In the modern age, it is not unusual for a family to consist of only one or two children; maybe even three or four if the family wants a “large” brood. We stand amazed at the prolific Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting and marvel at the inner workings of their enormous family from our couches on a weekly basis. As a working mother of only one child, I often stare at my sink full of dirty dishes and mountain of laundry and wonder: how do they do it?
Well, I won’t lie, the noble women of the Tudor age certainly had more help than I; but when a family was the size of a small army, the nurses and nannies that fluttered about the manor were probably considered a Godsend.
Catherine Carey and Francis Knollys were certainly not unique for having a large family in the time that they lived. Based upon the inscription in a Latin Dictionary held in a private collection, we can see that Francis carefully inscribed the names of at least thirteen of their children. The dictionary itself is quite a wonder for those interested in the Knollys family. The transcriber, Sally Varlow, notes that it is possible to see where the ink changed after the addition of the number “12” indicating that Catherine was probably with child at the time that the introduction and list of the first 11 children were written. The names of the 12th and 13th children were written in a similar ink and the 13th listing includes, for the first time, a time of birth. One of the most insightful gems of the inscription is the listing of the 14th child, Dudley. In addition to the possibility of being written by someone other than Francis, this listing lends credibility to the identification of the Van der Meulen portrait that is most commonly thought to be of Catherine.
So what of these children? Who did they come to be?
1. Henry Knollys, the eldest son, was educated at Magdalen College in Oxford. He was a Member of Parliament several times and served Queen Elizabeth during her battle with the Northern Rebels. In 1570, he was appointed Esquire of the Body to the Queen. Eight years later, what started out as an interest in setting up in the newly formed North American colonies turned into more of a privateering venture on the Spanish Coast when Henry and the pirate John Callis commandeered three of Sir Humphrey Gilberts’ ships headed for the New World. Henry was married in 1565 to Margaret Cave and they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Lettice.
2. Mary Knollys seems to have disappeared from the records. After a valiant search, I turned up a listing for a Mary Knollys that was married to an Edward Stalker, but could never find enough to prove that she was the daughter of Catherine and Francis. My assumption is that she died young. Based on the mortality rate of the time, the odds would support that assumption.
3. Lettice Knollys is probably the most well-known of the Knollys children. Not many would dare take on Elizabeth and even less would venture to marry her favorite, Robert Dudley, but Lettice did just that earning herself the nickname of She-Wolf from her beloved cousin. Lettice was Countess of Essex and Leicester from her marriages to Robert Devereaux and Robert Dudley and lived to the ripe old age of 91, outliving her son, Robert Devereaux, who is best known as the Queen’s last favorite. The younger Robert let his status as favorite go to his head and the Queen, infuriated by his treasonous acts in Ireland during the Nine Years War, found reason to smite it from his shoulders. After the untimely death of Robert Dudley left her a wealthy widow, Lettice followed in the footsteps of her grandmother, Mary Boleyn, and married well-below her station: Christopher Blount, Gentleman of the Horse to her dearly departed husband. Lettice’s daughters, Penelope and Dorothy, both Countesses as well, also had their fair share of marital scandals; while her sons, Francis Devereaux and Robert Dudley left the world as youngsters.
4. William Knollys definitely had the best nickname of all the Knollys children. As William aged, his beard took on a layered tri-color appearance and he became known around Queen Elizabeth’s court as “Party Beard”. His infatuation with his young ward, Mary Fitton, only increased the derision he received and a jaunty little ditty was written and sang around the court. William and his fancy beard were created 1st Baron Knollys in 1603 and eventually the new monarch, James I, gave him the titles of 1st Viscount Wallingford and 1st Earl Banbury. William was first married to Dorothy Bray. Shortly after her death, he married Lady Elizabeth Howard. After William’s death, the House of Lords refused to pass along the Banbury title to William’s sons with Elizabeth due to a debate about their parentage. William was over the age of 80 when they were born and the Lords suspected their father was actually Elizabeth’s second husband, Edward Vaux.
5. Edward Knollys, like many in his family, served as a Member of Parliament. Per the History of Parliament Online, he died before the end of the Parliament of 1572 in Ireland, likely in the service of his brother-in-law, Walter Devereaux.
6. Maude Knollys is another child who seems to have completely disappeared from the records. In a family with such an unusually successful birthrate, it seems likely that she too died at a young age.
7. Elizabeth Knollys served her cousin as a Maid of Honour and as a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. Elizabeth married Thomas Leighton and spent most of her married life at court. With looks reminiscent of her royal cousin, it is no small wonder that she too was admired by Sir Walter Raleigh. She seems to have been very beloved of the Queen and it is quite possible that she is the daughter, Cecilia/Cecily Knollys, referred to in some genealogical documents. It may have been a nickname given to her since she shared a name with the Queen. Elizabeth and Thomas had a son and two daughters.
8. Robert Knollys held many titles during his lifetime. In addition to his roles as MP for both Reading and Breconshire, he was the Porter of Tower Mint; Keeper of Syon House, Keeper of the Woods at Isleworth, Brentford, Twickenham, Heston, Whitton, Sutton, and Aydestons; Steward and Bailiff of Crown lands at Isleworth and Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body for Queen Elizabeth. Robert was held in very high esteem by his royal cousin and his star only rose higher once James I ascended the throne. Though Robert was highly respected for his political acumen, he was dogged with debt and many of his goods were seized after his death from a fall he took at his brother, William’s home. He was married to Catherine Vaughn.
9. Richard Knollys was a Member of Parliament for Wallingford and Northampton and seems to have lived a fairly unremarkable life. He was married to Joan Heigham and they had three sons and two daughters.
10. Francis Knollys succeeded his brother, Edward, as MP for Oxford in 1572 and served as MP several times for Oxford, Berkshire and Reading. Like his older brother, Henry, Francis spent much of his time privateering against the Spaniards and during the Armada he was commissioner for musters and colonel of militia in Hertfordshire under his brother in law, Robert Dudley, who was serving as Lord Lieutenant. Francis’ daughter was married to John Hampden, one of the leading challengers to the authority of Charles I at the dawn of the English Civil War.
11. Anne Knollys also lived a fairly unremarkable life. It is her children that left their mark on history. Her marriage to Thomas West, 2nd Baron De La Warre produced six sons and eight daughters. Sons, Francis and John West, both served as governor in the newly created colony of Virginia and, as you might have already guessed, the state of Delaware takes its name from Anne’s second eldest son, Thomas.
12. Thomas Knollys, like his sisters, Mary and Maude, doesn’t appear in any of the records I could find. It is possible that he too died at an early age, but based upon the number of males in the Knollys Monument in St. Nicholas Church at Rotherfield Greys, it would appear that he at least lived into adulthood.
13. Katherine Knollys most likely followed her sisters and mother in service to the Queen. She married Gerald Fitzgerald, Baron Offaly. Their daughter, Lettice, was named 1st Baroness Offaly. After the Baron’s death, Katherine married Sir Phillip Butler.
14. Dudley Knollys is the only child of Francis and Catherine that we know definitively to have died shortly after birth. A contemporary record notes that “Sir Francis’ childe called Dudley Warwick was killed in June 1562.” We know from the dictionary that Dudley was born only the month before his untimely death.
History of Parliament Online
Varlow, Sally (August 2007) Sir Francis Knollys’ Latin Dictionary: New Evidence for Katherine Carey
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Adrienne Dillard, author of Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey, is a graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with emphasis in History from Montana State University-Northern.
Adrienne has been an eager student of history for most of her life and has completed in-depth research on the American Revolutionary War time period in American History and the history and sinking of the Titanic. Her senior university capstone paper was on the discrepancies in passenger lists on the ill-fated liner and Adrienne was able to work with Philip Hind of Encyclopedia Titanica for much of her research on that subject.
Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey is her first published novel.
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