early 12c., cnawlece "acknowledgment of a superior, honor, worship;" for first element see know (v.). The second element is obscure, perhaps from Scandinavian and cognate with the -lock "action, process," found in wedlock.
From late 14c. as "capacity for knowing, understanding; familiarity;" also "fact or condition of knowing, awareness of a fact;" also "news, notice, information; learning; organized body of facts or teachings." Sense of "sexual intercourse" is from c. 1400. Middle English also had a verb form, knoulechen "acknowledge" (c. 1200), later "find out about; recognize," and "to have sexual intercourse with" (c. 1300); compare acknowledge.