- Richest of the Rich position: 16
- Birth/Death: c 1317-1407
- Origin of wealth: Land
- Wealth: Â£60,000
- Net National Income: Â£3m
- Net National Income Percent: 2%
- In Today’s Money: Â£22.19 billion
Born around 1317, probably in Cheshire, Knollys was the premier soldier of his age who achieved ‘regal wealth’ by the relatively simple means of murder, rape, extortion and finally pillage on a grand scale.
A contemporary of Edward III and John of Gaunt, he regularly fought with them in France, which was the main arena for his military operations. Writing of one of the campaigns, the Dictionary of National Biography reports
The English supported themselves by plunder and the country people fled before them into the fortresses. Knollys, whose policy was to do as much damage as possible, did not attempt any sieges and contented himself with the exaction of heavy ransoms.
When Knollys’ main fortress at Derval in Brittany was besieged he broke the terms of a surrender and his own hostages were executed by the French. He promptly retaliated by beheading his French prisoners and throwing their bodies over the wall of the city to the French who then lifted the siege.
He lent the equivalent of millions to the king, secured on royal plate and royal jewels, but he was also the persistent beneficiary of kingly rewards, including the manor of what is now St. Pancras in London, given to him by the City fathers in London after he saved them from a riot by beheading the ringleaders. His plunder from France enabled him to amass huge estates in Norfolk, Wiltshire, Kent and London.
He died, peacefully at home, worth Â£60,000 in 1407, when net national income was around Â£3m. In modern terms he was worth about Â£17.3bn. He had no heirs and his will, still extant, dispersed his fortune, which would be worth a staggering Â£22.1bn in today’s money.