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  • Kristin Bundesen, PhD

Dudley Knollys is a Girl?

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

There I was, on the sofa one evening, reading The Elizabethan New Year's Gift Rolls, 1559-1603  edited by Jane Lawson, over a bowl of pasta puttanesca - you know, as one does on a Saturday evening - when I stumbled over an entry for a christening gift from Queen Elizabeth to Sir Francis and Katherine Knollys for the birth of a daughter. The details did not match up with the accepted number and gender of the Knollys children. So I emailed Jane and together we figured it out.

We know how many children the couple had from Sir Francis's own accounts written in his copy of a Latin dictionary. One of those children was named Dudley born May 9, 1562. The poor thing died June 1562.  Sir Francis does not say if Dudley was male or female but the name, historians assumed, indicated a boy.

In Rotherfield Greys, near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire UK, there is a remarkable chapel with a monument to Sir Francis Knollys and his wife Katherine Carey Knollys. Sir Francis and Lady Katherine are surrounded by their children figured as weepers. Lying next to Katherine is the effigy of a small child who  died in infancy - Dudley. Contrary to sentimental supposition that Dudley was a boy who was placed next to the mother as a sign of affection, it turns out that Dudley was a girl.

Partial view of the Knollys monument in Rotherfield Greys church. The infant effigy, in red robes, is just visible next to the 2nd and 3rd female weeper lying next to her mother.

We've been fooled for hundreds of years by the forename. There were plenty of other Elizabethan elite women with male names, or surnames, as a first name. Perhaps the most recognizable was Douglas Howard (1542-1628), daughter of William Howard, 1st Baron of Effingham and his wife Margaret Gamage Howard, Baroness Effingham. We assume that Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, was Douglas Howard's godmother. Douglas has several other claims to fame including having a son with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The jury is still out on whether Douglas and Robert were legally married. Before her liaison with Leicester, she was married to John Sheffield, Baron Sheffield and after Leicester she married Edward Stafford, an ambassador to France.

Dudley Knollys may have been named after Ambrose Dudley, Robert Dudley's brother. The queen was godmother, hence the christening gift - the key to the puzzle. The draft article is available for download here.

The full article in its final version is available at Notes & Queries in March 2018.

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