessed March 8, 2020).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Dictionary of National Biography By Sidney Lee, p.286, 1892, Google Books
  4. Historical Notices of the Parishes of Swycombe and Ewelme in the County of Oxford, By Henry Alfred Napier, 1858, p.379 Google Books
  5. Jones, Barry V GREYS COURT ROTHERFIELD GREYS OXFORDSHIRE VOLUME 2 THE 16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES English Heritage Buildings and Landscapes Survey and Investigation Division Report Series B/002/2005 PDF
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 George Edward Cokayne, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom: Extant, Extinct, or Dormant. [Second edition] (13 volumes in 14 parts, 1910-1959; with a 14th volume of corrections and additions, 1998) Volume 1, pgs. 400-408, BANBURY Sir William Knollys
  7. Wikipedia contributors, "William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William_Knollys,_1st_Earl_of_Banbury&oldid=866041662 (accessed February 13, 2019).
  8. The Shakespeare Enigma By Peter Dawkins, 2004, Polair Poblishing, p.140 Google Books
  9. Aubrey Burl Shakespeare's Mistress: The Mystery of the Dark Lady Revealed Amberley Publishing Limited, 15 Jun 2012 Google Books
  10. A Treatise on the Law of Adulterine Bastardy, with a report of the Banbury Case, by Sir N. Harris Nicholas, 1836, p. 588
  11. A Digest of the Laws of England Respecting Real Property, Volumes 3-4 By William Cruise, p.266, https://books.google.com.au/books?id=Z3c0AQAAMAAJ&pg=RA3-PA110#v=onepage&q&f=false
  12. Historical Notices of the Parishes of Swycombe and Ewelme in the County of Oxford, By Henry Alfred Napier, 1858, p.387 Will of Sir William
  13. A Treatise on the Origin and Nature of Dignities, Or Titles of Honor: Containing All the Cases of Peerage, Together with the Mode of Proceeding in Claims of this Kind, By William Cruise, 1823 p.286, https://books.google.com.au/books?id=JpYDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA286#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Comments: 2

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Hi Kerry, following previous communication with you, the England Project is taking on management of this profile. See Project-Managed Profiles Help for more information. Thank you for your care of this profile and we hope you will join the England Project to maintain your close interest. Regards, Gillian, Leader, England Project.
posted by Gillian Thomas
Is there any source that says he was born in France? Surely a matter of interest but no one mentions it.
posted by C. Mackinnon