He was the son of John Knowles and Elizabeth Lees of Green Bank, Oldham, Lancashire whose family owned Andrew Knowles and Sons, collieries in the Irwell Valley. He was educated at Rugby School and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a prominent athlete at both institutions and became president of the Cambridge University Athletics Club. He studied law, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1882.
In the following year, another general election was held, and Knowles was returned as Member of Parliament for Salford West. From 1887 to 1892 he held an appointment as unpaid parliamentary secretary to Charles Ritchie, President of the Local Government Board. He held a similar post when Ritchie became President of the Board of Trade in 1895. From 1896 to 1906 he was Second Church Estates Commissioner. In 1903 he was created a baronet, "of Westwood in the County of Lancaster". His parliamentary career came to an end when he lost his seat at the 1906 general election.
Knowles had a great interest in military history, and wrote a number of books on the life of Napoleon. In 1912 he made a bequest to his alma mater, Trinity College. This established the Lees Knowles Lectureship, an annual series of talks on military science given by distinguished military and naval figures.
He held a commission as an officer in the Volunteer Force and its successor the Territorial Force, reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel. At various times he commanded the 3rd, 7th and 8th battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers. He subsequently became the vice-chairman of the Lancashire Territorial Army Association.
Two roads in Llandudno, North Wales, are named in his honour: Lees Road and Knowles Road.
- Lees Knowles, A day with corps-students in Germany
- Knowles, Lees (1914). Minden and the Seven Years War. Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Company.
- Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "S" (part 1)[self-published source][better source needed]
- 'Obituary: Sir Lees Knowles. A Life of Public Service.', The Times, 8 October 1928, p. 18
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Sir Lees Knowles
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Salford West
1886 – 1906
Sir George Wiliam Agnew
|Baronetage of the United Kingdom|
(of Westwood in the County of Lancaster)
1903 – 1928